Plan would boost Palo Alto graduation requirements | February 3, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 3, 2012

Plan would boost Palo Alto graduation requirements

Proposal aimed at 20 percent who typically graduate without four-year college-prep load

by Chris Kenrick

Palo Alto would boost its high school graduation requirements to match entrance criteria for California's four-year public universities under a proposal floated Tuesday, Jan. 31, by Superintendent Kevin Skelly.

It was well-received by parents and students who have been agitating for the district to raise expectations for — and performance of — lower-achieving students.

If enacted by the school board in May, Skelly's proposal would be phased in, taking full effect with the graduating class of 2018 — today's sixth-graders.

It would not affect the vast majority of students. About 80 percent of Palo Alto's high school graduates already meet or exceed the entrance criteria for California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC), the so-called "A-G requirements."

Rather, the proposal is aimed at increasing academic achievement among the roughly 20 percent each year who graduate without fulfilling the CSU/UC entrance requirements, a group that is disproportionately low-income, African-American or Hispanic.

Specifically, the proposal would add two years of foreign language, which Skelly said could be fulfilled in various ways, including by taking a test.

For the classes of 2016 and 2017 (today's seventh- and eighth-graders), three years of math, including geometry, would be required compared with today's two years.

The following year, Algebra 2 would be explicitly specified in the three-year math requirement.

The current two-year science requirement also would specify a laboratory science, as is required by CSU/UC.

This week was the second time Skelly has proposed "A-G alignment" — the first was last May. At that time, he suggested a form of "waiver" for students unable or unwilling to complete the four-year college-prep curriculum, leading to protest from special-education parents and others that a waiver would amount to a black mark on high school diplomas.

But Tuesday's proposal — offering "alternative graduation requirements" rather than "waivers" — appeared to be better-received by special-education advocates.

The customized alternative-graduation requirements would be available to students who have "explicit post-secondary plans" that differ significantly from the four-year college path.

The proposal also was praised by parent and student backers of "A-G for all," who packed the board room in support.

"We wholeheartedly support the superintendent's recommendation, even though we'd like to see it happen sooner rather than later," said parent Ken Dauber, founder of the anti-stress group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, who less than a year ago charged that the Palo Alto school district "needs new leadership."

Parent Sara Woodham said the plan is "moving in the right direction.

"Alignment is a blunt instrument, a forcing function," she said. "But it's a forcing function to get better at educating our kids. In the process we have to tackle the business of expectations the district has for our kids and the learning environment that we set."

Seven Palo Alto High School students — all members of the Student Equity Action Network — turned out to advocate "A-G for all."

"I can't wait to see the positive effects of Dr. Skelly's proposal," said Paly senior Lucas Brooks, to applause from the audience.

Skelly said he will fill out details of the plan and bring it back to the board in May for discussion on May 8 and a vote May 22.

School board members generally praised the plan, calling it a "blunt instrument" but perhaps necessary to make headway against a socio-economic and racial achievement gap that long has plagued the schools here and elsewhere.

"It's a blunt instrument but, Dr. Skelly, you've sharpened it," board vice-president Dana Tom said. "Of those students this will affect, hopefully there will be a good portion who will be capable of meeting A-G. For students who aren't, you've found a way to accommodate alternative pathways."

But board member Barb Mitchell cautioned that while the plan goes in the right direction, "I'm less optimistic that this is the right tool to get there."

She worried that the district lacks the structure to provide timely "second instruction" to the consistent number of students who fall behind on the A-G path. If a failing student drops a class in November, for example, the next chance to make it up in some cases isn't until the following school year, placing the student far behind.

"My bias is to debug our plan before we launch, to build the runway first," Mitchell said.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said the new plan should be considered "an opportunity for us to think about 'first instruction.'

"I'd like us to keep from thinking of it as 'second instruction,'" she said.

Skelly said the new graduation requirements would force positive change.

"My bias is, if we were to adopt these and do nothing else, it would force conversations around students where they are introspective about what they're doing, and the consequences of what they're doing, and we'd be better off than we are right now," he said.

"The principals are very fired up about this and believe it's the right work," he said, adding that teachers "have lots of different views" and are split on the issue.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


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Posted by A-Bar-Too-High?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

The premise that higher expectations will lead to higher achievements is not always borne out in reality. There is also the possibility that raising the bar will lead to higher drop-out rates, as well as an increase in the failure to graduate on time (meaning four years or less).

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Posted by goodplan
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2012 at 10:25 am

It is a good and fair plan for all kids,thanks Dr.Skelly.

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Posted by Wynn Hausser
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2012 at 10:39 am

Kudos to Supt. Skelly for moving forward on this. A key will be to provide adequate support so that A-Bar-Too-High's concern doesn't come to pass. There is time to work these things out but this is a positive first step resulting, at least in part, from student and parent activists keeping the district's feet to teh fire.

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Posted by Jim Phillips
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I agree with Wynn Hausser - and add my kudos to Supt. Skelly. Also, I greatly value the efforts of the Dauber family and other active parents and students.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

> the efforts of the Dauber family .. and others ..

This group has done little but kick up a lot of dirt, provided virtually no clarity, and definitely not promoted any solutions to any of the problems that they claim exist in the school district.

Furthermore, there are always unintended consequences that are a result of changes that are not well thought out. This situation is clearly one of those situations.

There is no evidence that adding Algebra-II will increase the graduation rate, or the college attendance rate, for those currently having problems.

Then underlying issue of a non-standard Algebra-II was more of a problem that requiring Algebra-II (or any other courses) for graduation. Some of this discussion really should be elevated to the State level, since the schools are a "political subdivision of the State", and should not be toys of local politicians.

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Posted by Happy parent
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Can't see anything wrong with this plan, and it seems like it will serve our students well. We don't want students unpleasantly surprised that they don't meet CSU and UC entrance requirements once it's too late to correct this. I'm glad to see attention being paid to this. Thanks!

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Posted by Get Real
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

What is most needed is to stress the command of the English language, and Critical Thinking, as opposed to pushing Math on students.

Look at the supposedly educated people that are on local city councils throughout the Bay Area, and in our government that lack good communication skills and common sense.

So what would help them more? Math or English & Critical Thinking skills?

It would also benefit society to teach Ethics to students, as opposed to more Math. Let Math majors advance in Math.

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Posted by Greeeeeat
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Get Real - unfortunately, the goal of high school is to get into the best college, not to learn things to prepare for life. This means that schools have to teach what the colleges expect kids to know.

Algebra 2 is a lot less useful for most people than reading spreadsheets, understanding a profit and loss statement, etc. Writing a research paper or business plan is a lot more useful than analyzing The Great Gatsby, but that's what our schools have to teach.

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Posted by former Paly Parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm

And will we get a "regular" lane of Algebra II and a "regular" lane of Chemistry? "Regular" meaning meets the UC/CSU requirements, but does not exceed them?
I thought this was the heart of the question.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Paly Parent (Duvenick/St Francis)

Although I agree with your comment, I also agree with Get Real.

I think that it is more useful to be able to analyze the Great Gatsby as it shows critical thinking skills as well as English language skills.

Education has to be preparation for adult life for all our students, not just preparing for college. Unfortunately, the system is geared for college preparation and not being able to think analytically. Many college graduates are completely unable to communicate with older adults which is a crucial skill when seeking gainful employment. The other skills you mention about profit and loss statements and writing, researching papers and presenting a business plan are also necessary. You may not like the choice of literature that our students have to study (I know I would like to see some better choices), but please don't knock the role of literature as being useful.

Now, if we could teach the students to check the air in their tires, check their oil, and balance a checking account as well as understanding the terms Debit and Credit without think of plastic cards, we might be getting somewhere.

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Posted by Unintended Consequences
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm

If 20% of students are not meeting these requirements, how is mandating them going to help? Seems to me that the unintended consequences of increased stress and higher drop-out rates are very real possibilities. Wouldn't it be better to continue to allow the 80% meet these requirements and allow the 20% to define their own meaning of "success" and give extra help to those who are trying to meet the UC requirements?

The Daubers used to cry loudly about reducing student stress. Now they are applauding something that will only raise it? I don't get it.

I agree this is a very blunt instrument that will cause more problems than solve.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Unintended Consequences, where were you when we needed you last night?
Yes the Daubers have disagreed with themselves once again.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

@former Paly parent:

The answer is yes -- we will get basic lane instruction in math and science that meets but does not exceed the standard -- if we work for it and hold the district accountable for providing it. There are numerous encouraging signs on that front.

1. The community overwhelmingly supports this goal. The outrage produced by the Paly math letter has, I think, galvanized people into a realization that our schools are not serving a large number of our students and that the teachers should not be setting policy on educational equity. It is my belief based on the past several months of organizing that there is a strong multi-racial coalition of parents and community groups working together for this goal. This includes both curriculum assessment and reform, as well as professional development for teachers in order to assist them in becoming more effective.

Like everything else with PAUSD, parents and students will have to continue to work for this. Unfortunately, the Paly math department managed to forced the district to wait until the class of 2018 before they have to teach Algebra 2 to everyone so, bad as that is, we have years to push for those reforms and that teacher training in order to make this work.

2. Kevin and at least some members of the current school board have advocated publicly for offering a basic lane of instruction that meets but does not exceed the UC/CSU standard. Melissa Baten-Caswell said forcefully at the end of last night's school board meeting that she felt it was imperative to get teacher development and training so that our teachers can reach and teach every child. It was extremely gratifying to hear her say that. She also said that she was persuaded by the data we had presented that there were issues with the teaching of math and science to disdvantaged and underrepresented minority students. I also believe that Barbara Klausner and possibly Dana Tom would as well. So I think that a majority of the board and the Superintendent support this.

I am optimistic that the end result of A-G for all will not raise stress but will in fact lower it. The mechanism by which this will happen is that the requirement that every student must take these courses will force (and is already starting to force) a curriculum and teaching assessment and, where appropriate, modification. There will also be plenty of white and Asian kids who are not strong in math who will decide to lane down to that basic lane because they are not strong in math but still want to go to college. The net effect will be to create a lane of college preparatory math and science that is challenging but not overly so. This should reduce stress for some and raise achievement for others as well as improving teacher effectiveness.

This happy scenario won't come to pass without a lot of parent advocacy. Last night was very inspiring -- seeing all the members of different racial groups coming together to advocate for equity and fairness. We now need to continue the push to hold teachers accountable for providing the access to a basic a-g curriculum for all students.

That room was absolutely packed, with as many as 100 parents, students, and community members.

To watch the video of our inspiring community coming out for fairness, see:

Web Link

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2012 at 11:05 pm

The State of California sets the standards for graduation, as I understand it. Those standards can't be set for one particular school district. This is a 'public school', not a private school system. Does the PAUSD set itself up for a lawsuit by student/parents if a student can pass the state requirements, but not the PAUSD's requirement? I have three family members who graduated from Paly. All three were and are successful in business and life in totally different fields. One could and did master advanced math - but the other two would probably still be there. I think this is going to backfire, and I feel sorry for the students whose interests are not mathematical. If faced with this, will some parents just move rather than put their children through the undue stress that this will cause? And we worry about the rash of suicides and student stress. How ironic.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2012 at 8:36 am

The state sets minimum standards.

@ M. Dauber: "Unfortunately, the Paly math department managed to forced the district to wait until the class of 2018 before they have to teach Algebra 2 to everyone"

Do you have documented proof for this statement? Or are you just stating an opinion?

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2012 at 8:39 am

The one positive "unintended consequence" of requiring A-G for graduation is teachers will be accountable for actually teaching. Teachers tend to be more on top of kids, willing to assist them, etc. for classes that are required. It's a lot harder to casually call a kid a "slacker" (as Mr. Toma said) and let them fail your class (yes teachers do that) if because of that failure, the student won't graduate.

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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 2, 2012 at 9:20 am

As long as there is a way for kids to graduate who are clearly never, ever going to be able of even dreaming of passing the UC pre-reqs, I am fine with an "automatic" placement of all kids into the minimum lanes for a-g UC prereqs. Too many ways for kids to fall through the cracks otherwise, other than an "opt out" strategy.

On the other hand, hate to raise the bar so high that our kids who can't possibly pass the a-g drop out instead of getting a "regular" high school degree with possibly a voc ed or tech school emphasis ( this is still a good degree to get for some kids, and should not be disparaged, nor forced into a "special ed" type categorization for a HS degree).

Far, far too much on my plate to be able to participate in this process, go to Meetings, write letters etc, but I am hopeful that good sense will prevail with Dr. Skelly and the Board, and assure that we aren't trying to force-fit some kids into an "all or none" mold mentioned, the unintended consequences could be vicious and destructive.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

@crescent park Dad:

Kevin said it at the board meeting at the very end in response to a question from Barbara Klausner. You can watch it on the tape. She asked for more explanation about the timeline for the math requirements. He said that after talking with the department chairs and "seeking their buy-in" that this is what they were willing to do. Barbara then pressed for specifics on whether there would be professional development or more augmentation in the middle schools during that time, asking what would be different in 2018, and Kevin said that the math department felt that this was going to be a hard change and that "Getting people to change is hard and this is a change, and this is the timeline that they are comfortable with." He then told her that she should ask the math department directly, because he could't really give a better answer: "you can ask this question when we sit down with those departments for our study session."

I don't think this is necessarily a bad timeline so long as there is professional development during the interim. If the math department at Paly continues to be allowed to insist that it needs no help contrary to all the evidence in learning how to teach these kids then that could be quite unfortunate.

It won't really place kids in a worse position than they are already in however -- it will just lead to a lot of kids graduating under alternative programs with no black mark on their record to indicate as such. So the real danger here is that the Paly math department is allowed to continue business as usual and ignore the mandate. Whether they are permitted to do that is up to parents and to Phil Winston.

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Posted by Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2012 at 10:39 am

I have some questions:

1) How are we going to prevent the new basic math class from being populated with only students who are not currently passing Algebra II--which, if the previous threads are to be believed, is disproportionately made up of students of color and Special Education students? My concern is that this will lead to default segregation of students of color and/or Special Education students--this is both a racial issue as well as an ethical issue. My concern is that students who are not struggling will take the other options--I don't believe we have evidence to suggest that kids/parents will pick an on-level course for stress-relief and abandon what they believe to be the only option to getting into highly competitive colleges since they don't do it currently (eg., English lanes)

2) Furthermore, for Special Education students, the model for success is the least-restrictive, most mainstream environment, not classes predominately made up of struggling students. How will we keep the new (on-standard) Algebra class from becoming essentially a remedial class (not college-prep) so the students we actually intend to help get help instead of lapsing into the same old lower standards for struggling students which tends to happen in classes populated with large numbers of struggling students?

Have I missed these concerns addressed elsewhere?

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2012 at 11:28 am

> The community overwhelmingly supports this goal.

What goal?

> The outrage produced by the Paly math letter has galvanized
> people into a realization that our schools are not serving a large
> number of our students

The achievement gap has been well known for a while. Before the State began to make public the STAR test scores, it was not clear just how large this gap was. While it is clear that those on the bottom are typically not from Palo Alto, we do not have data that provides student achievement by city-of-residence for the PAUSD. The STAR data for East Palo Alto does provide a good estimate of the level of achievement that can be expected from students originating from that city, however.

As to “outrage”—other than those who showed up at the school board meeting, and those who happen to be following this blog thread, it’s doubtful than 1-in-a-100 Palo Altans, Los Altos Hills or Stanford residents are aware of this tempest-in-a-teapot. There is no “outrage” except in the minds of a few “activists” that seem adept at stirring up “problems”, for which they provide no solutions.

> that the teachers should not be setting policy on educational equity.

There is some merit to the point about local teachers setting “educational standards” outside the frame work of the state standards. But claims of “educational equity” are often couched in the rhetoric of “social engineering”, which typically advances agendas that are intended to incite “class struggle”, and in some cases (historically)—class warfare—not promote “education”.

> several months of organizing that there is a strong multi-racial coalition of parents
> and community groups working together for this goal.

Again, the rhetoric of inciting racial/cultural strife in the schools is not helpful.

> This includes both curriculum assessment and reform

One of the sad issues associated with this incident, is that we, all of the people living in the PAUSD jurisdiction, still don’t have a clear picture of what is going on here. A single sentence in a letter from a math teacher, implying that the Algebra-II (and possibly other math sections) had been “enhanced” has brought the cries of “racism” into our midst again. (This situation seems not too different from the witch-hunt that drove former Police Chief Lynn Johnson out of her job.) Before the School Board does anything, it needs to determine “what the problem is here”.

The issue of “assessment” is well taken, but hardly new to any discussions about the PAUSD, or the whole school system in the US, for that matter. We are yet to learn exactly how much “enhanced” the Algebra-II courses are. Extra homework? Harder problems on class room tests? Has the PAUSD Math Department introduced topics like number theory or required readings from graduate math seminars? What exactly is the problem here?

Before anything is done, a full audit/assessment of the Algebra-II program should be initiated. This should include, at a minimum:

o) Review of State Standards For Algebra-II
o) Review of lesson plans for Algebra-II classes
o) Video Recordings of 30 days (at least) of Algebra-II classes.
o) Review/Analysis of Video Recordings by State Standards experts, Algebra-II teachers from other districts.
o) A Review of local processes for setting PAUSD “standards”
o) A Review of Homework Assignments for Algebra-II classes.
o) A Review of Class Assessments By Students for various teachers.
o) A Review of testing results for all students in Algebra-II classes.
o) Interviews with students from top, middle, and bottom segments of class (performance-wise).

Performing such an analysis is clearly a lot of work. It requires, perhaps, personnel from outside the District, to bring “fresh eyes” to the task, and the “distance” from the people involved in running the District to do an honest, and accurate, assessment of the PAUSD Algebra-II program.

Without an investigation along these lines, we have no idea what the real problem is here.

> professional development for teachers in order to assist them in
> becoming more effective.

Teacher quality is always an issue. It is very difficult to assess teacher performance from the test scores of students alone. The sad truth is that it is too easy to assess teachers on “personality” and “caring”, but not on their ability to “teach”. We also have to realize that parent involvement in education is far more important than “quality teachers” are. This parental involvement in children’s education starts at birth, and involves every parent/child interaction throughout life. While this involvement is not easily measured, the effects can be seen in the API data, which includes parent education. There is a clear linkage between parent education, and student performance—a fact that is simply ignored by people trying to eradicate parents from the education “equation”.

It’s sad to see this issue beginning to take on “racial” overtones, rather than honestly dealing with the way different cultures value “education”. It is so easy to scream “race”, and then stand back and watch the mayhem begin.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2012 at 11:36 am

As it is the lower math lanes have the reputation of where the minority students predominate, as with English also.

We can't have it both ways. If we want lower lanes to help those who need them, then the ones who need those lanes will predominate and if they are minority and special ed students then that is who will fill them. Likewise, if we want to increase standards and introduce higher honors math and science lanes, the the high achieving students will predominate - which in Palo Alto will be the Asians and the white students.

This is not rascist to point out. If we want to lane our students then lane them and accept the differences in demographics in the classroom. If we want demographically similar classrooms, then we have to stop laning. It won't work both ways.

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Posted by PolicySage
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Except for a sad exampl, I would be surprised to hear that Palo Alto high schools do not already require that their graduates be prepared for the U.C. System.

It happens that the daughter of a friend of mine, who lives not in Barron Park but in Professorville, was allowed to graduate from high school without ever having been informed that she had not taken the UC System entrance requisite courses. I was aghast that no teacher or counselor had ever checked over her transcript and noted that failure.

So she went to Foothill for a year, and is now enrolled in a CSU (as it happens) campus.

By the way, there is plenty of evidence that setting goals high successfully motivates students to do better; check the literature. And there is no evidence that setting and enforcing high goals increases dropouts.

So, go for it PAUSD!

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm

My son (Paly grad 2011) graduated without the UC/CSU requirements. His advisor never mentioned that to him. No one contacted us as parents. We were aware of the lack of requirements and for this particular student it was fine, but NO ONE from Paly ever said a word about it.

At the minimum, parents could be informed once a year about how their child is doing towards the UC/CSU requirements, perhaps in the report cards.

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Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Changing graduation requirements will not affect those who are already meeting them -- it will just institutionalize a college-track process for everyone, to ensure our system keeps students on track unless they elect an alternative pathway.

The Paly math letter is a related side issue -- it reflects how the Paly math department views its mission, namely to deliver results just for the kids who are already on A-G track and disavow responsibility for the rest. It is an indication that they need to be refocused on helping everyone succeed, and certainly being great teachers they should be able to accomplish this.

By making A-G the graduation default requirement, it forces the elementary schools and middle schools to prepare the students for high school, instead of just passing them along -- look at the SARC data to see it starts in elementary school.

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Posted by LaToya Baldwin Clark
a resident of Escondido School
on Feb 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I'm really pleased to see so many folks supporting this common-sense policy change. All the details haven't been ironed out, so there is still time to get involved and have your voice heard re: implementation.

For those who aren't happy - there is nothing being done here that isn't absolutely transparent. You want to know more about the issue? Watch the board meetings. Read the board packets. Read the newspaper. Email the school board. Email Dr. Skelly. Google any of the people mentioned in any of these articles and reach out to have coffee and talk about it. That's what I did when I found out something about the school district in which my children attend that I didn't like.

Do more than complain on an internet board.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 2, 2012 at 9:27 pm

All this makes no difference to me personally because my children have already graduated or soon will, all having met the UC requirements.

First, I find it hard to believe that people were unaware of the requirements. They are made very clear just about everywhere, including in the course catalog, and, from what I have heard from my kids, it's gone over repeatedly in advisory...

In my opinion, with maybe a few exceptions of under-served students from the transfer program, this is just a way for some parents to unload on the schools their responsibility to supervise their own kids' education. Nothing more.

But again, it makes no difference to our family basically, thank goodness.

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Posted by agreed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

I have to say the same. There has to be some parental/student responsibility for ensuring their education choices meets their needs.

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Posted by agreed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2012 at 9:49 am

Another instance of: Web Link

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Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Agree that students need more math and science, but don't agree with 2 years of language. That is an old thought that comes from the old concept of the "rounded individual" and we all took Latin for two years in high school.
Don't complain that 20% of Hispanics and Blacks graduate without meeting the CSU requirements, in the LA school system only 50% of Hispanics and Blacks graduate high school at all.
The future is technology and students need math and science.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

This change in graduation requirements will further increase the quality of a public education in Palo Alto. Students need foreign language for college admissions, and comparing Palo Alto to Los Angeles suggests we don't think much of ourselves as a school community, even with our many advantages as an affluent community. Certainly it can't be a suggestion that Blacks and Hispanics are less able to learn.

This will be a terrific way for students to design alternative graduation pathways as well for those who desire enhanced differentiation opportunities. Let's realize that our graduation requirements should make some sense in the 21st century, and requiring math and science at the level of the California public colleges certainly seems appropriate for the modern workforce. In terms of maintaining the status quo, why do we have four years of social studies, when that is not required for college or by the State of California? Talk about an out-moded system. If someone wants to take 4 years of social studies on an elective path, go ahead, but students could be using that extra year to take math, science, art, or wherever their true passions lie.

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Posted by middle school parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

Paly Prent,

Well put.

In fact, the changes proposed by Dr. Skelly, will model what, in theory, we think students should learn with four years of social studies.

The flexibility and creativity from the district, in approaching graduation requirements, with priorities in the right place, are indeed very encouraging.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I worry about those saying that social studies should not be a four year requirement. Americans in general are generically unable to know what is going on in the rest of the world, let alone in other parts of their own country. They know very little world geography or world history. Culturally they know very little about things that are going on even in areas that they supposedly feel interested in.

Examples. What is a cricket test match? Who was Martin Luther (apart from being the guy who hammered something on a church door to start the reformation?). Are Australia and New Zealand one country? Why do Americans have military bases in Germany? What is the difference between England and the UK? What language do they speak in India? Why are Canada and USA separate countries? Is the Queen of England also Queen of Canada?

If Americans spent even less time learning social studies than we do now, the reputation will be even more accurate.

This is a global economy and knowing more about the world we live in is even more important today than it was 50 years ago. High level math and science is important, but like good English writing skills, the ability to understand other cultures will be more important for the future of the majority our students than calculus.

Think about it, the rest of the world are not even aware that Superbowl Sunday even exists.

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Posted by middle school parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm


A global economy is better experienced with the kills that can get you a job in it.

Math, and Science, are global skills.

Languages are global skills.

Palo Alto is also not just Americans, students are from NZ, Australia, the UK, and India which is more powerful than regurgitating trivia for tests and poster boards.

You shouldn't worry that more Math, and Science means less global skills, or being less informed about the world.

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Posted by middle school parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm

oh oh, typo, Skills, not kills!

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Posted by pausd parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:30 am

We're doing the right thing by modernizing our graduation requirements for the 21st century. We need a system that is purposefully designed for the era in which we live, in which math and science, and world language are so important. Dr. Skelly's proposal enables alternative pathways for students desiring a differentiated approach, which seems perfect for Palo Alto where so many talented kids have unique interests. I think Resident is actually making the case to eliminate the extra year of social studies, since regurgitating factoids is useless today -- we have Wikipedia. Critical thinking, analytic skills, etc. are what's important today, we should know that here in the heart of Silicon Valley. If someone wants more social studies, they should take that as an elective.

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Posted by somepoint
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

Some of Skelly's ideas are great, but with this enforcing kids to graduate with a_g,that is probably not so bright.Why can not he change it into a default requirement, and make every potential kid be aware of it.

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Posted by observer parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

Right now we have a default system that doesn't make sense in the 21st century. Reading the comments it seems strange that we require four years of social studies when this is not needed for college or by law. And am liking the alternative pathways for the differentiation opportunities to ensure my elementary child's course of study is best for him when he reaches high school.

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