News

Palo Alto school district to give update on achievement-gap work

Staff to talk about progress, draft 'equity plan' at Tuesday meeting

Close to two years after a group of students, teachers, parents and administrators highlighted the ways in which the Palo Alto school district has failed its minority and low-income students and families, the district says it has made "excellent" progress on some of the group's recommendations for how to reverse longstanding trends contributing to the district's achievement gap.

Martha Castellon, the district's new equity coordinator, will present an update on the district's work to boost achievement among low-income and minority students at a special school-board session on Tuesday morning, Jan. 10.

Since her hiring, Castellon has been tasked with overseeing the implementation of 12 high-priority recommendations that the Minority Achievement and Talent Development advisory committee, known as MATD, made in 2015.

The district is now reporting particular progress in the areas of training, communication and some programmatic changes, like launching full-day kindergarten at all Palo Alto elementary schools this fall, according to a presentation Castellon will give Tuesday.

The district is working to train more employees on unconscious bias, an issue the minority-achievement committee identified as underlying many "inequitable practices and processes." Approximately 466 district employees, both certificated and classified staff, will have completed this new training by the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to the district. Close to 1,000 certificated staff will eventually be trained in this area, including teachers, administrators, school counselors and psychologists. And for the first time this year, the district held a session on "equity and access" at its new-teacher orientation.

The district said it worked to increase communication this year with families around policies and practices on academic laning, something the Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee had identified as lacking in the district. The district held math-information nights for parents at all three middle schools at the start of the school year. The district provided Spanish and Mandarin interpreters in person at these meetings and translated information posted online on math laning into those two languages as well.

"Many more" parent meetings have included Spanish and Mandarin translation this year, the report states, from back-to-school nights to principal "coffees."

"While we are not yet offering all of our meetings in all three languages, it is a goal that we are gradually moving toward," Castellon wrote.

Castellon — whose very position was a recommendation from the minority-achievement committee — has also been tasked with creating a more detailed, district-wide "equity plan" to provide a strategic roadmap for this work going forward. MATD members have repeatedly stressed that without such a roadmap — one that has specific timelines, goals and metrics to ensure accountability — efforts to close the achievement gap will fall by the wayside.

A draft equity plan, to be presented Tuesday, shows the district's progress on MATD's initial recommendations, goals for the next two years, the person responsible for that progress and related funding needs, as well as longer-term goals.

Despite the district's progress, many recommendations have yet to come to fruition, from commissioning a longitudinal study to analyze the impact of laning on minority and low-income students and their peers to establishing a district "equity team" to oversee the equity plan.

"Process of change is slow," Castellon's presentation notes. "We have to go slow at first in order to go fast (later)."

The district is currently seeking community feedback on the draft equity plan. The district presented the plan at a community meeting in East Palo Alto in December and will hold two more meetings this month to solicit further public input.

There will be a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Palo Alto High School Library Learning Resource Center. Spanish interpretation, food and child care will be provided.

Another meeting, specifically for African American families, will be held on Friday, Jan. 27, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Jordan Middle School library. Food and child care will also be provided.

People can also provide feedback online, in writing, or in person through Friday, Feb. 3. The district will review the feedback and incorporate it into a final version of the equity plan, to be submitted to the board this spring.

MATD is still an active committee with regular public meetings. A meeting for this Wednesday, Jan. 11, from 6-8 p.m., has been cancelled. View the committee's schedule here.

The Tuesday, Jan. 10, study session will run from 8-10 a.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. The district will also provide an update on its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which spells out how districts plan to spend money to support underrepresented student groups, such as low-income students and foster youth.

View the agenda here.

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Comments

5 people like this
Posted by A Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2017 at 11:46 am

I saw a recent You Tube video titled "Every High School Principal Should Say This."

Web Link

It would go a long way toward improving our public school system across the country and certainly make the environment better for teachers, parents and students.


17 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 9, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The only way to change the status quo is to have the change come culturally within the communities or racial groups that sit at the bottom of educational achievement. Until that happens you can throw all the money you want at the problems, have endless meetings and surveys; it just won't matter until the cultural mindset of the importance of education is firmly established, and that, once again, can only come within. And so far there is very little evidence that this is happening or will happen; just look at all our major cities; what is happening here is the same there, and the accountability just doesn't exist in those that devalue the importance of education.


17 people like this
Posted by it starts with the parents
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 9, 2017 at 6:32 pm

i totally agree with Dennis. You can do all the studies, meetings and surveys you want but at the end of the day parents need to own making sure their kid is going to school, studying and trying his or her best to succeed. I'm tired to only hear about PAUSD "failing". If minority students aren't doing well there is blame to be shared here.

I'm not Asian but respect how many have come to our area with NOTHING (I'm old enough to know and work with many boat people and their kids from Vietnam) and most have been very successful people against all odds. It starts and ends with the family, sacrifice for your kids and emphasis on education. If you are not willing to do that for your kids, then don't blame others.


15 people like this
Posted by my money
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2017 at 6:47 pm

so glad to hear my tax dollars are going to train 1,000 in "unconscious bias" issues. Thanks for reminding me why I've stopped donating to our school district, tired of having money redirected to worthless projects versus actually trying to improve our schools.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2017 at 6:50 pm

I totally agree with the last two posters. It has to be something that families value or it won't happen.

I recently saw some teens being interviewed on tv. I think it was a Chicago suburb or somewhere other than the Bay Area, but I thought it was very telling. The teens or young adult men were asked about their educational status and whether they had goals for college or future profession. Their reply was that they were taught at home that education was for "white folks" and it would make them appear to be aspiring to be white. The interviewer tried to ask them more in depth questions but they kept on replying the same answers.

Until families value education and the prospects of working in a professional capacity rather than with their hands or in blue collar jobs, the divide will remain.


14 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2017 at 8:14 pm

I think the previous posters have already made very good points. As a south-of-the-border immigrant myself I can tell you a lot of money/efforts are wasted in these achievement gap studies which don't change/improve anything. Maybe some school bureaucrats get some recognition for their efforts, but the kids suffering this achievement gap don't benefit at all.

It's simply unrealistic to expect a school district, whether it's PAUSD or anywhere else w/ a diverse student body to achieve the same results across all demographic groups. Equal opportunities do not translate into equal results because cultural, family and personal priorities play such a key role in closing the achievement gap. But I'm pretty sure digging this deep would just be too politically incorrect, so we never have an honest discussion about the root causes. Btw, this type of achievement gap happens across international borders, and those who have lived overseas can probably understand what I'm talking about.

Given our limited $/resources, I hope PAUSD would focus on realistic goals and not try to solve 'feel good' issues which are simply beyond its control.


15 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

Instead of focusing on the gap, time/money/effort would be better spent focusing on just helping each student maximize their potential. Every kid is different, it doesn't do them any favors to start setting performance expectations based on their race, family income, gender, eye color, or height.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 9, 2017 at 10:32 pm

"Leaders" listen to neither parents nor students.


Like this comment
Posted by Parents
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 9, 2017 at 10:33 pm

...nor teachers.


8 people like this
Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

I think many of these posts are way off base. So many assumptions about who values education and who doesn't. It's a shame that our district's minority students are disproportionately represented in Special Education. It's also shameful that PAUSD is not meeting the needs of all students. The mission of public schools is to educate all students. Period. We can do better. Some students will require more resources. We have the resources to devote to this. This is a public school system, so we must meet the needs of the public's children.

Finally, I would argue that blaming the victims of our educational system for its own failings is truly mind bending. The public education system, from the beginning, has been designed by and for the dominant class/race. Is it any wonder that some groups have difficulty accessing this system? Is it a surprise that students do not perform when their culture or race is not represented in the curriculum ("they don't value education")? How does a child access the material when they don't have a way in? When they are not at the center? These are children we're talking about. Some of the rhetoric bandied about here is depressing.


11 people like this
Posted by Sue
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2017 at 12:11 am

I've worked in East Palo Alto Schools for the last 20 years, and have known for the last 10 years that EPA students score about the same on standardized tests as the low-income students in PAUSD. When you speak another language at home, it's much harder to do well in English-language classroom. The parents value education for their children, but are probably not well educated themselves and are less able to help with homework, to hire outside tutors, etc.

Tinsley program was needed 30 years ago. Now it's a total waste of money. The Ravenswood (EPA) schools are great! Wonderful teachers who get paid 2/3 of PAUSD salaries, so are there because they really want to help needy kids. We have fabulous technology -- 1:1 laptops in every classroom, grades 3-8. We have art, music, science teachers.


5 people like this
Posted by Note
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2017 at 1:47 am

Data on homeschooled students is limited but shows that they go to college at higher rates and score better on average than brick-and-mortar schooled counterparts. The largest testing study showed no appreciable gender or achievement gap. Even kids whose parents had little education themselves did nearly as well as kids whose parents were very educated. One of the fastest growing homeschooled segments is African American families - parents who want to avoid the pernicious effects of bias from institutions on their children, especially boys.

These studies demonstrate that gender and achievement gaps are not a given, but stem from institutional factors that can be addressed. I'm not sure what posters above are saying about parents, but it sounds like they are saying everyone whose kid is falling through the cracks should take responsibility and homeschool. They really shouldn't have to. Plus the state provides no financial resources. Or perhaps they're saying parents should fix the schools -- which is a nice thought but legally parents have less actual power to do that within school districts than any other arena of government. Parents have no direct power at all to force changes even when very serious problems occur. I agree that parents nevertheless should take responsibility to fix the schools, but that's really only going to be possible if they first create mechanisms of direct power, i.e., more mechanisms of accountability.

I agree that focusing on giving each child what they need is best, it's the Finnish way, and it's what happens in homeschool. That ought to be a big clue of how to close the achievement gap in school. But it can't happen in a system in which employees can discriminate, be petty and personal with little accountability, and parents have little to no recourse. District policies are binding yet all that means is that those in power can pick and choose what suits them, and those who need the policies have no actual recourse if policies aren't followed. When the district makes decisions and the public warns that, oh by the way, that decision has been shown to make the achievement gap worse (like our choice to make high schools bigger rather than reopen the third high school and go smaller and better), leaders just poo poo it and pretend that Palo Alto is immune from such influences and we can do what we want, it won't hurt the achievement gap here. The decisions accumulate, and they add up to compromising the achievement gap in every possible way, just as predicted, then we marvel that we have one and figure there's nothing we can do but study the problem every so often - and blame the parents. Well, it's pretty clear that there is no achievement gap when it's just parents in charge - so yes, you can reasonably expect institutional improvements to fix it.

Fremont Union has a homeschool program that tailors the education to each child. I know kids with special needs who have thrived. What's keeping us from trying that here? It doesn't even cost more.


12 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:16 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Anony Mouse - if the problem was that the educational system was designed by "the dominant class/race," then Asian students would be doing poorly as well. So it is definitely not the system. And same for @sue's excuse - if a different language being spoken at home was the problem, then it would affect immigrant Asian's as well, but it doesn't. Sadly, the public obsession with the gap contributes to making it self-fulfilling. Every black and hispanic student in Palo Alto gets continually reminded of the problem. Forget the gap, forget what group you want to bundle kids into, and just work with every kid who needs help. Everyone of them is going to have a different set of problems and solutions, none of them relating to the color of their skin.


6 people like this
Posted by AXT
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:29 am

It is a good idea that the district is training teachers about unconscious bias. When a teacher has a pre- conceived notion that a student is not going to get it and shouldn't even try to spend an extra minute to help because he is Black or Hispanic and is not going to get it anyway, it makes it that much harder for the student to learn what he or she needs.


6 people like this
Posted by The Bias
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 7:47 am

The bias in this district is sickening. I sat in a meeting with our child (white) discussing some classroom issues and trying to get the accommodations respected in our child's 504 plan. The teacher was obviously lost, didn't understand what was going on, or high. Really. That confused.

When I pointed out that success was important for our kid to retain their college acceptance, they were totally shocked:"Oh, your child is going to college?"

Duh. Yes. And quite a good one. You see despite the incompetence we experienced in PAUSD, our student was still smart and capable. Sure PAUSD works hard to demotivated students, but they were still going to college.

The teachers had long ago given up on our student because of their prejudice. (Against 504 students)

I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of bigotry that black students face.


1 person likes this
Posted by Again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 10, 2017 at 8:08 am

Web Link

It's time.


3 people like this
Posted by Note
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2017 at 9:48 am

@The Bias,
What you speak of is not bias, it's a culture that is hostile toward 504s, incompetent and disinterested in granting 504s, and populated with leadership that has no accountability for frequent retaliation, even against the students, if parents dare stick up for the protections their children need to be safe and healthy in school. That's not bias it's old-fashioned bullying, corruption, and lack of accountability. The 504 situation in PAUSD has been worse than doing nothing, under Brenda Carrillo's "leadership". [Portion removed.] What you perceived as bias was just ordinary retaliatory gossip behind your back because of the 504. You were not alone.


4 people like this
Posted by echo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:29 pm

I agree with the earlier posters. Family culture and how education is valued is the most important thing. Teachers and schools can only do a little bit. In this day and age there are many (free) resources available to enrich your child's education. Parents just need to point them out to their children. All parents can read to their kids. It need not be in English, but whatever native language they speak. All parents can teach basic math to their kids (arithmetic). All parents can stress academic excellence.

The teachers we have encountered thus far have been wonderful. I can't imagine they hold biases, conscious or unconscious, that have to be trained out of them. On the other hand they probably take political correctness too far.

What harm could come out of pointing to the parents and saying the fault lies with you?


6 people like this
Posted by TheBias
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Echo asks:"What harm could come out of pointing to the parents and saying the fault lies with you?"

Three harms come of this:

1) in many cases it is not the family. So misattribution of fault is just wrong.

2) it lets the teaching staff off the hook in the cases where they are responsible for bad behavior, low expectations, ignoring student needs, discrimination, bias, bullying and worse.

3) This statement, by misattributing fault in many cases, dodges responsibility and subverts the impetus to change staff behavior, attitudes, teaching methods and goals. No improvement can be had with this attitude.

Finally, it serves no value in a discussion about public education. You see, even in the few cases where your victim blaming is accurate, there is nothing positive accomplished. You cannot change the families, yet the school is still responsible to teach the student. All students. To the best of the students ability.

To take any other approach is logically equivalent to claiming all success is attributable to family motivation, and therefore the schools only role is to point you at a book, assign homework, and rank the results.

Hardly the shining light in education we associate with Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by echo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:55 am

@TheBias:
"... all success is attributable to family motivation, and therefore the schools only role is to point you at a book, assign homework, and rank the results ..."

This statement is quite close to the truth if you changed the first word from "all" to "most". I would be hard pressed to say it better.

If there is any evidence that the teaching staff is the source of the problem, it should be dealt with case by case. You get no argument from me. Just in my experience the PAUSD teaching staff is excellent and I would be surprised to learn that they were not sensitive to the needs of minority and low-income families.

I disagree that pointing to families and saying you are responsible for your offspring is counter-productive. Maybe these people have never received a message like this. I certainly think that the life outcomes of my offspring are my responsibility. I do not leave this to chance.

Like the pres-elect says, "what can it hurt?". (Before I get flamed, I am no supporter of his).





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