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Parents ask schools superintendent for languages

Original post made on May 1, 2008

Parents and schools' Superintendent Kevin Skelly faced off at a public forum Wednesday over including foreign languages in the district's Strategic Plan.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 1, 2008, 4:48 PM

Comments (170)

Posted by not good enough
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 1, 2008 at 5:51 pm

To me the obvious choice would be to lengthen the school day, or school year or do both. This way parents can get the language education they feel is necessary without having to give up anything. There are already schools on the east coast going to longer school days plus quite a few schools in Asia and Europe have much longer school days and years. It seems that our school system is still stuck on the agrarian cycle and fails to realize we no longer have an agricultural economy.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Skelly's right about a lot of this. Young kids learn languages easily, but they also forget them more quickly *unless* they continue to learn them. They don't have the retention of later learners--though they do have better accents.

It would also be better to start an elementary language program in the later grades--and this includes Mandarin Immersion--after primary language literacy has been established.

And, just for the heck of it, I'll propose my cheap alternative again--afterschool language programs once or twice a week with a six-week summertime immersion program. It's cheap (it could be tuition supported) and wouldn't take up school-year class space. It would also be effective in that kids would get the intense exposure that is the key benefit to immersion.

It wouldn't force languages on families who don't want or need them. Many families are bilingual with bilingual kids--they'd rather have time for other activities.

I wish Skelly had been around a couple of years ago--he actually seems to think about priorities instead of how to wage warfare on administrators.

Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on May 1, 2008 at 9:56 pm

For anybody who has attended any decent school in a foreign country, two obvious shortcomings stand out from the current plan for the district: (1) no sense of urgency about teaching kids the foreign languages and cultural skills they'll need by the time they graduate from college, and (2) the relatively short hours during a school day. When our kids enter the workforce, they will no longer be joining a world where everything revolves around the US and its economy. It will be a much more globalized situation, and I don't want them to realize too late that they cannot compete against hungrier kids outside the US who spent the necessary time to learn global skills.

Posted by global skills are MATH and SCIENCE
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm

Carlos, to anyone who has attended schools in other countries, the REASON other countries teach their kids English is is the international language of jobs.

We do not have the pressure to teach ONE other language to our kids in order for them to get jobs when they grow up. Our challenge is to teach them the skills that we are importing from countries that are teaching their kids English AND math/science..and that is math/science. If our kids could do well in those two areas, we wouldn't be importing people from other countries.

Foreign language in elementary schools, until our schools are longer, is not a priority. Foreign language is learned just fine starting at 11-12 in middle school, and for those who have a desire, complete competency, fluency and even most of the accent can be acquired with simply living in the country of the language for a while, even a couple months.

Witness the millions who have done so before the current elementary school fad.

Posted by OP is right
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 10:06 pm

That said, in my above post, OP is right..offer after school foreign language with summer immersion programs along the lines of summer school programs we already pay for.

4 hours per day for even 4 weeks is not bad, if supplemented by home interactive computer and conversation programs and after school conversation/instruction with real people a couple times per week. It would be a great jump start into the 6th grade foreign languages, assuming we get some foreign languages in 6th grade soon.

Posted by A Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 1:12 am

I also agree with OP. Bullis Charter school integrated "after school electives" into their curriculum. Why couldn't we offer similar after school language electives, and maybe even a few technology electives?

If we'd had the option to do some kind of language immersion summer school this summer, we would have enrolled. OP is right. Why can't we start next summer?

I also agree with Skelly that integrating language into our existing curriculum is a tough barrier. So why not introduce language into the school system as OP has suggested? It allows people who want it to take it, and those who don't, to use their time in other ways. And doesn't interfere with the core curriculum.

Posted by asp
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 7:09 am

We already have after school programs that cover languages in elementary schools.

Addison Elementary after school program: Web Link

Spanish: k-5
Mandarin: 1-5

Posted by mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2008 at 7:22 am

one problem with our district is that each school is its own fiefdom, so what is true at one school may not be true at another.

other schools don't have the addison option

bullis has the luxury of being able to be ONE school, and quick on its feet as a separate entity with its own Board etc.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 8:11 am

I think there is a direct correlation between the non-stop musings that OP parent puts out on languages, and the district's rejection of languages. Almost all conversations are dominated by OP's philosophies, who are you? One of the Principals?

Posted by asp
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 8:12 am

Mom, that may be true but the PTA helps organize the Community Based After School Enrichment Program at Addison. There's your answer if your school doesn't provide these options.
Actually, since the PTA donations can't be spent on teachers, it would be interesting if people re-directed their PiE donations to the PTAs to fund these after-school alternatives. Perhaps something you can bring up with your PTAs.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 8:23 am

Once again the advanced kids get short shrift in this district.

Skelly and the board are yanking out the only language that commits the district to challenging advanced kids. Why? He says because measuring reading and math levels is tricky and inaccurate. Nonsense. Districts do this all the time.

The simple truth is Skelly and the principals do not want to be committed to helping EVERY kid to make a year's worth of progress, which is what the old plan called for. They want to focus on the kids in the middle and bottom--maybe because that's easier.

Skelly's promise to "challenge each student" is an empty one if the district says it won't bother to measure levels for advanced kids. The district needs to step up: measure every kid and then challenge him or her

Right now, the district is setting a low goal for itself. Bureaucratically astute, perhaps, but it shortchanges children. Meanwhile, they can let the advanced kids sit bored in classrooms waiting ....

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 8:51 am

The "advanced kids" have never lacked resources in this district, I think part of the reason we don't have a true GATE program is because a) every palo alto parent thinks their kid is gifted b) too many of the kids are truly "advanced" so it make sense to treat a class as a whole.

That said, we really don't help our LD kids enough - ask the guys at Charles Armstrong how many kids are from PAUSD. They are bright, but learn differently.

If you are a "regular" kid in this district, especially one whose parents feel that creative time is more important then tutors, SCORE, Kumon and pitching lessons, you get left behind.

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 2, 2008 at 9:12 am

To all the grade-school parents out there fighting for a foreign-language program in the elementary schools: You might want to investigate the language classes at the high schools. They're pitiful, pitched to the lowest level. Students spend more time drawing cartoons and creating colorful posters than actually learning the language. I really don't think you want to put this district in charge of adding more of this program at lower grades.

Posted by inequity lives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 9:43 am

"Mom, that may be true but the PTA helps organize the Community Based After School Enrichment Program at Addison. There's your answer if your school doesn't provide these options.

Actually, since the PTA donations can't be spent on teachers, it would be interesting if people re-directed their PiE donations to the PTAs to fund these after-school alternatives. Perhaps something you can bring up with your PTAs."

Sorry, asp, but I don't know of any other school in PAUSD that has the surplus funds "problem" that Addison has. You guys can't spend money fast enough to keep with the rate it comes in. Is it because Addison diverts more of their PIE funds to themselves?

Posted by parent
a resident of Addison School
on May 2, 2008 at 9:55 am

The PTA does NOT fund the after school programs at Addison.

All the after school classes are run by outside vendors and paid for by the participating parents. PTA volunteers organized it and helped choose the vendors and class selection at the request of the parents. The Addison principal and teachers are generous enough to allow the use of classroom space for these classes.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 10:04 am

Palo Alto mom,

I don't think you know what you are talking about. What resources do you imagine are available to advanced kids in this district? You yourself point out we don't have a true GATE program.

It may be, as you claim with some hyperbole, "that every palo alto parent thinks their kid is gifted," but wishing something doesn't make it so and certainly doesn't create an educational need. It may also be true, as you claim, that many PA kids are advanced when compared to kids in other districts. That's irrelevant. The problem is that some kids are advanced compared to their classmates here in district, and the district wants to treat the class "as a whole," that is, ignore the educational needs of the advanced kids.

How shoddy.

LD kids have their own federal law and will get what they need--districts live in fear of lawsuits.

Posted by asp
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 10:10 am

I didn't say the PTA funded the programs at Addison. I said they were organized by the PTA.

My comment on PiE vs. PTA funding was based on the fact that PTA funding can't be used to pay teachers but *in theory* could be used to fund this sort of program.

If enough parents at your school believe that Skelly and the school board are wrong in not providing language education in elementary schools, then you could force the issue by re-directing your funding in this manner. You would get your language program and then see how the board react to their drop in PiE funding.

Personally, I'm happy with the user pays model adopted at Addison.

Posted by Help!
a resident of Community Center
on May 2, 2008 at 10:35 am

Paly Parent,

You are absolutely right, what are we thinking?! A district with such a poor World Language program in High School and Middle School is supposed to understand the benefits of an early start? High School is where kids are supposed to be in ADVANCED language programs, not starting language study.

PA Parent,

Shortchanging every child is a fact on this topic.

And what is the deal with "Curriculum Constipation"? One hand, one hand is all I need to list the academic core curriculum areas that have, forever, been considered foundations for a good education. 1)Math, 2) Science, 3)Language Arts, 4) History/Social Studies and 5)Foreign Languages. How does this cause constipation? Add plenty of exercise and the joy of the Arts, and you will not be constipated.

The only constipation here is in the imagination of those that debate and argue against languages, and attack those that care to argue for it. How can the Principals, be saying all this stuff? Why are the experts at Stanford not bailing us out on this subject, do they believe foreign languages are curriculum constipation? HELP!

Posted by Dismay
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 11:40 am


Yeah, I don't get the constipation thing. Other districts do language. Other countries do it. I get the sense Skelly et al. just aren't up for the challenge. I mean, it's not like they have a huge drain on their time because they need to fix some fundamental problem in the district.

Also seems like a slap in the face given the number of parents who asked for language on the survey.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Another Parent,

I am not a principal, teacher, or in any way associated with the district except as a parent. Even as a parent, I am low profile.

That said, I do think these forums do get read--not all the time, but enough that concerns and ideas wend their way over to Churchill occasionally.

In general,

Ohlone also has afterschool language programs--more than any of the other schools, I thing--Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, French, Hebrew for native speakers and Hindi. It's nice, but the kids would learn a lot more if there was a summer-immersion program, which would offer intense repeated exposure. Once a week means the kids tend to learn some phrases and vocabulary, but there's little need to try to *think* in the language.

So my idea--particularly given that we're in the state of underfunded education--is to use what's in place and build upon it. One other advantage of a summer-immersion program is that you could put a year's worth of language time in a summer program. Unlike other subjects, like math, languages don't need developmental leaps. The compressed time frame works with foreign languages in a way that it doesn't for other academic subjects.

In some ways, all that would be needed to start this is to put in a *beginner* immersion program in Spanish at Addison when the SI summer programs run.

About foreign languages on a global scale. English-speaking countries tend to have poor second-language programs. You'll find the same issues in Australia as you do here. Canada, which has a strong economic and political motive for bilingualism, has had a real problem achieving it.

English is the language of trade and entertainment. This is unlikely to change in our lifetime. English is widely established and its easy for adults to learn. It's already becoming a widely spoken second language in China and has been a widely spoken second language in India for generations. For all the debate about Mandarin, the reality is that a lot of China still doesn't speak Mandarin. China's more similar to India in its large number of related, but separate, languages than we tend to think.

I could always see the arguments for Spanish, since we have such a large Spanish-speaking population, but I began to see that as less urgent as well when I read that third-generation American Hispanics don't speak Spanish.

Basically, English-speakers don't have the same pressing need to speak another language as do non-English speakers. On a personal basis, I favor early second language exposure because I do think there are advantages (particularly audio), but I don't see it as a key curriculum issue. In some ways, given how tubby kids have gotten, I'd rather see daily P.E. And I hated P.E. as a kid, but it's alarming how fat American kids are (not specifically Palo Alto, but we tend to shlep our kids around to sports afterschool.)

So, ongoing language exposure during the school year so what's learned is retained and heavy-duty instruction in the Summer. That way the extend-the-year-ers can kind have their way for their kids.

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 2:09 pm

English-only speakers are at a big disadvantage economically, academically, cognitively and intellectually. It's true that English is, generally speaking, the most useful language to know, but it doesn't follow that English speakers have no need to speak other languages. Talk with any multi-lingual person who does international business, and they will tell you how valuable their skills are. As globalization continues, the value of a foreign language will only go up.

In deciding not to offer a foreign language to children, we will handicap them. Children around the world successfully learn foreign languages starting in elementary with no trouble, and quite often they learn more than one foreign language. These children manage to learn several foreign languages while outperforming U.S. kids in math and science, so there is no trade-off if it's done right.

It's a pity the district doesn't have the ambition to provide our children with the tools they will need in the coming decades.

(The once-a-week after-school option is not worth the time--though it has a "coolness" factor for parents who want to brag--and I have never seen data showing the benefits of summer-only immersion, even if this has become the new fad. I'm skeptical it is worthwhile.)

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Good for Skelly & Co. They've gotten some backbone and stood up to the first push from those who want to add another boutique program to the schools. If we stick with the basics and do them well, we will all be fine.

Posted by hahaha
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2008 at 4:15 pm

"English-only speakers are at a big disadvantage economically, academically, cognitively and intellectually. "

Oh, yes I can see how it is such a huge advantage that I speak Swahili. I am at a total economic, academic, cognitive and intellectual advantage over the average American. Oh, wait...

Posted by what language was removed?
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2008 at 5:03 pm

For those who want foreign language: start an after school program, like those who want more PE start after school basketball etc programs, and more get the idea.

I read the Strategic Plan: I see a huge commitment to every kid in there. What language, exactly, was pulled for the brightest kids?

Don't know about you, but in my experience, regardless of where you are in the country, if the public education isn't strong enough for your brilliant kid, you send them to private schools. If you don't want to do that, you do what we did..parents provide extra materials, or talk to the teachers to ask for supplemental materials to do in the class while the rest of the kids are doing the typical work.

Was that way for what was then called "gifted" kids when I was young, now "GATE"..I was one of them, and it worked great. And we weren't even in a town where every kid was brilliant and every parent the highest educated!

Have seen kids in the school here who are 2 grade levels above elementary school in math, for example, and the teacher just supplemented them with more advanced stuff. Worked great!

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Dear hahaha,

It appears that you in particular are at a cognitive disadvantage since you have difficulty understanding English. Please get someone to help you read and scroll back up.

Dear What,

There will be no need to start an after school program if we have a standard FLES program.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Languages Now!,

Sorry, most Americans don't speak a second language, but somehow we seem to do pretty well economically. So, I'm not buying your huge disadvantage pitch. It's a huge disadvantage to not speak English.

Please note that I said that afterweek foreign language instruction should be *combined* with a summer-immersion program. There's nothing faddish about this--short-term immersion has been used with adults for more than 60 years in this country. Children, as I said, learn languages quickly. Retention and use is the key with kids. So, immersion takes advantage of kids ability to learn quickly and the afterschool instruction would act primarily as a means of retention.

You can fuss all you want, but the fact is that *because* elementary school second-language programs have been so minimal in this country, the kids who have learned second languages have been doing it for years through afterschool, weekend and summer programs. Hate to break it to you, but they work *if* the effort's sustained.

I'm not opposed to FLES--but it's also clear that there's neither the money nor the support for it. Most people didn't consider it top priority the last time there was a survey and they didn't this time. The pro-language crowd is a vocal minority not a majority.

Okay, given that, what's feasible and helpful for the kids? What would be better that what we already have? Thus my suggestion--not the optimum, but the feasible within in a *free* *public* school system.

And, of course, you can also do what "what language . . . " suggests--supplement for the lack. It's not like we live in an area with no extracurricular opportunities.

Look, just because we're stuck with the self-serving and space-wasting MI program because of the self-absorbed PACE crew doesn't mean that we should ape their behavior. I'd love it if we started balancing needs in the district instead of viewing everything as a my-kids-first competition.

While I put down FLES on my survey form as an interest--I didn't give it first priority--why? Because I think overcrowding is a *much* bigger issue.

Posted by how to fit in FLES
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Here is the big question: what do we dump to make room for FLES, or, how do we convince PA to pay so much more taxes to pay for another hour of elementary school, and how do we convince teachers that they need to stay anohter hour ( one hour because the kid will need an after recess if we add time to the day.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 2, 2008 at 8:56 pm

My long standing support of foreign language education at the elementary schools has led to me weighing in on these forums since this topic got start a couple years back. A few observations from what I read above I would like to make:

1. I detect from Kevin Skelly and the principals more of an organizational and administrative resistance to introducing a full fledged FLES program into the district. This is entirely understandable, as we are working with a faily solid curriculum at the elementary level, and we don't want to inadvertently diminish its effectiveness by introducing a different curriculum structure that includes language instruction. So, while there may be some different opinions amongst Kevin and the various principals from a policy standpoint about the benefit of language instruction, I think it is more a question of is it worth the pain, agony and risk of implementing it? They seem to have come down with a "no" answer on such a question, which I find to be profoundly disappointing.

2. The longer I am around, the more I think the "soft skills" that come with instruction in another language are where the most significant and unique benefits are to starting such instruction at an earlier grade level. It is not just a matter of getting a deeper understanding of the language itself, it is the skills of active listening, understanding differences, having to employ alternate means of communication to get a point across, getting a comfort level when someone is dealing with areas not part of their normal routine, all these are things that come more quickly and easily with a foreign language based instruction. And such soft skills are often what it takes for people to accomplish a great deal in their endeavors as an adult, whatever walk of life they choose.

3. With the above in mind, I agree that English is the prevailing languge of business and mass communication, and one can get by very nicely, thank you very much, speaking only English. I don't think that is the point though. We must continue to provide excellent science, math and the like to kids in PAUSD, but while those are necessary, I don't think world class public instruction is sufficient without including the types of learning and skills that come with foreign lnaguage instruction. They are different than the other subjects currently offered, but they come into play constantly in interpersonal relations with just about anyone one intereacts with--family members, colleagues, friends, total strangers.

There may be other ways these soft skills, as I refer to them here, can be inculcated into the education of our kids, and on some measures, they already are. I am of the opinion, however, that a FLES program would take such learning up an order of magnitude in this district, along with the enhanced aptitude for language that is well documented as serving students well as they get further along in their education and interests.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 9:24 pm

What language,

You've mixed up two separate issues. Look at the weblink to the story above.

As to GATE, it doesn't really exist in this district. The teaching strategy you are talking about is called differentiation. It's true a few teachers do it, but most don't.

Despite your experience, there are districts that are committed to teaching all kids, including the ones you call gifted.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 11:54 pm


I'm puzzled--which of those "soft skills" do you think is unique to second-language learning at a lower grade? Seriously? I mean, learning music teaches listening--the other things you mentioned--are they really less valuable if introduced in middle school?

From what I've read over the years, there are certain kinds of cognitive developments that make learning languages harder in some ways after late childhood. Though things I've read since then indicate that later acquisition of a language may be more difficult, but also more likely to be retained over a long period.

Given that it seems unlikely that we're going to get the optimum FLES situation in Palo Alto at this time, what, given your emphasis, would be an acceptable, though not optimum, amount of early language instruction?

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 3, 2008 at 6:28 am


I don't think I said they were unique, but I do believe that foreign language instruction is among the best methods for developing them. As for when they are introduced, I think most educators will contend that they start when a child first sets foot in a classroom, it is not something that is "introduced" at middle school. Foreign language instruction puts added need on the student to work on these skills, as at first speaking in another language is not a "natural act" for most Americans.

My own personal experience with language acquisition suggests that retention is in fact more difficult when it is introduced at a later age. I started taking Japanese when I was in college, and after a few years, all I could do is say hello (kon nichi wa.) By contrast, I started Spanish at a much younger age, and I still use it easily and all the time with my employees and when I travel. Lots of factors here, so I don't want to get carried away with my own case, but I do adhere to the notion that the earlier the better, and draw on studies that bear that out.

As for your question about what could be done if FLES does not become a priority, I am not sure I have a well thought out point of view. I have been consistent in my belief that it should be the policy of the PAUSD to have foreign language instruction as part of the curriculum. If that is not going to be the policy, programs such as ones you have suggested for after school and the summer are readily available within the district from various sources, and people can elect to participate in them should they choose. I am not sure that it is good school district policy to offer another alternative that largely replicates what already is available to those who seek it outside regular school hours. What's the point?

Posted by solution
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2008 at 6:32 am

The reality is that we are simply going to have to choose between expanding our current 2 immersion programs to give everyone who wants it a real choice, )(U(*& off the ones who get kicked out of their neighborhood school, or not expand our immersion programs and keep it to the lucky few who win lotteries, so that it isn't actually a choice.

Who knows, maybe there is a 3rd choice, a new, Immersion School, somewhere that isn't "neighborhood" and therefore won't kick out neighborhood kids, like perhaps along Page Mill, and make it big enough so that everyone who wants it, gets it.

Have to provide transportation so that those kids who don't have parents who can drive them can still get there.

In the meantime, the rest of us who want it, set up after school programs.

Posted by Would you mind sharing?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2008 at 6:57 am

To What Language Was Removed?

Do you really believe that parents who don't like something about their school should just up and leave or, in essence, home school? Would you say that to parents whose children are below grade level, clearly a group of families who, for good reason, think more could be done too? Or is it just that you don't sympathize with children who find school too easy for them?

I think you think intellectual ability and wealth go hand in hand. There are plenty of students in our district who tip the scales academically whose parents have neither the resources nor know-how to just ship their kids off to schools at $20k+ a pop. And even if they did, the scant few private school spots there are around here are very difficult to get.

Based on what I see in the classroom, my guess is that we have the same percent of students at both ends -- not an insignificant number in either case.

In my mind, all the kids that go to our schools are entitled to get the best education possible, and we do that in part by identifying where schools are falling short and mapping out, this time through the strategic planning process, how we can improve. It is perfectly appropriate for parents concerned about the lack of challenge as well as those concerned about too much challenge to voice their concerns -- in fact, they are being invited to do so.

One of the problems mentioned by parents is the lack of consistency between schools and even between classrooms within the same grade at the same school. It is great that teachers provided supplemental materials for children at your school, but the experience others have had is teachers sticking with the same lessons and homework for all .

Would you mind sharing what elementary school provides kids who are 2 grade levels ahead in math more advanced stuff that worked great? How did your school measure what level they should be working at (the illusive metric the article mentioned)? Sharing that information could help all our schools, so every advanced child in Palo Alto can be as challenged in math as those at your school.

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2008 at 9:33 am


"Sorry, most Americans don't speak a second language, but somehow we seem to do pretty well economically. " Unintentionally funny. I'll let you dig out your critical thinking text and figure out your logical error.

Just tossing together a dash of immersion with a pinch of afterschool is the definition of faddish. I can see you personally are excited by this approach, but unless you can marshall evidence that this mash-up works elsewhere, I don't think we need it in our public schools. I'm sure there are lots of opportunities in the private sector where parents can mix and match as they please (and pay through the nose).

I'm not sure why you think afterschool, weekend and summer programs are successful. In the language-learning community, these are regarded as failures.

Not only is FLES a good idea, parents put a high priority on it in the survey.

You dismiss FLES merely because it doesn't matter to you, which is the height of selfishness.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 12:34 pm

The reason for the "mash-up" is that this would be an enrichment program for those who want it (and want to pay) - not a mandatory part of the curriculum. Does it "work"? Who knows - my kid studies piano about the same way and that seems to be 'working' though I haven't seen any studies on it yet. So if you don't think it "works," don't have your kids do it.

Is it "faddish" - sure. The current excitement with foreign language study for kids is a fad in my view - a good reason for PAUSD to steer clear of it. But if we can help people who want it get it with a low cost, why not? But it's a good program for the PTA's or another intereted group to deliver, not for PAUSD.

Posted by puzzled by the worry of parents of bright kids
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I hope it isn't true that some schools here are good at challenging bright kids, and some aren't.

But, I have to say, given the level of APs, high scores on SATS and PSATS, and percent of kids from our HSs who go to one of the top 20 universities in the nation every year, it is hard for me to swallow that our district is doing such a bad job with the kids!

I mean, really..2 of the top high schools of the nation are in our district, out of how many thousands across the nation?

Makes it hard to believe that bright kids can be bored in school when on the other hand I hear the stats and hear the constant pressure and competition in the high schools.

How can a bad elementary school produce such outstanding high school students?

Something doesn't add up right.

Obviously, for the kid with 150-160 IQ, I doubt any public school could do the best job individualizing to that kid in elementary school, just like I doubt any public school can do the best job individualizing to kid who is in the 1% of any tremendous skill ( like a piano prodigy or something). The difference is that for the kids with 150 IQ, if the parents can't afford an equally rarefied private school, such as Nueva, then the schools gladly scholarship in the kid. For the kid who is severely disabled, there are virtually no private school options, and those that are, are NOT scholarshipped in.

Being a former kid with 140 IQ, I often found myself "bored" as I hear you all worrying about. But, in those days, we didn't whine and expect a private school education from the public school. We got extra books from the library, extra work from the teacher, had to write longer essays, do more research, answer more questions etc.

So, if you have a brilliant kid and don't want him or her in a private school, get to work challenging your child! I cannot believe there is any teacher in any public school who won't happily hand out algebra sheets to your child when everyone else is working on their math fact sheets.

Posted by puzzled by the worry of parents of bright kids
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm

I suspect the big differences in attitude may be one of "entitlement" ...what are we "entitled" to. I actually DON'T believe every kid is "entitled" to the best education anyone anywhere can get. That is impossible in a world of limited public resources, where it will NEVER be enough to give everything possible to every kid.

I believe kids are 'entitled" to an education which does the best it can to share out the resources in the most effective way possible. Obviously, the BEST way would be one on one instruction for every kid, to keep every kid maximally challenged at all times. We have to aim a little lower than that.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Dear Languages Now -

Although you think "FLES a good idea, parents put a high priority on it in the survey" the District feels that that there are more important priorities right now then adding a program - at a cost of more than 1 million dollars - at this time.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm

" I cannot believe there is any teacher in any public school who won't happily hand out algebra sheets to your child when everyone else is working on their math fact sheets. " -really? is it your belief or experience? If latter, please tell what school you're talking about.. I'd like to be first on the waiting list for that school (and that teacher)!

Posted by completely different parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Last year, the principals said they didn't want MI (all except one, anyway) -- and the School Board and the Superintendent said Too Bad, and implemented a poorly conceived plan with virtually no "exit strategy" for when it outgrows its current location.

A new Superintendent came to town, agreed to "re-visit" some of the previous decisions made, such as whether or not to take back the Garland site, but said he would not be re-visiting MI despite it shortcomings.

And now, citing the principals' opposition, refuses to visit the notion of FLES.

Has the Board hired another MFC, who is dismissive of principals when it is convenient, and then blames them when bad news has to be handed to parents? How hard is to find a Superintendent with just a shred of integrity?

Posted by Languages are not a fad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2008 at 3:17 pm


"Good for Skelly & Co. They've gotten some backbone and stood up to the first push from those who want to add another boutique program to the schools. If we stick with the basics and do them well, we will all be fine."

1. Not everything about foreign languages is boutique. Boutique is when a small group is served at a higher cost.

2. FLES is not a boutique program, it's for everyone, the Costco version, handles quantity at a lower cost, per student in this case.

3. The "basics" in education have always included foreign language study in developed countries. Not in America, which is why we are ranked with underdeveloped countries in Education. You'd think Palo Alto would be beyond, still trying to get Math and Science right.

Also, studying languages is not a fad, it's age old. A Harvard overview on the study of languages states "the professional schools themselves (particularly law and medicine) have looked upon language acquisition as an indication of a student's ability to think analytically and systematically to acquire a large body of information."

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 3:57 pm

LNF, sure foreign language study has always been with us; the 4 year colleges require it (though not sure why, I think it is an outdated requirement); heck, I think PAUSD high schools may require it. PA offers a bunch of language in middle and high schools, through AP levels.

But the discussion here is elementary school foreign language (FLES), which is the flavor of the month among fancy school districts, with parents thinking it will give kids a leg up in the "global economy" and looking at what you call the 'developed' countries and thinking if they do it, it must be good. Both views overlook that it is not speaking a second language that is an advantage - it is speaking English. Other English-speaking countries (UK, Australia, English speaking parts of Canada) in fact are pretty much like us in foreign language eduction.

You may be right about the definition of "boutique." I meant that it would be a minor benefit (though very attractive to some), and at pretty high cost in fact - $1M dollars plus what it costs to lengthen the school day. That would be well over 1% of the total budget, perhaps approaching 2%.

Posted by Help!
a resident of Community Center
on May 3, 2008 at 4:17 pm

palo alto mom,

Of course "the District feels that that there are more important priorities right now then adding a program - at a cost of more than 1 million dollars - at this time."

But this is supposed to be a long term "strategic" plan, not a a job description, or a fancy to do list.

Posted by Another parent pipes in
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Give Nueva a call. Tuition money isn't all a high IQ kid needs. I have a friend whose child tried to get in there who told me that Nueva often has 7 times as many applicants, who apply from all over the Bay Area, as spots in the years they have openings.

But even if schools like Nueva had spots, private schools should not be the default for kids in a community as rich in resources as Palo Alto.

I don't read the posts above as whining or parents expecting a private school education. They just want their kids to be engaged and learn with the same kids they walk home and play kick the can with when the school day is done. It can be as easy as putting students online. That would not take anything away from any other students' needs. Kinda like SRA was for reading when I was a kid.

Parents who want more I bet have teachers who won't let their child pull out a book and read during math period and don't give extra work sheets or longer projects. My child had a few teachers like that. I always hoped that they were the exception and not the rule. But the years my child was in those classrooms were difficult ones all around.

Posted by Terman mom
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on May 3, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Completely agree, another parent. There is no reason for a kid to be bored in school. Parents just need to talk to the teacher, and if it ins't resolved, talk to the principal, and if it isn't resolved, go up the chain.

If enough of us do it, then every school and every teacher will have the resources and ability to deal with the upper 1% of the population equally well, not just the one or two schools that already are great at it. Mine went through Juana Briones, where they do this extremely well, from the least able to the most able. I saw classrooms with one developmentally delayed in some way AND usually one extremely high, above grade level, kid in them, and they and everyone in between were taught to their level. Of course, there was also a phenomenal amount of parental involvement in the classroom, so we parents took on the kids "outside the lines" to help them keep up or stay challenged. I thought that was the whole district, because it was my neighborhood school and I just landed there. But, now that we have been in middle school for a while with kids from other schools, I am learning now that this ability is not throughout the district.

Don't understand that at all. Is it a matter of who buys into which areas? Is it because Juana has had really disabled kids integrated into its facility for decades, so it is a culture that is used to thinking about individuals?

Don't know. Hope it gets better...

Posted by A Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 7:20 pm


You're shooting from the hip. You hope it isn't true that the district is patchy at challenging bright kids, but you don't have any first-hand info. Then you insist it can't be so. Think before typing.

At the elementary level, the schools do not see it as their job to challenge advanced kids. Don't take my word for it: go out and talk with parents. My experience is with elementary teachers so far, and no, generally, they are not "happy," as you put it, to challenge advanced kids. You are out of touch on this. (And adding more work of the same kind is not my idea of challenging.) I have spoken to many parents who have had the same experiences we have. (There are exceptions, individual teachers who manage to differentiate quite well.)

You seem so eager for other parents to pay for a private education, but that cuts against the meaning of public schools. And speaking practically, the private schools catering to advanced kids have way more applications than they have places, as mentioned above. As for cost, they sometimes offer partial scholarships but generally expect you to go deep into debt if you don't have the ready cash.

You seem very impressed that we have two top high schools here, but ask yourself why they are top. Does it have anything at all to do with the advanced kids? Nope. It's because the bring the middle and bottom up.

Thanks for the wonderful encouragement to challenge our child. If you knew anyone in this district with advanced kids, you would know that the parents are miles ahead of you on this. One problem is time. These advanced kids sit in class bored all day, do their busywork homework, and then you think it's a good idea to pile on challenging work at the end of the day. Think again. It puts parents in a bind, one that the district has created by failing to challenge these kids.

Posted by Even more puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 10:57 pm

A Parent,

How much differentiation do you propose there should be? How much beyond grade level should these advanced kids be taken to? And how old are these advanced students - are you sure these overachievers aren't the older kids? I'm amazed at some of the "seniors" in classes, who have been held back on purpose, to be ahead.

I trust our Elementary teachers COMPLETELY, and every parent that I have encountered that has bored kids has something else going on. I've never seen a class where a teacher prevents a kid from reading a more difficult book, or prevents them from writing a longer story, or prevents them from doing more Math. Check out the smartest kids in your class, they are not the bored ones. And if they are so advanced, why not test them into a higher grade?

No matter how advanced your kids are, there is only so much that can be expedited beyond grade level. Even private schools have grade levels in Elementary School. You want your kid to be doing 4th grade Math in 2nd grade, or 3rd grade writing in 1st grade? Where do you draw the line? Is your objective to make them graduate High School by age 9? Home schooling is a great option for the type of dilemma you are talking about.

And could you please explain

"You seem very impressed that we have two top high schools here, but ask yourself why they are top. Does it have anything at all to do with the advanced kids? Nope. It's because the bring the middle and bottom up."

Posted by Even more puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 11:07 pm

When I refer above, to kids that have been "held back", I mean Parents held them back - waited as long as possible to put them in school, so that they can be older, smarter, and more "advanced."

Posted by Even more puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 11:08 pm

When I refer above, to kids that have been "held back", I mean Parents held them back - waited as long as possible to put their child in school, so that they can be older, smarter, and more "advanced."

Posted by A Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 7:11 am


As I said, you have strong opinions and no information.

Whether through differentiation, skipping grades or other means, the district should be challenging each kid. The kids should be taken beyond grade level as far as necessary to challenge them. Older kids? No, not sure why you would assume that--this is not about kids who have been held back; it's about kids who in some cases need to be skipped ahead.

As for skipping, teachers are a very conservative bunch in some regards. They often don't like the idea skipping, and neither does the district particularly once past first grade.

I'm glad you have had good experiences with teachers, but have you ever needed to ask for your kid to be challenged? I'm sorry to say we have had teachers who refused to permit our children to read more difficult books.

I can pretty much guarantee that the parents of advanced kids are not aiming to get their kids to "graduate High School by age 9," as you put it. It is to keep their interest high, to keep them engaged at school.

Posted by Another parent pipes in
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2008 at 7:33 am

Puzzled --

Ditto A Parent’s comments.

Being the oldest does not give a child an academic edge. Some of the oldest children in my child's classes have been those hardest to teach and some of the youngest were at the top academically. Kindergarten teachers at my school often recommend Fall birthday kids, especially boys, wait a year for social reasons even if they can add and read before kindergarten begins. So the decision of when to start can be more school than parent driven.

The district frowns on students skipping grades, preferring that kids be in the mix with their same age peers and comfortable socially. And skipping doesn't work for all because a kid who is advanced in math often is grade level in other subjects or vice versa.

If I may be so bold, your homeschool solution is ludicrous. Is it your suggestion that Palo Alto refund all a family's tax dollars paid to the school district to cover their homeschooling expenses instead of addressing this problem at the hopefully few schools where it is an issue? It's pretty self serving to say "it works for my child so anyone else whose needs aren't being met should take a hike." And how does that help a child whose parents work? Aren't good teachers? Want their child also to learn how to get along with other kids?

It boils down not to a race of whose kid will be the first to graduate high school at age 9 as you fear, but to teaching all the kids in our schools a good work ethic and rewarding them for effort, not intelligence. The district just had Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor, present on this a few months ago. My take away from her talk was that school children should be challenged, and not allowed to glide by on their good looks and intellect.

Schools can do lots of things to help in situations like this. Online programs in math mentioned above is one. Your suggestion of more difficult books and writing longer stories are good ones too. Some schools offer a math pull out to challenge groups of advanced math students. My friend's school sorts students by what they already know in math and adjusts the challenge level of each math group. One year my daughter got to pick her own spelling words when she already knew how to spell that week’s words. There are tons of ways to challenge kids.

No reason to place blame on the kid, parent or school district or banish advanced students to private or homeschool. No need to be angry either. This is just an area where not all Palo Alto teachers do as well as others. The point is that there is room for improvement and there are plenty of good ideas on how to go about it. I’d like to think my kids go to school in a district which, once it knows there is a problem like this, would take the time to fix it.

Posted by Even more puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 11:05 am


"I'm sorry to say we have had teachers who refused to permit our children to read more difficult books."

Be assured that even IF a teacher said "stop, you are not permitted to read more difficult books" you would still be able to, you just do it. Though, there is the issue that decoding is not the same as reading, and maybe your teacher is trying to get your kid to understand what he/she reads. That's an entirely different topic than under challenged and bored kids. No teacher or Principal can possibly stop you or your child from reading more difficult books, or doing more Math, or from writing up a storm.

Could you please still explain,

"You seem very impressed that we have two top high schools here, but ask yourself why they are top. Does it have anything at all to do with the advanced kids? Nope. It's because the bring the middle and bottom up."

Another parent pipes,

Being the oldest does give an edge in Elementary school, and I think is one of the reasons private schools don't take younger kids. Though I agree with you, the smarter kids in the class are the younger kids. Maybe it's because the oldest kids are bored. The decision to hold kids back is entirely parent driven. The notion of holding boys back for social reasons is old news, and not an official school thing, parents are supposed to make the decision based on their unique situation, so it is entirely parent driven.

I'm not saying kids should not be challenged, I am saying that "bored" kids can have issues beyond just being properly challenged. As you say, the challenges are there for the taking, especially effort based. I think that is why Asian students are the best performers, they have a culture of effort. And, if you bring your kid to school already knowing how to read, how to do Math, and so forth, then you must prepare him/her to accept that the school is mostly made up of kids that are still learning all those things. I had my child in F4Ed Math many times, and he was ahead in Math during those times, he knew that, I knew that, the teacher knew that (teachers supported that), but we did not need to be up in arms about his being bored or under challenged, when they covered stuff he already had mastered. Point being, if we're all headed to complete the same grade level, and not skip a grade, there is a give and take. All the speeding through the system still gets you to 5th grade in Elementary.

It is simple to, with a wave of the hand, say high achievers in Elementary need to be challenged, they are bored. I would say that that is exactly what Dr. Dweck is addressing. It's about the effort that the child can put into stuff that ultimately matters, not their stature of high achiever. And nobody sets limits on effort. There could be an Effort Lane. All students willing and able to make more effort, you can use this reading list, this spelling book, and have Math homework every day. Asking for that is much better than promoting this new culture of high achiever victimhood, which is upset that the district is striving for all kids to do well.

Posted by Another PA mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I had a son in elementary school who was prohibited from moving on ahead with his math/science work. The teacher made him wait for the rest of the class to be done before he could move on to the next step/exercise/level... I am not making it up. It's a true story.

I am sorry to say that he learned never to try to forge ahead in school, and to just wait and twiddle his thumbs...

Posted by Curious
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 4, 2008 at 12:47 pm

you sound not like a parent, but like one of those teachers who think that if some kid is bored in your "perfect program", obviously there is something wrong with that kid. Most of the parents of bright well-adjusted-to school kids will say that their kids are happy at school, but won't deny that kids are underchallenged and bored at some of the classrooms.

Posted by Another parent pipes in
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2008 at 1:03 pm

To Even More --

Not sure how many circles one can go around with you on this, but let me try one more.

A "new culture of high achiever victimhood"? You've got to be kidding. The point is that parents discussed in these posts have asked for more from their teachers so their child would have to make the effort and the teachers did not oblige.

My child had a teacher who restricted book reports to books on her list -- all written at grade level. She limited the amount of words they could write in their reports and gave all students the same math lesson and homework. A child who asked for more was told no and one who didn't ask and just did it got a zero for not following directions. And yes the principal was aware of this, but had little leverage when trying to make an inflexible tenured teacher flex. Hopefully that doesn't happen in other classrooms often, if at all, but it does happen at at least one, even here in Palo Alto.

So while you may COMPLETELY trust all the teachers at your school, don't be so quick to COMPLETELY trust that all the teachers in all Palo Alto schools challenge all their students.

And tell me why, if you aren't enamored with kids getting ahead of grade level because of the problems that causes in classrooms, why you pay $1,000 for a private math program designed to get your child ahead in math? Doesn't the fact that F4Ed is so successful, now at 8 of Palo Alto's schools with long waiting lists, prove the point that many parents want more math challenge for their children than the schools provide? Or is it your position that only the rich who can afford challenge at $1,000 a year should get it?

As for holding kids back in elementary, yes it is the parents' decision ultimately. But while the child is in preschool, elementary and preschool school teachers offer pre-assessments and give recommendations on whether to hold back on not. Guess what? Teachers base their rec on development and social fit and not on academics. They are the experts, so most parents follow their advice.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Languages should not be a choice or an elective for some of our kids. If we have it as an after school elective, those who opt for it will be those who do not get involved in sports or dance or ....For kids who do say baseball, or dance, they need to practice\game\perform 3 or 4 days a week after school. At present, by the time they get home from school and have a quick snack, they have barely enough time to get to the 4.00 practice and with a game they may not get home til 8.00 and then they have to eat and do homework, shower and bed. And, this is just for one activity.

And, what about those with buses to catch. Will the buses wait for them, that will make it awkward for the buses to get back in time for high schoolers, etc.

To try and put in a 30 minute after school language elective, there is just not enough time. For those high achievers who do not do after school activities, just have tutor sessions, they will have the time. Everyone else is too busy. So, if this is an elective our sports players, dancers, etc. will opt out. This is not good enough. We cannot have just the high achievers doing the languages, we need it to work for everyone. Therefore the only option is to lengthen the school day by 10 minutes or so every day. This could easily done by starting or ending 5 or 10 mins. earlier or later and cutting 5 minutes out of lunch time. The overall time in the classroom would be increased without the perception of a longer day or another activity squeezed in.

This really is important and should be viewed as the best interest for every student, and not just the high motivators.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

As for the survey, I entered five things as being of importance to me, including, enrollment, FLES, bullying, but to me trying to put them in the order of importance is silly. They are of equal but extremely different importance. It would be like trying to say which is more important in your home, the kitchen or the bathroom(s). My home needs both, I could not do without either, so trying to choose between them is irrelevant. Likewise in the survey, I mentioned overcrowding enrollment,Fles and bullying as important, more so than those boxes I did not check. The fact that perhaps \FLES did not come first does not mean that it was of lesser importance.

That said, any item a parent mentioned is top five should be regarded equally. The fact that parents mentioned FLES as important shows that it is important, not that it is lesser than important than anything else.

Posted by A Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 2:03 pm


You misunderstand the problems. I and others have given you information--evidence--that your view may be misinformed, but you persist in inventing scenarios, based on nothing, to excuse the failures of the district. You seem to have an ax to grind.

I'll just point out:

--the district fails to challenge many advanced elementary kids in math and now proposes eliminating any language from the strategic plan committing it to do so

--the district fails to challenge many advanced elementary kids in reading and now proposes eliminating any language from the strategic plan committing it to do so

Since you seem to have a list of manufactured excuses, I'll just add:

--these issues are not limited to a single family--they are well-known to parents of advanced kids

--these families are not "racing" to get their kids through school; they merely want to see their children challenged

--these problems are not the fault of the kids--most of whom are highly motivated (at least in the early years of elementary before the system beats it out of them) Sadly, in most elementary classrooms, the challenges are simply not "there for the taking," as you believe.

--these are not kids who have been held back

--these are not kids who have other "issues"

--these are not problems imagined by the parents

Last, I should point out that kicking kids out of the public schools is not a solution Nor is asking them to just sit and take the boredom of school and spend their evenings in self-directed study.

(As for the high schools, why do you think they are top-ranked? Is it because of the top 1%, 2%, 5%? Or something else?)

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 3:25 pm

A Parent, Another parent pipes,

You're right, if F4Ed, or something like it, would be school sponsored, much better!

What is wrong with writing book reports, on grade level books, in that grade level? How much higher would you think kids could go, before it's not strange?

I'm not a teacher, or a parent of an advanced kid, I'm a parent trying to understand how bad the problem for high achievers can be in Elementary School.

I think what I'm learning is that not all teachers, and not all schools allow you to move ahead if you choose to make more effort, and that more things like F4Ed could be available to those that want to. That would serve not just advanced kids, actually. As long as it's available to us, of course, usually this district has special programs that only the lucky can benefit from. I certainly don't blame the kids,

I unfortunately still don't understand your point on the High Schools, where do you get this data? I would like to know what makes them top ranked, and what was your point
"Does it have anything at all to do with the advanced kids? Nope. It's because the bring the middle and bottom up." ?

Posted by parent for choice
a resident of Los Altos
on May 4, 2008 at 5:53 pm

I am a former teacher who is sending my child to Bullis Charter School. He studies mandrin four days a week---as part of his regular kindergarten class. On friday he has elective classes. Next year
he can sign up for addtional afterschool electives. BCS has very high API scores yet let's students explore their own interests.

If you want to offer programs for gifted students and foreign langauge
or any other electives then you should get the like minded parents together and start a charter. It is the only way that you will ever get the program you want. Charter's are not just for low preforming districts.

Posted by FWIW
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2008 at 6:58 pm

For what it's worth, my oldest is what I would consider high achieving - she was certainly always one of the highest performing in her elementary and middle school classes. We have always found her teachers were prepared to challenge her at her level - to extend assignments, to assign and grade extra work, to allow her to do self-paced work where appropriate. This has gotten to be less of an issue as school as gone on, as classes are split by difficulty and in certain cases kids skip ahead a level.

We have not been looking for "everything" for our kid from the schools. She studies some foreign language at home and has done some other enrichment classes. Our child and we place a fair amount of importance on social integration and group skills - so breaking her out into a "special" curriculum would not be attractive to us.

So while I guess the school could have done more, we were pretty comfortable with what it did do.

Posted by attacked and no longer puzzled.
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 4, 2008 at 7:15 pm

I have to laugh at the assumptions of parent, another parent, curious, etc that I have no clue what I am talking about, and that I don't have an "exeptional child", and that I haven't been in the district with kids.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

I know the problem..if your supercilious, demanding, entitled, sarcastic, superior and omniscient attitudes come across to the teachers of your children, as I have no doubt it does, of course you get pushed aside.

If you aren't happy with your teacher, believing that he or she wants a bored kid in the class in order to destroy that kid's love of school and learning, you need to talk to the principal. I have seen nothing to indicate that you have spoken to principals..I have read only whining.

I didn't whine..I saw my kid needing harder work, so worked with my kid and the teachers, starting in second grade at the time at Nixon. What do you know? We came up with great solutions! Guess what? Now as a Senior, the kid got 800 in math SAT! Guess what? Mom and Dad worked with the school to keep him challenged!

Geez. If your kid is really so much more gifted than his or her classmates, then you have no choice. You have the equivalent of a "special needs" child, and you will have to do what all parents of exceptional kids with them and the school! Don't expect it all to be given to you! The public school system is not equipped to offer one on one, perfectly geared to every kid, educational methods.

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm

attacked and no longer puzzled,

I think you and I were considered the same person earlier, but I have the same feeling you do, that public school is not supposed to "offer one on one, perfectly geared to every kid, educational methods", and if you have a special needs kid, even gifted and high achievers, it requires lots of parent intervention, not everything on a silver platter. That being said, I agree that more programs could be available to EVERYONE for extra work in Math, reading and writing. And heck, throw in languages! That should keep the high achievers really happy.

I agree with the parent that said if languages are offered after school, the kids in sports will miss out.

parent of choice,

no way I'd leave this district just to get a language program, but I will not elect another board member like the wimps we have now that ignore parents. This is a slap in the face, as someone said before.

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Ignoring that not just high achieving families want languages. I liked what Paul Losch said.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2008 at 8:54 pm


Brigham Young U. has done some interesting studies on language retention--that's where I came across the data that indicates that later language learners actually retain longer than younger language learners. So, it's harder to learn, but it sticks. Different learning strategies, I think.

I'd also prefer a second language introduced before middle school--but from what I've read of the Canadian studies, there's a lot to be said for delaying the introduction of a second language until after primary language literacy has developed.

We don't have, currently, what I'm proposing--with the exception, amusingly, of decent, affordable private Chinese programs. (MI, from that point-of-view, was the last thing we needed.)

Languages Now,

In other words, you haven't done any research and can't consider other alternatives. Kind of the definition of a noncreative thinker--which is interesting. There's an interesting amount of rigidity on this forum.

Posted by Help!
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm


Do you actually know a foreign language? You are always saying, I read this, I came across that. And you say you are for languages, but always have the wackiest ideas, including deciding for Music or PE instead. What is wrong with FLES? It starts "later" and why would kids starting in 3rd grade forget anything, if they study it through Middle School and High School? Would they forget it during summer vacation? I think FLES is right on the money on this one, and interestingly enough, the rejection is not about money. It's because Principals think it's curriculum constipation, in other words, our kids cannot learn one more new thing.

No wonder the people talking about kids not being challenged are unhappy, our kids minds are considered not big enough to handle a foreign language. And you go on and on about Summer immersion - use that for the High School kids, for the two year Cal requirement the district wants to be "aligned with". Knock those credits off with a summer immersion. Don't insult the younger kids with these adult programs, on top of not giving them languages where they belong, in school, you want them to give up their summer?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Actually, at Ohlone and I think some of the other elementaries, the foreign language--an hour, not a half hour, is offered on Wednesday--in other words, on the minimum day. In terms of scheduling, it works well and doesn't interfere with sports. I suppose you could try to simply end minimum days officially and then add another 10 minutes to the school day--Ohlone already does this for other reasons (the teachers do a couple of staff-development days) so that's a clearly school-by-school option as long, I assume, as you don't add to the total hours taught per year.

I understand that it's not fair that a few kids get special programs and others have zero access to languages in the public schools--but both the enrollment projections and budget projections make it really unlikely we're going to get a true FLES program at this time.

Since my kid's in school *now*, I like to think about what may actually be feasible. And while I've seen some complaints--they seem mostly to stem from the not-good-enough or the-district-owes-us points-of-view instead of it's not doable or it's unaffordable.

Fact is, it would be affordable and it's clearly doable because a lot of the pieces are already in place.

I think we also need to start recognizing that languages aren't that darn hard--though you'd never know it from our year's of MI/PACE propaganda. The big challenge in language studies isn't the teaching, but the retention of second languages (Google it). Why? Because Americans don't really need a second language--unless they're going abroad--and even then it's not hard to find English speakers.

Posted by Help!
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2008 at 10:43 pm


At least you are sincere, you simply think languages are for fancy parents. Fancy parents with fancy kids, applying to fancy schools, who then have fancy jobs just like their fancy parents. I want fancy!

But I'll never get fancy with Ohlone Par saying "Americans don't really need a second language--unless they're going abroad--and even then it's not hard to find English speakers."

It's good to know that THOUSANDS of parents have placed languages as a priority. Do you think they are all fancy, or just stupid because they have not figured out what Ohlone Par has shared with us, that "it's not hard to find English speakers" when traveling abroad?

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Well, thanks Help, I try to be direct. I don't think fancy schools are really what's needed, just good ones. What we have at PAUSD today satisfies the best colleges in the land and puts our kids where they need to be. The elementary language add-on would, in my view, detract from what we have today by making it more complicated and unduly expensive (and hence less sustainable), for something that, again in my view, doesn't have much value. If some people still want "fancy" (and they certainly are entitled to), then private schools are an option.

I'm not sure why a number of folks, many very intelligent and sincere, believe elementary language is so important. Since that trend is happening in some other places as well, and isn't supported by the facts I've seen and the thinking I've done, I tend to think it is a fad that will, as the issue become clearer, die down. Can a lot of smart people get something wrong? Sure, happens all the time. It doesn't mean they are dumb or wrong-headed - the issue just hasn't become clear enough yet.

That's why I am glad Skelly and the Board are not just "giving the people what they want" or trying to mollify, but instead are trying to focus the district on what they believe is important and practical. Hey, if we really hate the result, we can vote out the Board and have the new Board fire Skelly. But in the meantime, I like the leadership.

Posted by Ohplease, PaloAltogetoveryourself
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2008 at 8:37 am

The public school system needs to spend the majority of their time teaching to the bell curve. If you have an academically driven (gifted for those parents that need to use that label) child or one that struggles in one subject or another (special needs), your child is on the fringes of the bell curve. Therefore, the parents of these children need to advocate and work with the teachers to provide the enrichment. In most cases, spending their own money to provide it outside the school - be it tutoring or advanced course work. As a parent with both types, I find if I had to choose due to lack of funds, I would provide the struggling student with the necessary tools vs. the occasionally bored child many in the status-conscious Bay Area feel the need to classify as gifted.

I have worked with teachers to provide my bored child with leadership tools (ie. tutoring other students in the class). It has been a rewarding experience for my child as he researches ahead of the class to be prepared and gets enjoyment by helping both his classmates and his teacher. I find he needs to truly understand the fundamental math and science concepts in order to effectively tutor vs. knowing by rote. This causes him to delve deeper into the subjects.

To those who think your answer is in private school, think again. Private schools are more cookie cutter in their selection of students and in their curriculum. Your child may be with more kids like themselves in terms of being academically driven, but at what costs to the whole child. Private schools are businesses first, with huge marketing arms and parents too embarrassed to be paying close to 30K to ever be completely honest that they are not getting their Return on Investment. I have had conversations with two sets of parents who have sent their oldest children to private(in Atherton) and the youngest of these families balked and were allowed to go M-A. To both only find out in the end, the youngest ones got the most well-rounded education.

There will have to be more school days and hours to effectively integrate languages into the school system. The European countries have year round and longer school schedules to accommodate extra languages starting in our third grade. We have friends whose son is 14 1/2 and taking conversational English and has now added Greek and Latin to his schedule. This child goes to school far more hours and days than US children.

Good luck with the teachers union getting an extended schedule!

Posted by Ostrich
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2008 at 8:47 am

"Sorry, most Americans don't speak a second language, but somehow we seem to do pretty well economically."

The current economic environment does not support this sentence. Please visit a foreign country and see for yourself.

In short get out of your hole.

Posted by none so blind
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 9:05 am

"The current economic environment does not support this sentence. Please visit a foreign country and see for yourself."

The current economic environment has nothing to do with languages.

Posted by Think Again
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2008 at 10:26 am

none so blind, and Ohlone Par

You both seem to be on the same side,

"the current economic environment has nothing to do with languages"

and "Americans don't really need a second language"

Not ALL Americans need to speak a second language, I agree, and the current economic environment is due to lots of things, but languages are one reason you could get a job in this economy.

SInce OhonePar is suggesting we Google stuff, why not Google Jobs at Google.

Go to International locations

Web Link

tell me if you understand the Japanese, Russian, German, Brazil, or China sites.

Multiply all these jobs by every American company currently surviving thanks to their overseas business. Do you think that Russia is giving up Russian because "it's not hard to find English speakers" when traveling abroad?"

No, Russia will not give up Russian, and Japan will not give up Japanese. But they do learn English, and then get jobs with Google because they speak English, and that is after they attend Stanford, and Harvard, and so forth.

Posted by Think Again
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2008 at 10:42 am

Also from the Google Jobs site

"We strive to be a local company in every country that we operate and we understand that our users all have different cultures, languages and traditions. It drives the projects we work on, the people we hire and the goals we set ourselves."

Languages are part of what "drive" the projects they work on. Just one example.

Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2008 at 10:44 am

Anyone interested in the debate over the value of languages in the context of the global economy might like to check out this recent essay by a professor and vice provost at SUNY Binghamton. Here are two representative paragraphs:

"In short, both the population at large and leadership in virtually all arenas have come to realize that the solution to global problems, including the establishment of a sustainable “new world order” (do you remember that benign vision, so quickly displaced by a New American Imperium?) in which all the world’s peoples can live in peace and attain prosperity, depends upon increases in international understanding and coöperation of a sort that only widespread multilingualism and intercultural interaction can produce.

Call it public diplomacy or global competency or inclusive humanism; our goal should be to make everyone in the world safer, healthier, and better educated about each other’s shared values, diverse lifeways, and unique cultural achievements. We have had enough of xenophobic fear-mongering, hypocritical ethnocentrism, and Doomsday rhetoric. If the worst scenarios do indeed come to pass, it will not be because they are unavoidable but because we have diverted too many of our resources into preparing for those pessimistic scenarios and too few into warding them off."

Web Link

Posted by urdu anyone?
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 5, 2008 at 10:56 am

So we should ditch French and Spanish and bring in Arabic or Urdu immersion for 3rd graders to promote world peace?

Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2008 at 11:09 am

"So we should ditch French and Spanish and bring in Arabic or Urdu immersion for 3rd graders to promote world peace?"

That's not what the article I posted suggests. It simply asks that we prioritize languages of any sort more than we do.

And it's not about warm fuzzy feelings either. Suggesting that someone is advocating a position 'to promote world peace' is usually code for 'ignore them because they are hopeless hippie losers,' so let's put it the other way: should we be teaching langauges to promote American (and global) security? To that I say absolutely -- lanuage deveopment is amount more than getting an economic leg up in the world or an individual child's intellectual development (although I believe it aids both). And putting the issue in terms of security, I'd say there is as much reason to be promoting Arabic in America as Mandarin, fopr example.

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 11:55 am


"The public school system needs to spend the majority of their time teaching to the bell curve."

In other words, your contribution here is to suggest that the district give up on kids at either end--the advanced kids and those who are behind. (Though it is hypocritical that you accepted a special arrangement for your "bored" child. He or she is on the fringes of the curve and deserves nothing different from what other kids are getting, according to your way of thinking.)

I like your style. Why stop there? Why not kick out all the kids who are more than 10 percentage points away from the average? Heck, why not get rid of all the kids whose hair is a different color from your kids?

The fact is the district already does its best to ignore the kids at either end of the curve. It cannot totally ignore the ones at the lower end because federal law mandates appropriate education for them.

But it can and does ignore the advanced kids.

Seriously, I find it hard to believe that you have both a gifted child and one with special needs and yet advocate that the schools not teach them.

Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 12:07 pm

CJ, I don't think that's what was being suggested. We too have a "gifted" and a special needs kid, and with both, we need to make an extra effort to get what we think is necessary and apporpriate. It is actually quite a bit harder to get that for the special needs child than the "gifted" one, btw. We've found the district responds better, as someone said above, to constructive engagement than to more demanding or otherwise less engaging approaches.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on May 5, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I have a child who is both gifted and special needs, she has been both challenged and supported well, mainly because we have had terrific teachers. Some teachers are great at differentian (of all kinds) some are very resistant... the same teaching skills which allow you to help those at the bottom of the bell curve also allow you to challenge those at the top, but its a lot harder then just going thru the regular curriculum.

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 12:38 pm


Well, either you think it's good for the district to challenge ALL kids (including at both ends) or you don't.

Oh Please has taken the position that the district should not attempt to do this. I disagree, and apparently so do you.

The district is now engaged in drawing up plans to guide policy in the coming years. Skelly is backing a version that eliminates any significant commitment to challenge advanced kids (though it does mention special needs kids); golly, he's even against _testing_ advanced kids. A single sentence in the old version is, at present, the only district promise that parents of advanced kids can appeal to when teachers are not amenable to appropriately challenging their kids.

I'm happy that you lucked out with teacher responsive to your concerns, but I and many other parents have found many teachers who are not responsive.

So you're on the bus or you're off the bus. If it's a good idea for the district to challenge all kids, then the district should put it in writing.

As for special needs. Yes, it would be nice if the district responded well in every case to constructive engagement. However, no district does. They do live in fear, I promise you, of lawsuits. Every time a special needs parent comes in to "chat" about their child, there is always the implicit possibility of a lawsuit.

I don't have a special needs kid, but I know parents in other districts who do, and their districts are pretty eager to accommodate their children, especially in comparison to the lack of interest in challenging advanced kids.

Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Well, CJ, our experiences are somewhat different from what you and your friends have seen.

We have seen others threaten lawsuits; there is a place for it, but from what we have seen the district goes into CYA mode and goes "by the book" vs. trying to explore options with the parents. I don't agree that every chat is an implicit threat - as with most parents, our relationship with the district is a long-term one, and we both get to know each other and learn how the other operates.

So I guess I am not on your bus, no. Good luck on your journey.

Posted by puzzeled no more
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Me Too and Oh Please: Are we channeling each other? I lost my temper and wrote the "supercilious" post a while ago, but if I hadn't lost my temper, I would have written what you all wrote...

thanks for the well written posts. I suspect that they were not understood, given the persistence in accusations that people like us don't want the kids at the ends of the curve addressed. ( A hilarious accusation, since we all have kids at both ends of the curve, evidently!)

Maybe we can start a group for parents who have the full-spectrum of the curve experience with our District. We might be more useful than single issue parents in understanding balance in the district since we have to live the balance in our lives every day, and forever.

I wonder how many of us there are, with kids in the top 5% and kids in the bottom 5%? ( Academic potential speaking, I mean, of course)

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 1:34 pm

I was "on tour" with my daughter in April, as she considered her options for colleges to which she has been admitted. She got into several top notch small liberal arts colleges that are considered "most selective."

With one exception, all of them place a great deal of emphasis on their international study programs, and encourage students to spend at least a semester somewhere else in the world. These are not 3 month sight seeing programs. They are full out academic experiences, often involving field research on subjects such as water sanitation, species study, and other things found in locations at or near the universities where the students stay & attend classes.

Apart from the fact that it was yet another reason that I want to go back to college, I will suggest that these schools, among the best and most competitive for admissions, place a great deal of value on the sort of experience and instruction in foreign study which students get in their high school and earlier education. They see what it means for their students as they prepare them for their adult lives during their time as college students.

While I do not advocate early foreign language instruction in order to "compete" with other students in other districts which do offer it, as a practical matter, it appears that the value of foreign study is gaining greater importance to those deciding whom to admit to colleges to which many Palo Alto families aspire for their children to attend. Following on from the Google and SUNY postings above, I think it just adds to the body of evidence that as a district that wants to be considered among the best in the nation, and to provide its students the best opportunities possible for higher education, introducing foreign language study at the earlier grades is becoming part of the ante.

And for the majority of students, such as my college junior son, who is not attending a super elite university, there are more and more students attending schools here from overseas. The better "tuned" our students are from an early age to operate in this environment, the greater their likelihood for success, whether they are star athletes, class presidents, or less prominent parts of their class. This is the world in which they will live and operate, and it is more than fluency in another toungue, it touches other aspects of working with people, as I suggested in my earlier posting from last week.

Posted by puzzled no more
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Oh, should thank EVERY DAY whoever you thank for the good things in your life that you don't have a special needs child, dependent on the good will of others, forever.

You sound like you envy those families because you have this belief that Districts bend over to give them whatever they want.

No, not true. We have to work hard for every, little, tiny bit of educational experiences that most normal kids and families take for granted.

I would take the problems of a "gifted but bored" kid in the school any day over the problems of struggling students, whatever the reason.

BTW, have you had any kids go through high school yet to help you gain some perspective?

Posted by supportive, but realistic
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Paul, of course liberal arts colleges and majors emphasize international studies. That is the nature of liberal arts.

However, that doesn't mean that we should get bump other educational minutes in elementary school for foreign language.

Not one of the math/science colleges my kid just toured have any stress at all on studies abroad. Math in France is the same as Math in America, and Harvey Mudd, Cal Tech and MIT understand that this is not a high priority for kids interested in such courses.

Getting FLES in the schools so that the kids can get along better with international students in college...maybe I didn't understand what you meant here, but if that is what you meant, I simply fail to see this as the value for ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FLES.

There are lots of good reasons for foreign languages. Absolutely. There are lots of good reasons for lots of things. Heck, I would dearly love it if we could even have daily PE for 3-12! That isn't even a hard thing to implement.

But, what are we going to take away from the current schedule to make room for FLES? Adding an hour or 90 minutes per day to the elementary school, then deciding how to apportion it, is a different discussion and would probably be contentious, VERY.

But, unless all schools become immersion, what are we going to take away to provide FLES?

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm


You misunderstood. I'm not saying that you intend to be threatening, but that the implicit threat is there for administrators, whatever your attitude. It's fact of life for educators--and much worse in educated districts like ours in which parents tend to be fully aware of their rights.

If you walk around heavily armed, people around you will perceive the threat and you shouldn't believe their actions are unaffected....

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 1:54 pm


"You sound like you envy those families because you have this belief that Districts bend over to give them whatever they want." No, I never said that. Though I do envy their ability to rely on a federal law that is supposed to guarantee appropriate education. One cudgel is better than none.

No, none at high school yet--my comments are on elementary only.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm


Yes, I've studied foreign languages. I've also read up on this stuff as a result of the MI debate.

It's funny that you find my comment that Americans don't need foreign languages unless they're going abroad to be so controversial. I'd say it's pretty obvious. Instead of just reacting with outrage, take a look at the reality in this country--one of the big subjects studied here is language attrition--second languages don't survive past the third generation in the United States. That says right there that those second languages aren't necessary to function in the United States.

It doesn't matter whether you're offended by this or that this reality isn't PC, but the limited acquisition of second languages in the U.S. (and the loss of immigrant tongues among descendants) has been going on a long time in this country.

Could this change? Sure. As for Google's overseas sites--so what? What percentage of Google's Mountain View workforce needs to understand those sites? One percent? Maybe. It's got nothing to do with improving the algorithms that helped make Google what it is.

I happen to support foreign languages for kids--which is why I pay extra so my kid has that early exposure--but I know how few opportunities I have to even use my foreign language skills in this country.

I've seen nothing that indicates that our current economic issues have *anything* to do with Americans not speaking a second language. You're grasping at straws (or do you just not understand what drives outsourcing?) to make that kind of argument (such as it is).

You want foreign languages in the schools--then you made to make real arguments for it--scare tactics don't cut it.

I see a very divided district on the issue and one facing some big issues--particularly with budgets and over-enrollment. Thus, my suggestion of something that's both affordable and doable. It's not the ne plus ultra of language instruction, but I think it would offer more than we have at a reasonable cost.

If FLES came through, I'd be fine with it--but the political will's not there--particularly after the MI disaster.

And not all immersion programs are for adults--where did you get that strange idea?

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 2:16 pm


We had this back and forth, with all the puzzled above, and from what Me too says, we all seem to have different experiences, but what I was hearing from the pro high achievers is that not all teachers, and not all schools allow you to move ahead if you choose to make more effort, and that more things could be available to those that want to. This would be good for all kids, not just the gifted. Extra work, harder books, different workbooks, or simple encouragement of moving ahead would be helpful.

I am against kids racing ahead and having to have a million special programs for them - in Elementary we all end up in 5th grade and should. Changing that to all sorts of combinations of 5th grade readers in 2nd grade, 3d grade Math kids in 2nd grade would be a nightmare for anyone. Please, no more special programs that rely on lotteries and being lucky. As far as I'm concerned, all our kids are gifted, and I'm happy if the plan will serve all kids.

Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Puzzled, I imagine it is not totally unusual, but it is an interesting journey seeing both ends of the spectrum. People generally do not understand how challenging and complex (overwhelming really) it is to get an education for a special needs child - and as you said above, I'm very glad for them! Federal law gets you in the door - but getting the right classroom, teacher, aides, programs, specialists, accommodations, coordination with home programs, and so on - trying to get that right is not easy. The only choice is to work with the district - which, while it takes time, effort, and patience, we have been able to do successfully. If we put even 10% of that effort into helping the district challenge our "gifted" kid, I am certain she would be so challenged she would beg us to stop!

I don't begrudge people asking for more; but the district sets its priorities appropriately in my view.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm


Three months in a foreign country isn't really an in-depth exposure. I went to one of those selective liberal-arts programs and spent time abroad as a result--three months is a lot of fun, but you're just getting your toes wet at that point.

I agree that it's nice to have a grounding in the language of the country before going over, but this is a pretty specialized need. One of my concerns with FLES is that it would be limited--most likely Spanish--not a lot of use if your goal was to spend a semester at the Sorbonne.

Wouldn't we better off offering a more flexible language program?Again why I suggest what I suggest--it would be flexible and take advantage of already-established language interests. We *know* there are families interested in Japanese at Ohlone because the program exists.

Ideally, I'd like some benchmarks set for the current enrichment programs--the current ones aren't codified--that would then tie into the languages offered at the middle school and high school levels. I'd like to see, say, a goal of passing the APs in a given language.

Posted by Help!
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Ohlone Par,

Finally you get to the point of why you are against FLES, because you FEAR Spanish!

News for you buddy, everyone at the Sorbonne would love to learn Spanish, it is the most widely studied language in Europe. Please look it up, and let us know what you googled.

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 2:38 pm


Absolutely agree that the best scenario is allowing kids to move at their own pace and that this would be good for all kids. Not extra work, but harder work. No sense getting double the math problems if you have already mastered it. Better to get more challenging problems.

Not sure what you mean when you say you are against kids racing ahead. I'm against pushing kids, adding tutors (when they are not behind), rushing through the grades. But I'm also against forcing kids to learn in lockstep because that guarantees that some will be left behind and some bored out of their minds.

So, if the second grader is reading at 5th grade level, then give him or her the 5th grade reader. Does this make the job harder for teachers? You bet. But it is best practice. It's called differentiation. No need for special programs or lotteries.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 2:39 pm

I want to stop right now any perception that introducing a FLES program leads to bumping something else in order to accomodate foreign language instruction. This is NOT a zero sum game trade off discussion, and it is both distracting and ignorant to suggest that it is.

FLES is not a plug and play idea. It involves entirely re-engineering the way curriculum is offered at the elementary school level. The analogy I have used is that it is not a re-slice of the existing pie, it is baking an entirely new pie with a different mix of ingredients. Making such a change it is very hard, which to my perception is why the principals are not in favor of it. There are a number of school districts in the United States that have comparable outcomes to Palo Alto in such things as math and science, and do so with a FLES curriculum in their districts.

As an anecdote, I asked my daughter last night if she thought that she could have had daily foreign language instruction when she attended Walter Hays. Her response was yes, and she did not perceive that it would have been that difficult to do.

Posted by FLES pilot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm

If it's that hard to implement but there's so much parent interest, why not pilot a Spanish FLES at Escondido? Get the bugs out at a hospitable campus where there's a supportive principal and established resources. It's more likely to succeed at this campus than any other. If & when the pilot is deemed successful, duplicate the program at the rest of the elementary schools.

Whatever the FLES solution, it ain't gonna happen without a solid, strong parent group to support and push it through. That's the ONLY thing that got MI accepted, and SI for that matter, too. For those of you who feel so strongly, get organized!

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Paul, I don't think you are correct here - though I wouldn't call you "distracting and ignorant"! We have to be cautious when we are told that we can have more, but it won't take any more time. Usually that works out not to be correct.

Somehow time that is spent today on something else would be spent on FLES. The curriculum can be re-jiggered - but unless the day/week is extended by the time spent on FLES, something has to be reduced.

If in fact FLES requires "re-engineering" the entire curriculum (I'm not sure all feel this way), that would be another good reason not to undertake it, in addition to the high cost and limited benefit.

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm


It's not up to me to research your faddish idea. You want to toss together a dash of immersion with a pinch of afterschool--OK by me, but let's not waste any district resources on it.

What seems forum rigidity to you is merely due regard for planning. If your mash-up was such a good idea you'd have trotted out some sources by now. Until you do, you won't be taken seriously.

On the other hand, however, we do have extensive research on the effectiveness of FLES. Forward-thinking districts have been moving in this direction for some time since they know that English-only speakers are at a big disadvantage economically, academically, cognitively and intellectually.

FLES ranks as a high priority for parents of the district, and it's feasible for the district to implement. The only obstacle is the principals. I can understand that they don't especially want to take on a big new task, but what should drive our strategic vision: a broadly-held educational vision by parents or uncooperativeness by bureaucrats?

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 3:29 pm


You have stated you have carefully studied this topic. What have you learned in your study about how the curriculum is designed? Please point out what studies you have a regard for that show that introducing a FLES program adversely affects the learning and outcomes of other core subject matters.

I will allow that adding some more time to the day makes the entire matter much easier to deal with. But, one of the really fantastic things about FLES is that it is not just drills and rote memorization, kids are taught subject matter stuff that are important to their learning at whatever grade they are in. It can reinforce learning a subject matter that they will also be getting taught in English.

My Spanish does not get better when I conjugage verbs at this point. It gets better when I use it in real life. FLES can do the same for the elementary kids.

I have consistently acknowledged that implementing something of this sort is a huge challenge, and I do not take such a challenge lightly. If that is the reason we cannot go forward with it, let's make it plain that is the reason. If it is due to policy reasons, or questions about the benefits, that is an entirely different discussion. What is not helpful is to suggest reasons against (or for) this concept that are without foundation.

OP--my point about the colleges is that they are placing much greater emphasis on that type of experience for their students, and that is is becoming a more important factor in how they accept students, at least at the more selective schools. I actually think it can be a poor use of a student's time to spend time abroad if they are not already handling another language at a decent level. At this point, students appear to be expected to do more than just sit in a classroom and take more language in a place where it is the native tounge. They are interviewing people on topics, conducting field studies under the guidance of a professor or other instructor, and often doing these things not on a campus, but in a town or village, for example.

Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 3:36 pm

LN and FLES Pilot show why we should be glad the district now (hopefully) has more backbone. They want what they want - even if the our elected officials and hired managers disagree - and at least some want to organize to "get theirs" just like MI.

Whether it is wise for them to take this path, I won't judge - it's their right to do so. But given that people can and will organize as special interests to pursue their agendas, it is important that we have leadership that stands up to them if they disagree. Otherwise, the agenda is controlled by the organized and aggressive - just as it was with MI.

The survey doesn't set the priorities - it is just an input. Plebescite doesn't set the policy - our elected officials do. And the public does need to be "managed" or the process can run amok, as it did last year. So hopefully the board and Skelly will continue to do what they think is right.

Posted by Improve before adding
a resident of Professorville
on May 5, 2008 at 3:38 pm

FLES Pilot,

What about improving the existing language programs we have FIRST. Not new High School Baby language programs. If nothing in Elementary, then any language resources should go to MIddle School, I was shocked to learn that it is an elective in 7th grade and have heard not very promising things regarding visiting teachers. Does anyone know how Jordan languages are? Are other PA Middle Schools better?

Posted by hahaha
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2008 at 3:43 pm

"Forward-thinking districts have been moving in this direction for some time since they know that English-only speakers are at a big disadvantage economically, academically, cognitively and intellectually."

The last time I used my Swahili was on holiday in a shop in Réunion! I am obviously at a such a huge advantage economically, academically, cognitively and intellectually. Oh, wait...

Posted by Terry
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Paul, here's link to your post on the FLES TF Report from Jan 14 Web Link .

It says (in part): "The task force is recommending ... that the school day be extended for students in order for this program to be added, without taking away from other or existing curriculum."

So it certainly seems like the FLES proposal on the table, as served up by the Task Force, takes up time, and, unless the day is lengthened, requires trade-offs.

Above you posted that it is "both distracting and ignorant to suggest that...FLES leads to bumping something else in order to accommodate foreign language instruction."

Paul, please help me out with what I am missing here.

Posted by puzzled but no more.
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Me, too...folks who know me are going to start thinking I am posting under your moniker...I have said that exact thing repeatedly.

What good is it to push for elementary FL, when there is none in 6th grade, and it is optional in 7th and 8th?

I would prefer making it at least available to all who want it starting in 6th grade. Problem is, the way the system is set up with the 'wheel", I have no clue how that would work.

Or, at the very least, make it mandatory in 7th and 8th grade, the better to start the process for the 2 years required to get into the UCs. And who knows, might light some fires in kids who hit 9th grade already walking, instead of crawling.

Making our FL policy consistent would be a great start.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 5:48 pm


I cannot speak for the task force, and their report.

It would be much easier to redo the curriculum with additional time provided, I think that is a safe intuitive premise most will agree with. The quote you reference perhaps says it all--the existing curriculum would more or less remain intact, and FLES would be purely additive.

My contention earlier is that a fully re-engineered curriculum (and they do exist, just not used in PAUSD) that includes FLES lead to comparable outcomes--I have seen studies that bear this out. It is much more difficult to implement, it is a huge change management challenge, and it may not be something PAUSD has an appetite for. If that is what is causing the hesitation within the administration, that's fine--let's just be straightforward about the reasons for the hesitation, not portray as something other than what it is.

I believe it also has been shown in recent studies that by and large, our school day for elementary is among the shortest when compared to peer districts. That may have contributed to the thinking of the task force, again intuitively it would appear to make sense. There may be reasons they suggest that above and beyond the FLES question, I know others in the community have wondered if our school day's lentgth is shorter than it should be in order to achieve the types of outcomes we seek from PAUSD students.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Languages Now,

Your use of pejoritive adjectives doesn't hide your inability to supply information that supports your views. Actually, I'm sorry to see just how unconvincing the arguments for FLES are.

FLES was fourth on the list of parental priorities--and despite claims to the contrary, all priorities are not equal. I put FLES fourth--I think it would be valuable, but it's not my no. 1 concern.

When there's a 100 percent rejection rate of the idea by those who would administer the program that's not a small thing. Why do you think they're not convinced by all of this? Or do they simply want to deny our kids FLES?


I'm sorry, your arguments here are just nebulous--languages *might* matter for college admissions or study abroad. As I recall, there's already a language requirement for several colleges. Do you really think colleges are going to start demanding second-language fluency? I don't--it would create too uneven a playing field. Colleges are interested in recruiting from a wider range of kids.

Your making an argument for foreign languages, but not FLES, per se.

One thing that caught my eye was Skelly's assertion that FLES only gave kids a one-semester advantage in foreign languages. That's not much--and if that's true, then I think FLES in that incarnation is a poor investment.

I think the posters who have raised concerns about the uneven language offerings in the middle and high schools also have a point. I think there's something to be said for firming up those languages and starting to work downward to third grade.

As for our school-day length compared to peer districts. Proposition 13 again. When Prop.13 passed, I remember the units for graduation were slashed so that I needed only three classes my second semester of senior year.

(Which is one of the reasons I can tolerate the gung-ho ness of Palo Alto parents--I know what happens when schools aren't supported.)

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 7:11 pm


"So, if the second grader is reading at 5th grade level, then give him or her the 5th grade reader. Does this make the job harder for teachers? You bet. But it is best practice. It's called differentiation. No need for special programs or lotteries."

I'm sorry, I call the above racing, speeding above and beyond grade level. No boundaries? I don't want my kid in an environment like that. It's bad enough putting up with the kids that brag about their being smarter within grade level. Maybe it is better to have a special program for the gifted. I would not complain.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2008 at 7:17 pm


My comments about colleges, college admissions, et al as they pertain to foreign language are not at the heart of my argument in favor of FLES. I view this forum as a bit of conversation in which I have been involved for some time, so I took upon myself to relate some recent experiences I have had that I thought would be of interest, but are of secondary importance in the scheme of things. I have had plenty to say on why I support FLES, so forgive me if I tossed in a few croutons to an already ample salad. Hardly worth quibbling over, IMHO, as it relates to whither FLES.

Posted by Less puzzled
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 7:54 pm


one more thing, after reading this forum I think the "giftedness" of many of these "bored" students is questionable. I can handle more work, more incentives to do more, not preventing kids from reading harder books, as long as they can handle a book report within their grade level, and their not acting like it's too demeaning for them. But the idea that you want 2nd graders to read 5th grade books and have the public school system cater to this is scary. The self proclaimed gifted and high achievers need a reality check, if what you are proposing is plain speeding ahead.

Posted by Don't be so hard on them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Less Puzzled and others --

I've been lurking and decided to jump in because I am aghast at how hostile you are to these families. How can you call their characterizations "questionable" and their motives bad without having the vaguest idea who they or their children are?

There are many students in Palo Alto schools who are not challenged by grade level materials. Giving them harder books to read or the next year or two's math is probably easier on the teacher than having to develop deeper materials on grade level concepts which, my teacher friends tell me, often turn out to be too easy for them too.

The kids who seem the most advanced when I work in the classroom haven't had SCORE, they just are wired that way. There is no parent neurosis or pushing going on in those families. From what I see, ironically, the most stressed out parents are the ones whose children are at grade level despite all the after school pushing they do (perhaps even the poster above who spends $1,000s of dollars on after school math).

Nowhere in their explanations does it imply that these parents are rude and demanding. They just happen to have teachers who have not had the materials or interest, not sure which, to throw their child some extra worksheets, assign a harder book to read, or tuck the kids out of sight on a computer. (The "book report" poster was speaking to how easy the book choices were when the child could have handled a more challenging book and had nothing to do with questioning the teacher's book report assignment.)

That some posters report that teachers have done great things for advanced students suggests it is possible and leads to the logical question -- can't the district work harder to make sure those practices are shared between schools?

I'd say the same to people who are concerned that school is too hard for their children too.

So, don't be so hard on them. Their concerns and frustrations sound quite sincere.

Posted by pa resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 9:10 pm

OhlonePar - just because you mentioned it - Prop 13 was passed in 1978 - after I graduated from high school in PA. I graduated a semester early and easily had sufficient units to do so. If slashing of required units took place, it doesn't appear to be a result of prop 13.

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 9:12 pm


OK, got it: you don't have any data to support your faddish mash-up.

As for FLES, you're opposed because the bureaucrats don't like it, even though the parents do. It would be nice to hear the principals give an actual reason for their opposition rather than just that it means more work. That may be good enough for you--you certainly seem eager to swallow the party line--but it is a paltry answer, particularly in a district that prides itself on preparing students to excel.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Paul, it would be nicer if you apologized to the poster you called "ignorant and distracting" for saying exactly what the district appointed task force said - especially since you started a thread summarizing that report the same day it came out and wrote in that post that "Personally, I am very pleased with their recommendations."

Usually I have a lot of respect for your thoughtful posts, but on this topic, you seem to have lost your bearings.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2008 at 10:01 pm


How is what Paul is saying contradictory? He said FLES would not bump anything off, but it would add time. You say, it would add time therefore it would bump something off. I don't think he has lost his bearings, and is much more coherent than OP who goes back and forth, giving Paul a hard time for his support for languages. It goes together, you support languages, you support FLES. This is not the playground, I don't think Paul needs to apologize.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 11:02 pm

pa resident,

That may have happened in your district. In my district, as a direct result of prop 13, they slashed graduation requirements, both in terms of units and class requirements. I wasn't taking extra classes, the units needed for graduation were simply cut.

Languages Now,

Wow, now you're down to the rubber-glue tactic. Not really persuasive. You have an idee fixe and can't work past it. (Shrug) That said, ranting at me won't help you persuade the many people who see no point to foreign languages for kids--I don't see it as a top priority, but I think it has value. If you can't sell someone who's open to buying, you're not going to convince those who don't see foreign languages as valuable.

You're not helping your cause, in other words.

Paul, fair enough--I know you've been pushing for languages a long time. Since I'm not anti-FLES (just unconvinced that it's feasible to push for it at this time and thus open to alternatives), I was surprised how sort of vague your arguments are this time--but, yes, one doesn't feeling like putting it all down all the time.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Another parent,

When I get new information, I consider things and ask questions. In this case, FLES is seen as expensive and there's strong institutional resistence to it. Given that, I'm not seeing FLES supporters put forth compelling arguments.

I feel like I'm seeing a certain amount of foot-stomping instead of thinking about the possibility of a workable compromise. I've proposed one suggestion taht might work and wouldn't preclude bringing in FLES later--not quite sure why Languages Now is so outraged by it--it's the most likely way to get actually get languages now for the bulk of kids in the elementaries.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2008 at 11:24 pm


are you and Terry the same person?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Another parent,

No, we're not the same person--we've disagreed in the past. I tend to see more value in early foreign language instruction than Terry does, which is why I'd like to increase what we have--the current afterschool offerings aren't really enough. I do think, though, that Terry probably speaks for a lot of parents who think foreign languages aren't a top priority.

I like to think about solutions where people get what they want, but without encroaching on other people when possible. While I'd never put a kid in MI, my objections to the program are that it infringes on other people in a serious way. Thus, during the MI debate I favored the charter option or, preferably, waiting until half of Greendell is vacated and putting the program there.

So with FLES we have a situation where pushing it through would meet a fair amount of opposition--are there ways to work around this? I think so--and working around would mean better language opportunities sooner instead of later.

MI took five years to push through--are any of you as single-minded and zealous as Grace Mah? (Or as eager to avoid private-school tuition?) Because FLES would cost more and it doesn't have a champion on the school board or in the superintendent.

I think FLES might have been more feasible if it weren't for the big state budget cuts, which have only an minor immediate effect on PA, but are likely to increase enrollment even more. Certainly, it's making the board and Churchill jumpy.

We're facing reopening Garland (and losing rent) and you can already see the frustration in this thread from parents who resent the proposed GATE cuts--it's lots of fighting over a pie that doesn't get bigger, but is getting cut in smaller and smaller pieces.

FLES is equal opportunity, but it's not cost-neutral. Right now, I think that's a problem.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2008 at 6:51 am

A re-engineered curriculum, different than what exists now, will not "bump off" any other core course material and outcomes on these other core courses should not be compromised. The key here is outcomes.

If the FLES task force recommendation were followed, and time is added to the day for language instrction, nothing will get "bumped off," other than 30 minutes of time not spent in the classrooms at present.

Spending time on one thing "bumping" another is distracting, as in neither case will it be a conseqence. There is plenty to discuss around this matter without invoking topics that are moot.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 7:51 am

The original poster (not me), who Paul disparaged as "ignorant and distracting," wrote that he thought extending the day was very unlikely and so FLES would have to bump something. It seems like everybody, including Paul now, agrees he was right - if the day is not extended, FLES would displace something else.

The poster's point, which I agree with, is that if $1.1M seems like a lot for FLES, then the additional cost/complexity of extending the day - I've never even seen a guess at it, has anyone else? - would make any FLES plan untenable.

I'm not sure who is interested in "re-engineering the curriculum" to accommodate FLES. I'm not. I don't think this is what the TF proposed - they wanted to just add time for language instruction.

So FLES requires (a) $1+ million for teachers and programs PLUS (b) either re-doing the elementary curriculum OR extending the day OR bumping other programs out of the schedule. And the benefit, according to Skelly, is a one semester acceleration in language acquisition (backed up, btw, by the PIE benchmark study).

I know some folks want it, but I think OP's way is the only way they'll get it. That's fine with me - in some ways, it is a fair test of how much demand there really is.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 8:24 am

"And the benefit, according to Skelly, is a one semester acceleration in language acquisition."

Yeah, he claims that but based on what? Go to any European school system and you'll find kids advanced in a foreign language well beyond a semester. Done right, the program could benefit PAUSD students much more than a semester.

Posted by I agree
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 8:47 am

the kids would have to be pretty dense to study that long and only get one semester.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 8:54 am

I assume Skelly has some familiarity with these issues, based on his 20+ years as a teacher and administrator, including at Saratoga and Poway.

The PIE Benchmark Study (Web Link also supports this, though the presentation doesn't lay it out in much detail (only mention is one bullet on p 56). The districts with FLES apparently place FLES kids a semester ahead (eg Spanish 1B instead of 1A) or start them with 1A in sixth grade (vs seventh grade here). So, as the bullet in the presentation says, they "reach Level 2" in middle school, vs. PAUSD kids who complete Level 1 over grades 7 and 8.

It's hard to compare US and non-US systems, of course, since there are often a lot of differences. We should probably assume we'll get a result similar what other districts here achieve using similar programs.

Posted by Languages now!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 9:41 am


Rubber-glue? Wow, this is supposed to be about elementary education not a discussion by elementary kids. If you had a way to support your suggestion, we'd have seen it by now. It did seem like you were just winging it, so I'm not surprised at your inability to go deeper.

Your only argument against FLES is that the bureaucrats are against it. That's OK for you, but this is a well-educated, opinionated community not easily fobbed off. The community has said that foreign language is a high priority, and ignoring that priority risks divisiveness.

Since the district is going against community desires, it really owes it to us to make an argument other than "the principals don't wanna." If it made a principled, pragmatic argument against, parents would be happy to listen. But given the wide-spread support for FLES and the off-hand way it is being handled, this will come back to haunt Skelly.

It would not be surprising if, next time the issue comes up, we see a group of committed parents move for a charter rather than bother to deal with the district in the optimistic hope the district will respond seriously. After all, why should the parents bother? That would be a shame because charters seem inefficient to me and all kids deserve foreign language education.

Posted by They Do
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2008 at 9:46 am

I believe all PAUSD kids do get foreign language instruction - in middle school. The arguments I heard from Skelly was that it costs over 1 million, we would have to extend the day at unknown cost, and it doesn't provide much benefit. What other arguments do you think are needed?

Posted by ol' lady
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 10:53 am

They, they don't. None offered in 6th, optional 7th and 8th.

RE: Skelly...he is completely bilingual..learned as an adult. Not going to get far with someone who knows that it just ain't true, all the propoganda concerning the necessity of grade school foreign language.

Since the vast majority of Americans who have become completely bilingual since the beginning of the USA have become bilingual AFTER reaching at least adolescence, the whole argument of the NECESSITY of foreign language in elementary school is bogus. For some, yes, they will never speak without an accent if they don't start at age 5. For others, they could start at 14 and end up speaking like a native.

It is like math, there are kids who, regardless of early exposure, will pick it up and excel in graduate school in physics, and those who, no matter how much pushing there is starting at age 3, will never be able to manage a PhD in math.

Get over it folks. We are each built differently, and will find our way if we at least have the basics of the 3 Rs in grade school, so that we are reading to learn by 6th grade and can follow our talents.

We have lost our ability to prioritize what is important in our rush to be "modern".

Posted by Ohplease, PaloAltogetoveryourself
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2008 at 10:56 am

To don't be so hard on them and others,

I think people might be taking issue with the fact CJ's children are in elementary. Her perspective is narrowly focused and without experience of knowing how things play out developmentally. I have experienced both ends and the middle of the bell know, been there, done that.

I remember when my son was in kindergarten and there were several kids categorized as "advanced"(this by the teachers) or "gifted"(this by the parents) only to have had intensive reading experience before starting K. You could not tell the difference of these kids compared to others in the classroom by fourth grade and others that were slower were now the "advanced." The "truly" gifted kids rose to the surface by that time and most had a deficit in another area of life. Like the boy who was off the charts academically, but was still wetting his pants in 4th grade. Truly "gifted" is a special needs child who needs an Individual Education Plan.

Telling a parent of a child they think is advanced/gifted that the kids are just more academically driven but not gifted is like a realtor telling owners they have priced their home too high...not an easy task. I have seen many a teacher worn down by these parents. Not many parents go in to the teacher and ask how can I help you, help my child.

I have a child who took Spanish twice a week as a course in elementary and it was worthless. She is now taking Spanish 1 over 7th and 8th grade. She should complete AP Spanish in high school and a foundation has been laid for her to pursue it further through college exchange programs and/or as a minor if she so chooses.

PA does not have the time and length in the calendar to effectively address the languages from the early years. They do not have the funds to adequately accomplish this task. Thus, they need to teach to the bell curve and do their best providing enrichment for the fringes. Lucky are there of us to have academically driven students on the fringe of this bell curve. However, I am not going to demand "would you, could yas" when keeping these types of kids engaged is not too difficult with a little creativity. I am more concerned for those children with minor learning issues that slip through the cracks and are the ones most likely to drop out because a minor issue was compounded into a major issue by the time they are in middle.

What happen to the eighties and nineties language du jour? You remember, when everyone needed to learn Japanese to stay competitive. What are the results of offering this language back then?

If PA gets more money and concessions from the teacher's union, you will have your languages starting in elementary. TIME & MONEY

Posted by unsolicited advice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2008 at 11:07 am

To Oh Please: I agree. I suspected that CJ was a younger parent. Sounded like me when my kid was younger. Sounded like a young parent who is simply concerned about making sure his/her kid is maximally challenged etc to make sure no doors are shut when the child grows up...and indeed it was.

Advice from older parent: chill a little bit if your kid is younger than about 10. They don't really start sorting themselves out till about then. Till then, "gifted" this year is "average" the next then "gifted" again the next etc. They develop in fits and starts.

Support them, and if you really believe the teacher is hurting your kid, talk to the teacher ( better to assume you and the teacher are on the same page,..remember they went into teaching to help kids, so speak to them with get further),...if you aren't happy with the teacher, talk to the principal, if you aren't happy with the principal's response, go up the chain.

In the meantime, help them have fun in school and out, and develop a love of reading and learning. Give them that much, by the time they hit 5th grade they will begin spreading their wings and getting more independent, and by 6th they will be flying.

After that, just make sure they take the classes that will support their strengths and help their weaknesses the best, and fulfill all the requirements for any university.

And enjoy your kids.

Posted by Agree with ol' lady
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 11:30 am

I think it is as ol'lady says. It's a genetic issue, some will get it, some will not, not worth the effort or money, when only a few will benefit anyway.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2008 at 12:38 pm


Where can I find the FLES report, I cannot find it on the PAUSD website as you refer to it in your January 14 posting

Posted by Report
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Interesting, the report doesn't seem to be on the PAUSD site...

It is attached to this PTA Council document though - looks like it starts on Page 3 Web Link

Posted by I Can See Clearly Now
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Oh, and unsolicited,

Great enlightening posts. I have been watching this debate wondering what was driving it. Now I get it: it's all about you.

I thought it was strange how you kept insisting that CJ and others cannot have kids who are advanced/gifted/mot du jour. Why? Of course, because yours are not. So if other kids are ahead of your kids, according to you, it must be because they are academically driven, or are tutored, or were taught to read before K by well-meaning but silly parents, or have other "issues," or were raised by parents who don't respect teachers. It simply cannot be that they are gifted.

How embarrassingly transparent. You want to take someone's kid down a peg so your kid looks better. Yow!

Doesn't get more pompous than this "wisdom." How Palo Alto.

CJ, I don't think you have lived here long or you would have expected this response.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I don't know where the report now is, I downloaded it some time ago. I just live here, I don't have magic access to things, sorry.

I do want to acknowledge Terry's comment regarding keeping the school time the same and introducing FLES within that time frame. This was attempted, keeping more or less the same curriculum, and trying to squeeze FLES in, a little over 10 years ago, and it went down in flames. If that is what Kevin and the principals are resisting, I am with them, we tried that, it does not work, it does require carving time from other things, and I never have advocated such an approach.

We do this right or we don't do it at all. The FLES task force recommends adding time to the school day, and I do support that, for reasons that include things other than FLES. Another alternative, if we are to keep the school day the same length, is to introduce a re-engineered curriculum, different than what exists today, but has shown to provide comparable or better outcomes in similar districts.

At this point, I am confused what the principals and Kevin are expressing reluctance about. Is it any option, certain options, or something else?

Posted by Check the Mirror
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I can see - check the mirror, I think you'll see someone who takes pleasure just taking other people down. As you say, how Palo Alto.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 2:24 pm

PA Parent,

We're not Europe and we're not going to get that kind of school system in a public-school district in California. I think there's also a big cultural difference--we're isolated from most other languages geographically (excepting Spanish and in some places, French)--as I've noted before, language loss is a big issue in language studies here. In other kids, we have kids who start out bilingual and *lose* one of the languages. If we have FLES, we do need to have it supported through the middle and high schools. (And, yes, we can expect a mess over MI at the middle-school level in a few years.)

Languages Now,

Rubber-glue describes your tactics such as they are. If you consider it indicative of playground strategies, well, yes--that was my point.

As for community support--I think this thread shows that there are a lot of different viewpoints on the matter. If you want to go organize a charter--please be my guest. But, frankly, you'll undermine what support there is for FLES. Your blustering needlessly antagonizes people--my way or the highway is not the way to make friends and influence people.

Ol' lady,

Interesting about Skelly being bilingual. I don't think it's simply genetics. Expose a normal baby to a language and he or she will learn it. Kids *are* different when it comes to language acquisition. So, personally, I'd love to see better language opportunities for kids in the district--but I agree that it's not a do-or-die situation. In other words, I think there's room for gradual improvement--solidifying the quality of higher-level language classes, expanding the language option down to the sixth grade, establishing benchmarks for grade-school language programs. And, yes, immersion Spanish for beginners as an adjunct to the SI summer program.

Ohplease and unsolicited,

Thanks for your words. An educator once told me that it doesn't matter if a kid's reading at 3 or at 7--early and late starters all sort of catch up around second grade. I've seen that in action--the kid who came into kindegarten reading and the kid who got it down sometime in first grade are reading at the same level in second. A lot of reading (and math) are developmental. Not every kid is physiologically ready to read at 5. I think it's not coincidental that the highest rates of literacy are in countries where kids start elementary school late (age 7).

People seem to have very different experiences in the elementaries--some of it seems dependent on how well a teacher can manage differentiated instruction. Oddly enough, I think some of the resistance to differentiation is actually a result of the competitiveness in the district. In some classes, one kid may be doing math four grade levels ahead because he or she is talented that way, but another kid may be pushed to be at that level.

Early achievement may or may not be indicative of giftedness--I suspect one of the things teachers do is try to get a read on the parents to see what's going on. One of the red flags for me in these forums is an adversarial attitude toward the schools. I'm sure it's warranted at times, but it always makes me wonder what the parent brings to the table at conferences--how she or he is dealing with the teacher.

I had a friend back in high school who was very, very proud of his IQ--170--see, I still remember it. His parents, of course, thought he was the cat's pygamas. Straight As, National Merit--all that good stuff. He got into MIT.

I ran into him a year later--and MIT had been a real culture shock--"No matter how good you are at something, there's somebody who's better." Yeah, he was no longer the supreme geniug, but man, he was such a better person.

Anyway, I think parents of bright kids can fall into that trap--our kid seems so bright, so advanced, that it can be hard to recognize that the teachers have seen and do see kids just as bright and even brighter. I mean, second graders who read at fifth-grade level? That's not that unusual around here. From my own observation, I'd say that there are one to three kids per second grade class who read at that level in this district--in other words, 10 percent. So it's not the norm and your second grader may well be miles ahead of his or her friends--but it's something the teachers see on a regular basis.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I can see Clearly,

What was so offensive to you about unsolicited post? S/he didn't deny that CJ's kid might be gifted--s/he did note that development can happen in fits and starts.

I have a neighbor who pretty much followed the arc described by Unsolicited--when her kids were young she had to make sure they were challenged because they were GATE. They're in high school and college now and she just sort of laughs at her younger self.

So I don't think Unsolicited's comments come from the jealous school.

Posted by I Can See Clearly Now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Well, the thrust of those comments, from both unsolicited and oh, was that CJ's kids are not advanced/gifted. They have no factual basis to say that. They also claimed that CJ speaks disrespectfully with her kid's teachers. Again, no factual basis.

So, you have to wonder, especially given the commentary, why are they running CJ and her kid down? Why do they see it as in their interest to diminish the achievement levels of a child?

Answer: They take delight in recounting stories of their kids' classmates who were ID'd as gifted and then fell behind. So, all the signs of jealousy are there.

Both posters are know-it-alls very quick to doubt CJ and her assessment of her kid. I don't know if CJ is right about her kid, but there is no reason to doubt that kids like hers exist. Unless it bothers you to think there are kids out there who are brighter than yours.

I'd say both of them should take the time to enjoy their kids without thinking about how they compare to others.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2008 at 5:05 pm


Could you please explain your "language attrition" deal, and what that has to do with my kid learning a foreign language? You are so confusing with this third generation thing,

I want my kid to have a second language in THIS generation, unless your comments further that desire, please stop this nonsense!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I Can See Clearly,

Thank you for your quick response. I didn't have the same reaction to it as did you. Unsolicited's comment was that kids develop in fits and starts--I read it as more a don't-panic.

While I didn't read Oh please's the same way you did, I can see from where you interpretation came.

Personally, the whole "gifted" label puts me on the edge a little bit--I wish we weren't into labeling kids that way because I think it can create unrealistic expectations. Which isn't to say the kid isn't "gifted"--just that the term isn't real useful and can be counterproductive. It focuses on what's presumably innate instead of how to develop. I like differentiated education, but I like it without labels--if nothing else, "gifted" kids don't have an even distribution of talents. I'd rather just let Sophie read at fifth-grade and do math at second grade if that's how Sophie's developing.

And, yes, allow for fluctuation--kids need to be able to fail without feeling like they've let down everyone because they haven't lived up to a label with all its expectations. That's true, even, of extremely gifted kids. And adults.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm


Third generation refers to generations away from immigration. In other words, the grandparents are native speakers of one language; by the time the grandkids roll around, they're not speaking the language of grandma and grandpa.

Language attrition or language loss refers to the fact that children may learn a second language quite easily as a child--but, if they don't use it, they lose that language *even* if they were once fluent in it. Later learners, who have a harder time learning a second language, don't have the same problem. They're more likely to retain what they've learned over a longer period of time--even if they don't use the language regularly.

So, two things,then. The first is that Americans, no matter what their ethnic background, tend to speak English only, by the time their families have been here a couple of generations no matter what language their grandparents spoke. More than that, kids who are bilingual start to *lose* their primary language skills when switching to English.

The United States, for not totally clear reasons, discourages bilingualism.

As far as FLES goes, the question is if we invest in early-language education how do we make sure our kids retain what they've learned? If the kids study a language in grade school, but then quit studying it in middle school, they'll simply have to relearn it later.

I mean, I assume that you want your kids to have FLES so that they'll be bilingual. I'm pointing out that it's not clear that FLES will guarantee that--that seems to be part of Skelly's objection.

This is also one of the reasons, the SI program encourages summer school--no Spanish school for three months is a big gap for a six-year-old.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2008 at 6:30 pm


I could almost live with your ruminations about the third generation forgetting, or not using their immigrant language, though I thought it was an absolutely idiotic thing to harp about here, since we are talking about THIS generation.

Now you are saying that children actually forget what they learned, over the summer? It's an intra-seasonal thing? At what age do they start retaining what they learn?

Posted by Ohplease, PaloAltogetoveryourself
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2008 at 7:52 pm

I can see clearly now,

Are you sure, or possibly did you forget your glasses along with checking your anger? Ouch! Of the two posts, unsolicited was very cordial with a great deal of wisdom - enjoy your children.

I was not questioning CJ's child just that CJ's viewpoint comes from a lack of experience - she is just starting on this roller coaster ride of education. The child's development is a contributing factor to the fits and starts that I and Unsolicited mention. We gave examples not to attack, but to point out that not only CJ but many new parents need to take a breath in their race to get their child their shot at the "gold star" whatever that may be for them.

Ohlone Par comes close to my feelings about labels. Is my one child who is academically driven/tests well anymore gifted than one who is in the middle of the pack or my last with Dyslexia - I think not! Each child is gifted with individual talents. My child with Dyslexia now reads at the level of the academically driven, but the academically driven child still tests off the charts and has not had to work half as hard as my youngest nor has the AD child had to make trade offs because of after school tutoring. The middle blissfully cruises through school.

I feel for the experienced teachers that need to deal with new parents who, for one reason or another, don't realize these teachers know an academically driven child from a gifted/advanced child. I have seen too many parents who can not see the forest through the trees, so focused on their own needs that they can not respectfully work with the teacher to accomplish a mutual goal - what is best for the child. Parents bring a lot of their own baggage to the conference/classroom much like baggage is brought into a marriage. The baggage being the residue of their childhood - what they got or did not.

I am still back to TIME & MONEY regarding foreign languages.

Posted by SI Mom
a resident of Escondido School
on May 6, 2008 at 7:58 pm


Your remark regarding the SI program encouraging summer school is incorrect. My son, who is a 5th grader in the SI program, was not once "encouraged" to go to summer school. Like all children in Palo Alto schools, he was encouraged to keep up his reading over the summer, Spanish and later on English, and he was given summer reading lists. If necessary, some SI students - but not all of them - in the lower grades are encouraged to attend a summer SI literacy class, just as traditional students in Palo Alto are encouraged to do so, if needed.

Your blanket statement that all SI immersion students are encoursged to go to summer school is completely incorrect.

Posted by CJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Thanks, I Can See,

I've got a thick skin by now, so no big deal.

Do I sound angry? I am. Frustrated, too. My kids are not getting appropriate instruction. But that doesn't mean I go into meetings with teachers angry or less than cooperative. It's just that I've learned the biases and weaknesses of the district and its teachers, so I know what questions to ask.

I won't speculate on jealousy but I am used to the negative commentary by some other parents, which seems definitely to come from feeling threatened.

One aspect of the system for one kid. My oldest is about to finish elementary. Through the middle of first grade, she was behind in reading. Then, when she was ready, she jumped six grade levels in six months. In second grade, the teacher assured us she would "level" her and challenge her. Well, the teacher refused to permit her or any kid in the class read books that were not on the second grade carrel. By the next year, she was reading high school level, the teacher suggested this was merely "decoding." I handed her the adult novel my daughter had just read, and asked the teacher to check comprehension. Answer: gosh, she is reading at high school level. This, of course, had no influence on how she taught; it brought no challenges for my daughter. Another teacher--perhaps the same one mentioned above--insisted that book reports be done on grade-level books.

Best of all are the comments, similar to those by Oh and unsolicited, by other parents when they see her reading material: "Oh, she'll understand that in about ten years." I just smile and ignore--it's clear to me they are threatened.

We do not need to wait until high school--silly!--to know she and her sister are advanced. And no, for us there is no gold star.

We have only ever asked for reasonable challenged that can be provided in a differentiated classroom, but in our experience most teachers cannot provide this (I have heard great things about Ohlone in this regard, as well as about the mixed grade classrooms). Although do not like the idea of skipping, we considered it for a while, but the district is set against it.

So, from my perspective, the attitude is the kid should just suck it up and wait for the others to catch her.

Posted by Ohplease, PaloAltogetoveryourself
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2008 at 8:47 pm


"Best of all are the comments, similar to those by Oh and unsolicited, by other parents when they see her reading material: "Oh, she'll understand that in about ten years." I just smile and ignore--it's clear to me they are threatened."

Why would you presume to think Unsolicited, I or others would be threatened by a third grader who can read a high school book? Or do you secretly want people to be threatened?

Could the remarks be from well-meaning maybe even experienced parents who have seen children or are living with children just like yours?

Maybe you should keep some of your child's essays that analyzes or compares the literature she has read; therefore, demonstrating to all who are threatened that, yeah, she is advanced. She not only reads high school level books, but she writes high school level papers demonstrating her ability to not only read but comprehend.

CJ, you seem like a bright woman who can find creative ways to challenge your children if the system is not accomplishing it. Or you can just suck it up and/or hold your breath until the district can do it. At this point, I suggest you get creative.

Posted by fwiw
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2008 at 9:13 pm

fwiw, I was one of those kids who ran way ahead in reading, math, and science (this was 30-40 years back). My mom was an English teacher, so we had a pretty good library at home, and I read most of the college literature standards by the time I hit high school. And I did comprehend those books. I also did math and science acceleration, finishing calculus in sophomore year and running out of science courses junior year.

Not sure it got me much though. I burned out on literature and math; in college in fact I never took a literature, math, or science class. While I did "comprehended" what I read, I didn't really understand the issues and themes very well. I could have gone back to them, of course, but didn't.

I'm not sure that means for other people. Maybe I would have done better in a private school, not sure (there wasn't much around where I grew up, though). But in the longer term, I'm pretty sure the acceleration didn't buy me much and might have cost me something. I might have been bored if I'd been slowed down; but maybe I would have gotten more from it. Hard to know.

Of course it is all kid specific. But, as I tell my own kids, smarts is over-rated - you can win the academic sprint, but it might cost you in the life marathon.

Just food for thought, fwiw.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm


Go up the ladder. The parents trying to provide perspective here, probably based their comments on what was said earlier, a few grade differences, not 2nd grade to High School difference. That is not a common experience, even in Palo Alto, and I would take the suggestions of the person that has established a partnership with lots of people in the district to help her/his children.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 9:51 pm

SI Mom,

Thanks for the clarification. The SI parents I've talked to were encouraged to send their kids to summer school or, better yet, vacation in a Spanish-speaking country. Sounds like it's not one size fits all.

Parent/Community Center,

Why on earth should I care what you can or can't live with? Much of what I've said I've written about here before, so I'm happy to clarify when asked, but your antagonistic approach seems unwarranted--you're not really following the thread--it's pretty clear why I've made some of the comments. And I'm not "ruminating" about language loss--it's a well-established fact in the United States that's a central issue in language studies.

If your kid's not going to retain early foreign-language instruction why spend time and money on it? And how are you going to convince the board and super to spend time and money on it?

I'm not saying kids forget everything over the summer--look again, kids can forget their first language and do. That's why I mentioned the situation with immigrant kids.

In other words, if FLES is going to work, there needs to be a solid language path through middle and high school.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2008 at 11:02 pm


I'm not antagonistic, I'm just scratching my head at your language attrition ideas. They had not made any sense to me, and now that you explain, I think you're using research that is very specific to immigrant communities. Of course immigrant children may forget their first language, it's because they may not use it anymore. That's not at all like languages in school.

Attrition, and your theory that late learners are a better investment are completely contrary to what is practiced in Finland, as regards languages. They think it's the cat's meow, early, lots, and they are a model country in Education. I know we are not Europe, and this is not for people who don't want languages period. But, you seem to be interested, how do your late learner and attrition theories square off with Finland?

Below are two links from the thread on this subject.

"What is taught in Finnish schools and how" Web Link

"Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why". WSJ

Web Link

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 11:32 pm


I'm a little puzzled. You say your child's second-grade teacher wouldn't "allow" her to read books outside the second-grade carrel. What does that really have to do with anything? Obviously, you can buy your child whatever books you want.

It's true that the public schools aren't set up for the top one percent. But you can set up your home for that one percent. I've known kids who were highly advanced readers--and I really think the best way to deal with that is use your own knowledge and books.

I think there's actually a practical reason for not giving a young child access to some stacks--just because a child can read a book doesn't mean that book is developmentally appropriate. I know a first grader who could easily read Judy Blume's Forever--but there's no way I'd want her reading it.

There's a big gap between reading and writing skills. You didn't say your child wrote at a high-school or adult level--or analyze literature that way. If she doesn't, then I think letting her follow her reading bliss on her own tiime is great--and there's still a benefit to writing about things that aren't hard for her to read and may be more developmentally appropriate. (In fact, I'd say that this can be the real challenge--finding age-appropriate books for advanced readers.)

But, frankly, given that there are lots of lovely books out there and lots of bookworms--how much are the schools really getting in the way here? From what I've seen, children who read well don't care if a book is hard or easy as long as the story's good. The most loved book may be an "easy" book that catches the imagination in a special way.

I mean, it sounds like the curriculum's not as accelerated as your child could handle--but does this actually get in the way of your child's enjoyment of school? In some cases it does, in some cases it doesn't. I'd say that may matter more than how well the curriculum matches--a bright reader can kind of go where she wants to go in terms of books and learning about stuff.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 11:53 pm


No, I'm not using research specific only to immigrant communities. Some of it is research done at Brigham U., a large chunk comes from research done in Canada, where there's a strong incentive to make people bilingual. It's been a real challenge for them--it's worth looking at since the Canadians are culturally similar to us.

They are not my theories--they are the results of other people's research. A theory would involve putting forth a hypothesis as to why kids lose their first language when they immigrate to the U.S. or why heritage languages are so poorly retained here.

Yes, Finland isn't really an apt comparison. There's an incentive to learn and use English every time a Finn logs onto the Internet. We don't have the same incentive to learn another language--and retain it. We're not in a small country with a language no one else speaks.

So we lack incentive, opportunity and desire. I mean, one of the best ways to learn a language is to spend time in the country where it's spoken. The French and the English have a tradition of swapping their kids during summer holidays, but that kind of thing is more involved for us for geographic reasons--even getting to Mexico can be a bit involved, depending where you're going.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 3:34 am

one comment.

bright kids are not necessarily brighter than the rest, just quicker learners. many bright kids never get further ahead by college level, just get as far as they're going quicker. many so called high achievers bright kids are caught up by their peers at some stage and never do particularly well as hoped for as adults. Sometimes its because they are burnt out and sometimes its because they just get where they are going quicker.

Posted by Challenge is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 6:15 am

Parent -

Ever wonder why many high achievers "never do particularly well as hoped for as adults"? Google "underachievement" and "gifted" and you will find 1,000s of articles that report it is, in large part, because they were under-challenged in school.

The question is how can you challenge instead, as some posters suggest, punish these kids. Challenge is learning during the 40 hours a week they are in school. Punishment is not learning and then telling parents to fill their kids' play time with the hard work.

Every newspaper you pick up now seems to report that our nation needs all its kids, even the brightest, to be engaged at school and learn as much as possible so our country can remain competitive. The Weekly ran a piece on that today:

Web Link

So, while it may be hard, our goal should be to challenge every student at school as well as we can and not dismiss it, as several of the above posters claim, as a developmental phase that will pass, a wail of the over-privileged or an otherwise non-PC kind of thing to do. Many kids would be better served if we didn't wait until they were teenagers to do it.

Posted by unsolicited advice,yet more
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2008 at 7:05 am

Ok, "Challenge is good" doesn't have kids in school, and never did.

Proof? the "40 hours per week in school" part.

No kid is in school 40 hours per week, even private schools...

CJ and whoever else figures this is "envy" talking when I tried to give a perspective on aging kids, and figured I didn't have a "gifted" kid (God how I hate that term).

Be careful what you wish for. In this area, the problem is not trying to figure out how to "challenge" your kid enough in grade school, but how to not let him or her burn out from the ever increasingly challenging and competitive atmosphere that will push him or her more than you can possibly imagine, even more than you are doing at home. Your job at home needs to be to teach your kid to lighten up.

Again, I advise, lighten up, enjoy your kid, teach balance, perspective, fun, and how to deal with the pressure to be perfect in a real world where at some point your kid will no longer be "the perfect star".

There is a reason some kids crack up when they hit the MITs of the world. They were used to being the perfect star in a school, only to realize that they are just another average brilliant kid at a top school. This "gifted" thing is a destructive thing to put on a kid. Teach work ethic, perspective, pride in working well on the project or work habits for the test, not so much pride in the actual grade.

WHAAAAAAT? I can hear the younger parents scream. I mean that if your kid is indeed brilliant, and s/he gets "easy As" with minimal work, then s/he learns pride in results...which means that when s/he finally hits a point where s/he has to actually WORK for the results, like mere mortals had to do from the beginning of their education, s/he can feel like an abysmal failure. S/he never developed the internal sense of self and pride that comes for work habits, getting praise for the grade instead of the character and work habits that the rest of the kids develop.

This is the equivalent of the girl getting praise for her beauty, then when it becomes to fade or something happens to scar her face, she falls apart.

The emphasis on pride in what you are born with, like beauty or brains, instead of praise from parents on what you DO with what you are born with, can be very destructive.

Example...when my daughter came home with an A on a math exam that I knew she hadn't studied for, but a B on a science exam that I knew she had spent hours studying for, she was surprised that I told her how proud I was of her B. It was a great learning moment for me to help her learn pride in her ACTIONS.

And then there was my son, who was brilliant in all ways, academically driven.....all As, constant praise from everyone for how "smart" he was. My lone voice of praise for his hard work ( and hard work he also did), his good heartedness, character...all that was drowned out by the adulation he got for his results and natural ability.

The "result" was that my gifted son ended up finally hitting a point where he "challenged himself" to the point of not getting all As on EVERY test, of not being "the best" in everything, not being "perfect"..and hit an absolute wall of losing his sense of self.

So, be careful CJ and others pushing for their "gifted" kid in elementary school. Talk to the teacher, talk to the principal if you don't like the results, maybe have your kid use some of his "bored" time using his natural gifts to help the struggling kids, maybe using some of his "bored" time developing word or math games or puzzles if s/he is "gifted" in one of these areas, (in other words, get creative)..and then, ENJOY YOUR CHILD.

Posted by no AP for Elementary
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2008 at 8:59 am

Unsolicited Advice,

You've been generous, I think, and more moms could be kind enough to throw in that kind of perspective.

Those that are confusing "challenging" kids with the giftedness issue are mixing apples with oranges. Kids reading High School level in Elementary need special help, it is beyond what is commonly referred to as challenging kids in school. A second grade teacher expected to grade High School level books, and keep the child motivated and not bored in reading? That can't possibly be differentiated instruction.

I thought this all started because, as someone said

"Once again the advanced kids get short shrift in this district."

They are actually looking to find ways to better test advanced students. AP for Elementary?

Testing has to have a purpose, and this would lead to the speeding and racing kids. It would be a social nightmare for these little guys. Better that kids work harder and deeper within grade level. And as you said, take off in Middle and High School.

Anyway, challenging does not refer to only the smart ones!

Posted by mom
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2008 at 9:12 am

Well, one way all kids could be "challenged" further in Elementary would be to have languages, but apparently we have reached a limit in the elementary curriculum, and if we added anything it would mean taking something away.

Posted by Also sees a lack of challenge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 9:58 am


Your post does not engage with any of the concerns of parents who have written about their unchallenged children.

It is soaked in regret and reads as advice your present self would like to give to your years-ago self.

There is no evidence that those parents are "pushing" their kids or need to lighten up. I think you are projecting your own past mistakes on others. No one is talking about extra tutoring, passing tests or competition. These parents have merely dared to voice their dissatisfaction that their children spend long hours in school bored.

Neither have these parents indicated they tell their children they are "gifted" or "brilliant." There is no indication these parents are focussed on grades as opposed to effort. This again reads like projection on your part.

In that light, I hope that you have managed to "lighten up, enjoy your kid, teach balance, perspective, fun, and how to deal with the pressure tobe perfect." There is no hint that the parents posting here are in need of your advice.

The fact is that most of these kids are not "academically driven," but simply interested. They like to learn, but are stymied at school. They are not being pushed--they are trying to run ahead.

Posted by no AP for Elementary
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2008 at 10:37 am

Also sees lack of challenge,

"The fact is that most of these kids are not "academically driven," but simply interested. They like to learn, but are stymied at school. They are not being pushed--they are trying to run ahead."

this sounds like any kid, not an advanced kid, if they are not academically driven, school can be boring.

If they were somewhat academically driven, they would be interested in a bunch of academic school stuff, and especially working harder. That drive is not going to come from differentiated instruction, since that is for academic subjects, but maybe from other stuff like leadership, or social things, or art and music, and sports.

More challenge for everyone is great, but something special for the "simply interested but stymied" would not help anyway. If you want special treatment, you need to really qualify for something, and nothing you've said indicates that there is a major problem here.

Posted by Also sees a lack of challenge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 12:23 pm

No AP,

"this sounds like any kid, not an advanced kid, if they are not academically driven, school can be boring." No, the crucial difference is that these kids are bored because little new learning can happen in the classroom. They are interested in "a bunch of academic school stuff," it's just that their advanced levels are several years ahead of the other kids in the class and so, too, are their interests.

The DRIVE is there--it's just that too often teachers are unwilling to engage the drive.

No one has asked for "special treatment." They just want what others have: appropriate challenge for their kids in school.

Posted by no AP for Elementary
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2008 at 1:29 pm


"advanced levels are several years ahead of the other kids in the class and so, too, are their interests."

this is not for the regular classroom, it's strange to have kids that are several years ahead of other kids together, and especially with interests several years ahead of others - not only for the regular kids, but for what you call advanced. Adult novels? no thank you. And by the way, your impression that I'm jealous, not the case. I've heard genuine expressions of trying to understand your situation, sorry you took it as jealousy. Middle School will happen sooner than you think, I'd say let your child enjoy being a child, they will have forever to be adults.

Posted by Also sees a lack of challenge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 3:11 pm

"this is not for the regular classroom, it's strange to have kids that are several years ahead of other kids together" Well, that is the way the school system is set up--they put these kids together.

As for jealousy etc., you have me mixed up with someone else.

I will point out that you too seem to be projecting your own situation (failure?)--"I'd say let your child enjoy being a child"--on me. Being challenged as a child does not mean being an adult.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm


Wanting your third-grader to be reading high-school level materials in school is, in fact, asking for special treatment. Maybe it's warranted, but it is special treatment--something that will benefit one child and would involve the teacher assessing which high-school level materials are age-appropriate. Even if your brilliant 10-year-old can read James Joyce, is it appropriate to have her read about Leopold Bloom's jerking off? That means the teacher needs to be on top of this advanced curriculum even if her special area of knowledge is Beverly Cleary.

I've written about this before, but I know adults who were child prodigies--as in college at 12--and others who were accelerated learners--I'm thinking of the 7-year-old who read Robinson Crusoe on his own one summer. And Unsolicited describes what can happen (and did happen) very well. Kids who are told they are brilliant and perhaps are brilliant, can get stymied when faced with a challenge. And, yes, for them, it does tend to happen late. A lot of fear can get built up because they set impossible standards for themselves--they can freeze.

One of the best things you can do for a "gifted" kid in my opinion is to have her or him learn to do something for which they don't have a lot of natural aptitude. Knowing that it's okay to struggle is a big lesson.

Posted by also sees a lack of challenge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 4:02 pm


"Wanting your third-grader to be reading high-school level materials in school is, in fact, asking for special treatment." Sure, but then so is wanting your third-grader to be reading third-grade level materials.

But you seem eager to go after the extreme cases. Realistically, most of the advanced kids are not advanced by 8-9 years and it is not rocket science to challenge them. The solution is called differentiation.

The real problem for advanced kids is not that they are told they are brilliant but that the schools ask them to sit bored all day.

Posted by no AP for Elementary
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2008 at 4:30 pm


YOU presented the extreme cases, we're back to the fact that it's not about an extreme case, just extra challenge. You've jumped on some band wagon that is throwing the term "differentiation" around and accusing the schools here of being boring. You are the parent I will now have in mind when anyone talks about difficult parents in this district. No talk about partnership with your teacher, no it's all about you and your demands. Look again, the smartest, brightest, and most accomplished kids around are NOT the bored ones! They are the ones too busy working their tail off to be bored.

Posted by Confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I'm confused.

OP you say "Kids who are told they are brilliant and perhaps are brilliant, can get stymied when faced with a challenge... Knowing that it's okay to struggle is a big lesson."

How is it then that teachers shouldn't challenge advanced kids so they can learn from struggles to persevere?

If yours is just a practical concern that the teacher doesn't have the expertise, there are solutions for that, many suggested above.

I have to agree fully with Also Sees that the biggest problem for these little kids is that much of their school day is too easy. Little of what is presented in elementary school for them is outside their natural aptitude. It doesn't matter if they are so advanced that they are reading James Joyce or just Harry Potter instead of Amelia Bedelia, or have pretty much figured out how to solve all the math problems through grade 5 or just through grade 3 before they graduate 2nd grade. Too easy is too easy.

These children spend the bulk of their day at school and if it isn't challenging for them then, no matter what the parents supplement with at home - music, chess, or tiddly winks -- the clear message the child gets at school is that he/she is so smart that no effort is required.

If it isn't OK for a parent to send his/her child that message, how is it OK for our schools to?

We are fortunate that this does not describe the bulk of our students or all of our schools, but for those it does it is a very valid concern.

Posted by no AP for Elementary
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

degree of advancement matters - if they are within a range, absolutely our current system accommodates these students. There are many accomplished students to prove that point. If the difference is so great as, 2nd grade reading vs High School reading, it will require a special partnership with the teachers, school, and specialists. There is no shortchanging going on.

Posted by Also sees a lack of challenge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2008 at 7:50 pm


Actually, id didn't present extreme cases--you brought that up.

Be that as it may, it doesn't matter if it's extreme or not, the district should be trying to educate all its kids.

Actually, I think you will find that the brightest kids are bored by the classroom. It's strange to me that you keep repeating doctrinaire claims in the face of contrary evidence. A number of parents have posted, pointing out their negative experiences. In particular, the district clearly doesn't accommodate advanced kids consistently. There may be some teachers who manage to differentiate instruction, but many do not.

You seem threatened by the possibility that the district is short-changing a whole group of kids. Rather than work yourself up into a defensive, self-righteous lather and make more spurious claims, why not consider the possibility that these parents are not simply inventing these issues.

The core problem is that these kids sit bored in class for hours every day. There is no reason why a competent district cannot challenge all kids--even if you find that thought threatening.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2008 at 7:53 pm

A little perspective. This is our third "elite" school district - 2 on the east coast, 1 out here. We've have 4 kids go through various grades, one now in high school, the rest younger. In each district, there was this same complaint - my grade school kid isn't challenged/isn't getting enough work/is bored at school/is being held back.

Note that each district, like PAUSD, had an excellent reputation, top-ranked high schools, and got their kids into outstanding colleges; like here, people paid a premium to live in those districts. None had GATE programs, btw.

So I surmise that (a) this is an endemic problem that is hard to address, since 3 elite districts all have it OR (b) parents who live in elite districts are prone to complain about this, but it is really not a big problem per se. I'm inclined toward (b), in large part since the outcomes in these districts, measured by the success of the high school grads, is hard to dispute.

But in either case, I'm not sure that PAUSD should try do much different. The overall result is what we should focus on; that result seems very good. While we can tweak the model, major changes don't seem called for.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2008 at 8:33 pm


I'm not introducing an extreme case, but discussing the case presented--CJ said her kid was reading at a high school level in third grade. I discussed less extreme situations earlier--i.e. second graders who read at a fifth-grade level--I pointed out that that wasn't that uncommon in this district--you see a couple of kids like that in most classes. It's something teachers see regularly--and I'm sure some handle it well and others don't.


Very bright kids can be accelerated--but sooner are later they do hit a wall where something becomes difficult. I don't have a problem with differentiation--heck, I'm an Ohlone parent, I'm in favor of it. But also don't think it's necessary for schools to push kids to their absolute maximums.

What I'm trying to get at it is something a little more subtle. What I've seen happen is that the kid's sense of self gets very tied up in being a wunderkind. So, yeah, you can accelerate them, but that only kind of increases the focus on that.

Even among the very bright, kids develop at different levels. You can be the child prodigy, say, and you get very used to being the best by a mile. And then you hit an elite college or grad school--and you meet kids who weren't child prodigies, but caught up. And some of them are actually doing better than you are. If you've always been the wunderkind and naturally aced things, this can be a real shock. This is also the time the kid tends to be away from the family--in some cases, there's the shock of not being the center of the universe. Your brilliance isn't as important. And if everything's become about how advanced you are, what's left when you no longer are a prodigy?

There was an article in the NY Times magazine a few months back by Po Bronson that touched on some of thin--when you praise a kid for being "smart" you're praising them for something innate that they don't feel like they control. When those kids get a difficult problem they think they're not capable of solving it.

As far as Harry Potter and Amelia Bedelia--a young kid who reads well will enjoy both. I think as far as reading is concerned (math is a different kettle of fish), reading Amelia Bedelia at school isn't the end of the world as long as the kid also gets the chance to read Harry Potter--somewhere. When I think back, school had so little to do with my reading or that of my friends. I loved to read in part because it was something that was all mine--I could read about what I wanted--and in my case that meant reading classics and comics simultaneously.

The accelerated learner issue is one I've thought about quite a bit over the years--long before I had kids. How do you keep that gift from being a weight around a kid's neck? The best situation I've seen so far is one where the kid was accelerated via the Stanford online math program several years ahead in math, but wasn't skipped in other subjects. It was handled very quietly and matter-of-factly by the parents. I think they really wanted their kid to feel *normal* even if he wasn't average. What I note about this kid now is that he can hold a job that challenges him and doesn't need handholding to do it.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2008 at 9:55 pm

I have been in my child's second grade class many times, and the teacher was unclear and boring most of the time. It looked like the gifted and the not-so-gifted were bored. Some teachers are just not great teachers, sad fact, but it is HARD to be a great, even a good teacher (I am the first to admit I would be a bad teacher). However, the great teachers, keep all the kids (gifted, medium, special needs) engaged, behaved, and happy enough in school.

I have to believe MOST of the kids in this district are "gifted", at least most are "financially gifted", as they are at Nueva. When I seached the internet on this subject, it appears that on average, that kids that go to 4 year colleges are "gifted" (Note, that IQ of 120 - 125 was actually optimal, smart enough, but not as many pyschological problems as folks with IQs above 140). It seems that, really, people want a "brilliant" program, but I am not really sure that you can tell who is "brilliant" in 2nd grade because of the development issues.

To stop folks from hypothesizing, I don't know if my kids are "gifted", but they are NOT above the pack at this time on reading, and I just want them to be in that Palo Alto pack, because that is pretty good, other than not learning a foreign language! One thought for parents concerned their kid is bored, MI or SI would probably resolve that. Not sure FLES would, because many of the same kids would be in after school classes and summer school to get ahead, and be upset that their kids weren't challenged.

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