Guest Opinion: Task force needed to analyze school ideas | December 4, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - December 4, 2015

Guest Opinion: Task force needed to analyze school ideas

by Sheena Chin, Natasha Kachenko, Joe Lee, Diane Reklis and Mark Romer

The Enrollment Management Advisory Committee, Secondary Schools Subcommittee ("EMAC-SSS") would like to share its perspectives for both the School Board and the community, encourage additional dialogue, and pass these points of view on for additional study.

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The authors comprise the Palo Alto school district EMAC Secondary Schools subcommittee.


Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:15 am

As the Weekly noted, the Superintendent should have proactively informed the Board about XQ initial application.

But I actually applaud the parents, the community members and the Stanford folks who got together to apply for XQ money. There is zero obligation to the District if it decided not to proceed with a new secondary school. But for the other op-ed to criticize "standing in line" for free private money seems like criticism that is way off base.

And the XQ application is NOT for a charter school at all. It is for a public school. II don't know everyone is talking about a charter school.

There is a good open letter here, written to the Board and the broader community: Web Link

Posted by Help!
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:56 am

SOMEONE needs to moderate and mediate these things--especially these education-related EMAC-SSS things. An independent, impartial party preferred!

Posted by educator and parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

Thank you to the EMAC-SSS for all of your hard work. I saw your report at the October school board meeting and it is clear you all did a lot of work and were thorough. We appreciate it.
It sounds appropriate that members of EMAC would be a part of the application process for the XQ application. It would have been negligent to miss the opportunity to potentially secure these dollars and this committee has done a lot of work looking at the needs and desires of the school district. No commitment was made, simply a place holder in case it is decided that pursuing a new 6-12 school is the right choice.
Thank you, Dr. McGee and EMAC-SSS, for your hard work here.

Posted by not really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Not really:

EMAC: "One of the best things about the EMAC-SSS process is that five independent-minded individuals looked objectively at the data, agreed that the preponderance of evidence unambiguously leads to a strong desire for ...potentially a new school."

EMAC overlooked data in its own survey: 24% favored a new school but 76% did not.

EMAC: "If enrollment size truly does not mean anything in terms of pedagogical policy setting, then there wouldn't have been so many academic research studies over the past 50 years on the subject of school size. Most educational professionals believe that school size matters."

Not sure what "most" educational professionals think but educational professionals who have conducted studies and analyzed the data do not think that schools smaller than PAUSD's are better.

Check out Bill Gates' failed multi-billion dollar small high school initiative. What he found was that longer school days, not smaller sized high schools, is what matters if academic achievement and college-readiness is the goal.

Even the study EMAC-SSS cites in support of smaller schools support schools the size we have:

1. One of its studies says that secondary schools serving relatively advantaged students should be limited in size to about 1,000 students.

That pretty closely fits what we offer: Terman (700 students), JLS (1,100 students) and Jordan (1,000 students).

2. The other study said that the optimal size of a high school is 1,700 students if looking at cost and productivity. Web Link

Paly (2,000) and Gunn (1,900) are over 1,700 but they have just been expanded to the tune of $200 million dollars of taxpayer bond money to accommodate enrollment growth.

Does EMAC suggest that we give taxpayers money back for the space they just paid for but we decided that we aren't going to use after all?

Or should we keep their money and ask them for $60 million more so that we can build a new high school for 400 students, whose seats they just paid for and will now be empty, so those students can have their own new and much smaller school to go to?

Web Link

Posted by Focusing on what matters
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Two additional data points to throw into the mix:

One, the OECD released a study just this year entitled “School Size Policies: A Literature Review”, in which it says that a review of research shows that in affluent communities, secondary schools may be larger, but they should remain under 1000 students. Even though research generally shows that smaller school size is more impactful at the elementary level, PAUSD's secondary schools, in particular high schools, greatly exceed the recommended level of 1000 students per school. This study goes on to show that, with smaller schools, teachers can likely be more responsive to students' social emotional needs and discipline issues as well as engage better with parents. More students might be able to participate in popular extracurricular activities (e.g., robotics, sports) with a third school, because “Although larger schools can frequently offer a broader and more varied set of extracurricular courses for their students, it is more likely that these activities will be overcrowded.” Although perhaps not as likely for PAUSD students, there is a possibility that continuing to grow the school sizes could result in a decline in earning potential for PAUSD graduates as the report notes that one study shows that an increase of 145 students has been associated with a 9% decline in earnings for the graduates. (Ares Abalde, M. (2014), “School Size Policies: A Literature Review”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 106, OECD Publishing., Web Link I'm not a researcher or academic by any means, but the study has some interesting and relevant tidbits.

Secondly, in terms of the money that the district has already spent to expand the high schools, we should consider our future use of funds very carefully, of course, but also be sure we don't fall into the sunk cost fallacy. Just because a decision appeared to be the correct decision in 2007 (to expand the capacity of our current high schools) does not make it the correct decision for our students in 2016 and the future. We have more information at hand now, the world has changed drastically in the last decade (especially in terms of the ability to personalize education), and the pace of change is far quicker than we could have imagined. As noted in the Ivey Business Journal, “In a highly volatile world, leaders cannot keep marching in the same direction simply because they have invested heavily in a particular course of action. Instead, leaders must react to changing conditions and be willing to shift direction accordingly, perhaps even to pivot one hundred eighty degrees if the situation warrants it. In a turbulent environment, leaders must gather feedback from multiple voices and assess progress against their original goals and objectives on a regular basis. As negative feedback emerges, or external conditions change, successful leaders learn and adapt. Unfortunately, far too many leaders stick to outdated strategies for far too long. Why do they fail to adapt? In part, many leaders do not want to 'waste' the time and money that they have already spent. Thus, they keep plowing ahead despite all the changes taking place in their environment…Individuals and companies should make decisions based on the marginal costs and benefits of their actions. If an activity yields positive net incremental benefits, then one should choose to pursue that course of action. The amount of any previous irreversible investment in that activity ought to not affect the decision that is being made. Prior investments, which cannot be recovered, represent sunk costs which should not be relevant.”
For further details, see “Cutting Your Losses: How to Avoid the Sunk Cost Trap” at Web Link

Prudence is important and I am hopeful our school board will take a step back and weigh the positive benefits of smaller schools with other options that exist to improve our school district overall. It may be that smaller schools is the answer. It may be that innovating in our current school walls to help them feel like smaller schools will work better for our school district. Either way, both the EMAC and Todd Collins have put forth the idea for a task force to look at updating our approach to secondary education and I am hopeful that, despite the perception of secrecy in what actually appears to be a very nascent effort, the school board will approve a task force to make sure our schools are both right-sized and forward-looking.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm

People are claiming that the District’s current middle schools and high schools can easily accommodate the number of students we have, now and into the foreseeable future.... partially because the District has recently spent $50M on the middle schools and $200M on the high schools toward that end.

The community really needs to urge the PAUSD Board to authorize a task force if only to inspect this claim. If what the EMAC team says is true, the our kids will be in deep trouble a few years from now:

The EMAC folks wrote in their open letter to the Board:

"EMAC-SSS believes these capital improvements were necessary simply because our secondary schools were so under-capitalized over the past 30 years, due in part of the effects of Prop 13. By no means do we regard these investments as “wasted” even if we chose to open another secondary school or schools. A careful analysis of the $200M bond money spent shows that only a minority fraction was spent on expanding the number of classrooms we have in our middle and high schools."

"The true enrollment capacity of Paly and Gunn is an area of concern because our high school enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 700 students by 2020 compared to 2015, from 3900 to 4600 students. EMAC-SSS has made repeated efforts to vet the District’s “stated capacity” numbers for Paly and Gunn (i.e., each can supposedly accommodate ~2300 students when construction is done). Three members of the EMAC-SSS have engineering degrees and possess an analytical mindset, and yet we could NOT confirm that assertion unless we made some arduous assumptions. We recommend pursuing this line of inquiry harder, as EMAC-SSS has doubts as to whether the District’s stated capacity numbers are rooted in reality, in the schools."

"For example, Paly and Gunn are able to hold just over 2300 students each (i.e., the District’s stated capacity) if and only if you accept 3 assumptions: (1) run capacity at 100%, (2) average classroom size of 28.5 students, and (3) many classrooms are used 6 out of 7 periods. If the Board wanted to go to 27.5 instead, you lose space for 70 students, or equivalently you will need 3 more classrooms at each school. Or if the Board wanted to run at a more reasonable 95% of capacity and a 27.5 ratio, now Paly and Gunn can enroll ~200 fewer students than the Stated Capacity. And all of this still assumes many classrooms being occupied 6 out of 7 periods – which means some teachers will not have their own classroom for prep and collaboration space, and also likely limiting space for teacher-student office hours."

"Said another way, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the perceived capacity of the school and the actual situation on the ground at each school. The potential result is a false sense of precision and a false confidence in the District’s stated capacity figures for each school."

Posted by not really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Focusing on what matters,

I just read the literature survey you linked to. Its author concluded, after carefully considering the study you cited and others, that "there is no educationally-relevant absolute lower or upper limit ...there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the question of school size."

You also said that "in terms of the money that the district has already spent to expand the high schools, we should sure we don't fall into the sunk cost fallacy."

PAUSD is beholden to community members who often, but not always, vote to tax themselves with parcel taxes and bond measures and give money on top of that to PiE.

How do you think they will feel if the district builds a $60m + new school with even more of their money, leaving behind empty classrooms that they were told just a few years ago were desperately needed?

Given that there is no data that establishes an optimal school size smaller than what PAUSD has now, what the school board and Dr. McGee should focus on when considering a new secondary school is this potential hidden cost: how much saying "never mind" - after getting the voters' $200 million to build out our high schools + millions more in parcel tax annual revenues - will undermine voter trust in PAUSD's fiscal stewardship and influence their vote next time.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Just because our secondary (and elementary schools) now have enough classrooms to hold and seat huge numbers of students, it doesn't mean that they are not too big.

It isn't just classroom space that makes a school. It is parking spots, field space, traffic management at the entrances, sports team space, indoor housing for a whole class assembly or a whole school assembly, or a whole class parent meeting, music performance, etc. etc.

The fact that our schools have been squished to accommodate extra students does not mean that there is enough space for students to eat lunch in the shade, or out of the rain, for faculty to park on campus without using residential side streets. There is not even enough parking for parents to park in visitor spots during the day.

Posted by Focusing on what matters
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Hello there, "not really",

I really appreciate you took the time to read the report. I agree with you that the OECD report says that there is no "one size fits all approach." To be honest, I've looked at more than just this study and, if you look at them, not one of them advocates for a 2,000+ size student body at a school. Here are some others - you seem like a very curious and interested person, so I'd love your take on these, because it is difficult to sort out, and discussing it can help us all to reach informed conclusions. (I'll have to send some of the URLs separately as PA Weekly seems to have a limit on the number of URLs in one message.)

1) Impact of Smaller Schools, Maryland DOE by APA Consulting, Web Link

2) A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective, Review of Educational Research, Web Link

3) Visible Learning, John Hattie, Article on the book can be found: Web Link

4) Extracurricular Participation, School Size, and Achievement and Self-Estemm Among High School Students: A National Look, International Education Studies, Vol 1 No 4, Web Link

You'll see when you read through these that, just like the OECD report, it's not that there is one size fits all as an optimal size, so it is difficult and trick to set any size limit. But I'd like to know if you see what I see - which is that not one researcher advocates for a super-sized high school of 2,000+. It seems to me that when researchers talk about "big schools" they are usually talking about something north of 1,000, which of course we are well beyond. As an affluent school district, 1,000 might be about right for our schools. But I'd love to have your perspective and insights after you read through these, because I am, after all, just a parent in our community with lots of other balls in the air, so it's easy to miss the details. Much better to work together to be sure we're catching all the angles before any of us develop an overly hardened perspective. It just seems to me, based on my reading of these research reports, that our secondary schools are truly too large - both high school and middle school - and that we should be doing something as a community to counter-balance the size of the student bodies to make our children's educational experience more connected and engaging. But what that is and how we achieve it, I'd leave to a design task force or whatever the board wants to call the new group that can dive deep into the best strategy for our district, whether that's a new school, or schools within schools, or learning pathways, or small learning communities, or project-based learning, or experiential learning, or some/all of the above. My perspective isn't 100% to start a new school but rather to acknowledge that the schools we have currently really are too large to achieve many of our objectives, in particular the ability for each child to know and be known well, to have the opportunity to feel connected to the school, etc.

As far as the sunk costs fallacy goes, I guess from my perspective, which again is just me, I'd be concerned about a school board that didn't at least have a conversation that says "are we falling into a sunk cost fallacy here?" I mean, how can I trust that they would use my tax dollars well in the future if I think that they will make a decision today that is not based on the facts and information we have at our disposal now versus what was known years ago. They could look at all the factors and still decide that it's best to not open a new facility for a myriad of reasons. But I'd feel better knowing that they didn't have a knee jerk reaction to past decisions and spending without at least reviewing natural human tendencies and biases to be sure that they were making a well-rounded and well-considered decision.

In the end, I think an open and informed dialogue between those of us in our community, the board members, experts, parents, educators and students can help us to prepare our children for the future they face. And I truly look forward to your perspectives on the research links, if you have time to look through them. I really do appreciate you took the time to look at the OECD study - none of this for the feint of heart!

Posted by Focusing on what matters
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:54 pm

"not really" (and anyone else who's interested), here are the rest of those links...

5) School Size and Its Relationship to Achievement and Behavior, North Carolina DPI, Web Link

6) High School Size, Organization, and Content: What Matters for Student Success?, Brookings Institution Press, Web Link (can't get to the full study, though)

7) The Impact of School Size on Student Achievement: Evidence from Four States, Web Link

8) Study Proves Optimal High School Size May Be Larger Than Previously Thought, NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP), Web Link

Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:40 pm

Let's get real. No one really is worried that Paly is too big.

You don't hear Paly parents sitting around talking about how Paly is too big. People are excited about the new classrooms and performing arts center and gym. They aren't freaking out about crowded halls during passing period.They are worried about Gunn, and the size isn't what they are worried about, it's the suicides. They thing Gunn is anomic, impersonal, cold, and that the kids in it are worked past the point of exhaustion until they become depressed anxious wrecks. Elementary parents are afraid of sending their kids to Gunn. They are really fearful. Most Ohlone parents are from south PA and they are headed to Gunn. That is the last frigging thing they want. They hate the idea of their child going into that Dickensian hell-hole.

They want a new school, one that is not Gunn, and if they could eliminate Gunn from the face of the earth, they would do it. Problem solved.

This new school is the answer to parents who are afraid of Gunn. It's probably also the answer to parents who are afraid of Jordan, with its poor management, teacher bullying, peer bullying, and ridiculous homework. They want the district to build them a lifeboat.

Just for them and their friends. They are getting in the lifeboat and sailing to Wayfinder and bypassing Gunn. Bye! Now little Caitlin and little Chandler do not have to go to to suicide high. But what about everyone else? Well you can't all fit in the lifeboat.

Posted by not really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:25 am

Focusing on what matters,

I agree, given the cost, fact-based decision making is called for here.

It is telling to me that in EMAC's own survey 76% of middle and high school parents did NOT support opening a new school.

If 76% of parents do not support EMAC's proposal to spend $60 million + on a new, small secondary school, it's going to be pretty close to impossible to get over half of our community to vote to increase their taxes to pay for the school that 3 out of 4 of parents don't want and don't think is needed.

The additional surveys and articles you provide support their view.

One is the study the EMAC committee mentioned in its report that said 1,700 students in a school is OK. All three of our middle schools are well under that.

As for somewhat larger Paly and Gunn, researchers you link to acknowledge the limitations of the studies done so far - none have measured the impact "when large schools divide into smaller units for instructional and organization purposes" such as smaller class sizes and the house system that is being considered.

The two I randomly clicked through do not say that large schools are worse. One says even if that were the case, the difference is probably not sufficient to support the high cost of building smaller schools. Rather, large schools should "examine other ways of achieving these benefits" like, again, smaller class sizes and house systems.

Here's a paper that you didn't include. This one is out of Harvard which the New York Times covered.

Harvard University Professor Ronald F. Ferguson, author of the report "How High Schools Become Exemplary" that he prepared for the The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University:

The characteristic shared by exemplary large high schools: "leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”

On his short list of exemplary high schools is Brockton High with 4,100 students. Over half of the exemplary high schools he IDed for success in closing the achievement gap had more than 1,700 students. Two were in Dr. McGee's home state; they had more than 3,000 students.

“'I never bought into the dogma that a huge school can’t be great,' Dr. Ferguson said."

"4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong" Web Link
Web Link

Posted by Sunk costs fallacy
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:45 am

It's true that our high schools represent a "sunk cost" of money that has been spent and cannot be recovered to be spent in a different way, for example on a different high school. That doesn't mean that they should be disregarded going forward. If we have capacity at our existing high schools (and there is literally no actual evidence that we don't, including no evidence from students or teachers that they think the high schools are too big), then there is a cost going forward of not using that capacity, and building something new instead. If we spend $100 million on a new school, and $5 million on additional operating expenses, instead of using our current schools, then we are out $50 million in operating costs over the next 10 years and $100 million in capital costs. Is building a new high school the best use of those dollars? Maybe, but "sunk costs" is not the reason to do it.

My car is 6 years old and paid for, so it's a "sunk cost," but it still gets me to work and back. Guess where I'm not going to be today? The new car dealer.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:53 am

To “not really” and “focusing on what matters”,

Thanks for weighing in seriously on this important topic for our kids.

The EMAC folks wrote in their op-ed above that our high schools are “Bigger than the average of the Top 200 high schools in US News & World Report”. I eye-balled the schools listed in those rankings, and (excluding charter and only public schools), the Top 200 on average seem to be just over 1/2 the size of Paly and Gunn.

I don’t know about you but this factoid seems pretty compelling to me, especially when combined with all their other work. Because some people seem to be saying that ‘size doesn’t matter’ just because you can find examples like Brockton High that have 4100 students. I can personally think of a few other huge American high schools too.

But EMAC's open letter at the District EMAC web site says:

“Certainly a 450 lb man with a BMI of 50 can be perfectly healthy. But averages (and medians) are relevant and meaningful because they show that it is far better – for the average man – to be 175 lbs with a BMI of 24, everything else being equal. Is Palo Alto so exceptional that we can ignore averages?”

And then there is the very serious question of whether Gunn and Paly can even hold 2300 students in the first place (see my other comment above). I hope Todd Collins will weigh in on this issue since he was leader of the blue-ribbon group watching over how we spent our PAUSD bond money.

And the EMAC letter goes on to say: “Certainly EMAC-SSS is NOT claiming that size ALONE is the magic bullet to improved student outcomes. There are a plenty of other areas the District can – and has – worked on. But neither do we find it reasonable to claim that 'size doesn't matter' simply because you are able to find successful exceptions. Human beings can make anything 'work', even if the District went to a single high school sized at 5000 kids. But that doesn't mean that we should. Benchmark averages (and medians) play a role in informing our own behaviors. To be sure, not the ONLY role, but neither should they be dismissed or hand-waved away.”

And then they quoted from some academic study on school size that in itself was a survey of 20 years of other academic studies. Apparently this is known in the academic world as ‘longitudinal studies’.

• “While evidence about secondary school size effects on academic achievement is mixed, the most defensible conclusion favors smaller to midsized schools. This conclusion is most accurately portrayed in studies reporting nonlinear relationships between school size and achievement.”

• “Students who traditionally struggle at school, students from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds, for example, are the major benefactors of smaller schools. But smaller schools do not seem to be an impediment to the learning of more advantaged and/or high-achieving students, at least if those students have access to the specialized instruction they need to master complex subject matter.”

• “There is a clear indication in the weight of this evidence, however, that smaller secondary schools have superior “sticking” power; student attendance and retention rates are significantly better in smaller than larger secondary schools.”

• “Breadth of curriculum is no longer a justification for large schools. The breadth of the curriculum, often cited as a major advantage of large comprehensive secondary schools, seems achievable in schools as small as 500 to 600 students. Such breadth, however, is now regarded as a threat to the academic progress.”

• “[Studies] provide entirely consistent evidence in support of the claim that smaller schools are associated with greater student engagement.”

• “Smaller does not usually mean “really small.” Smaller is a relative term. In districts with secondary school sizes exceeding 2,500 students, for example, smaller can mean as many as 1,500 students, a size that would be considered very large in other districts.”

Posted by so dishonest
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:38 am

The vast majority of the schools in the top 200 US News list are charter schools and that is why they are small. They work with a highly self-selected group of kids and benefit from private money. They are CHARTER SCHOOLS. I am not sure which word in that combination you EMAC people don't understand. CHARTER. SCHOOLS.

Comparing charter schools to large comprehensive high schools is like comparing Williams College to University of California and then concluding that University of Illinois is too big. THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER VARIABLES OTHER THAN SIZE IN THAT EQUATION THAT AFFECT THE OUTCOME VARIABLE. [Portion removed.]

The real issue that all this reveals is just how dumb the EMAC members and Max think that the School Board and public are. Their naked contempt for the board is astonishing. You can read it in the XQ proposal where they insult the board and call it too conservative to innovate. You can see it in their awful, Brown Act violating letter in which they [portion removed]lecture the Board members about democracy and tell them to watch their language. [Portion removed.] The Board Members weren't told the truth because -- as Jack Nicholson's character in a few good men said -- they "can't handle the truth."

[Portion removed.] You have wrecked what should have been a simple process of saying "we think we need more capacity at the secondary school level and we think it should be built at Cubberley." That's it. That's all you had to do. But you didn't want to do that because you wanted Max McGee to build you your superschool [portion removed.]

Posted by Facts, not claims
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:42 am

To the poster immediately above -

Your claim is absolutely not true at all. The overwhelming majority of schools on the US News & World Top 200 public high school list are absolutely NOT charter schools.

Take a closer look. It is public record. Don't make bald assertions without looking at the data.

Posted by so dishonest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:46 am

I did look. You are wrong. 12 of the top 25 alone are charters. Please take your lies and go away.

Posted by @so dishonest
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:47 am

You hit the nail on the head big time! Ouch!

Posted by Facts, not claims
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 11:16 am

Please read again. EMAC was talking about the Top 200 public high schools, not the Top 25. [Portion removed.]

Fact: only a tiny fraction of the Top 200 best American high schools in the US News & World Report are charter schools. An overwhelming majority are regular public schools. And of this bunch, the average size is far, far smaller than Paly and Gunn.

Posted by another teacher
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Note: Not listed if N/A is listed for magnet/charter status. Also I don't think that they properly compile whether a school is charter or not, but I'll post this anyway. From here: Web Link
#1: School for the Talented and Gifted: magnet
#2: Basis Scottsdale: charter
#3: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology: according to US News and World report it's not a charter or a magnet, but it seems like a magnet so I'll notate it as one
#4: Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology: charter
#5: School of Science and Engineering Magnet Overview: magnet
#6: Carnegie Vanguard High School: magnet
#7: Academic Magnet High School: magnet
#12: American Indian Public High School: charter
#13: International Studies Charter High School: charter
#15: Northside College Preparatory High School: magnet
#18: Pacific Collegiate School: charter
#21: Design & Architecture Senior High: magnet
#23: Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions: magnet
From the top 25, I count 5 charters (but many magnets). Are you confusing the two? With that said, I magnets aren't exactly typical "public" schools either due to the fact they get to select their student body.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:34 pm

"An overwhelming majority are regular public schools. And of this bunch, the average size is far, far smaller than Paly and Gunn."
I disagree. Charters/magnets make up probably at least ~30% of the list. Of the top 50, they make up ~50%. I generously assumed that percentage would decline to make the overall average lower. But by no means is "an overwhelming majority" of the list regular public schools. Again, excluding N/A:
#29 Stanton College Preparatory School: magnet
#32 Sturgis Charter Public School: charter
#33 Signature School: charter
#34: Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy: magnet
#37 Raleigh Charter High School: charter
#39: The Preuss School: charter
#41: IDEA Academy and College Preparatory School: charter
#42: University High School: charter
#45 Summit Preparatory High School: charter
#46 Idea Frontier College Preparatory: charter
#47: Western Sierra Collegiate Academy: charter
#48: Hume-Fogg Academic High School: magnet
#49: Liberty Common Charter School: charter

Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:42 pm

#1 and #5 as well as 4 other schools are actually all part of one school complex, housing over 3000 students, called the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center in Houston which was part of a desegregation degree. These are all selective magnet schools that were opened in order to ensure desegregation. These are schools within a school, not small schools.

Carnegie Vanguard and Northside are selective schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in NY.

The problem with the "top" lists is that the are full of weird highly selective schools. Their smallness is due to their selectivity or they aren't small at all, in some cases like Houston's magnet center, or they are charters. Large publics should be compared to other large comprehensive publics. It is ridiculous to compare apples to oranges.

If you have an orange and your neighbor has an apple, and you want an apple, then there's nothing wrong in trying to get an apple. You can go the store and buy an apple, you can move to where the apples are, or you can start a petition to try to get the government to give an apple to everyone. What you can't do is convince the Mayor that you are entitled to apples, that apples are the preferred food of rich people, that the Mayor will be rich and famous and get to give a Ted Talk if he gives you an apple, and then grab a bag of apples and run, screaming about how anyone who tries to take these apples away from me is a retrograde conservative dumby.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Even if you examine schools ranked 175 through 200, a fair number of them are charters/magnets (32%?). Please do research before making claims.
#184 Stockton Unified Early College Academy: charter
#185: Lusher Charter School: charter
#186: Leadership Public Schools --Hayward: charter
#189: Haynes Academy School For Advanced Stud: magnet
#190: Merrol Hyde Magnet School: magnet
#192: Dsst: Stapleton High School : charter
#193: Richard Montgomery High School: magnet
#195 North Houston E : charter

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