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School district finds Latino, Black students improperly placed into special education

Original post made on May 26, 2021

A disproportionate number of Latino and Black students are classified as having a learning disability and placed in special education services, according to a Palo Alto Unified self-assessment.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 26, 2021, 9:47 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Eleanor Willemsen
a resident of Triple El
on May 26, 2021 at 10:59 am

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While we certainly do want to avoid placement resulting from bias, we also want to be sure that all students who do in fact need special ed services do receive them. A few years after the famous U.S. Supreme Court Larry P. case forbidding the use of I.Q. tests with Black students, a group of Black Parents in Georgia sued their state's Education department for assessment procedures that did not result in services for their children that the parents argues they needed.

Posted by John
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 26, 2021 at 11:08 am

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This same stratification of performance occurs on numerous tests of cognitive ability, including the SAT, GRE, ASVAB, and LSAT. It’s easy to just label Palo Alto teachers as awful biased racists, but perhaps they’re just doing what these kids need to succeed.

Posted by A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2021 at 11:49 am

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As a parent of a 2e child (gifted with specific learning disabilities) whose dyslexia was not caught until after graduating high school--because of the district's sick behavior when it came to a 504 and everyone's ignoring our subsequent requests for evaluation for their personal and retaliatory reasons (we are still hurting from this)--the problem here goes deeper than just bias. The racial bias amplifies other problems.

Looking at this as ONLY a racial bias issue will double down on hurting gifted BIPOC students. Our district is most likely overidentifying black and Latino students not just because of racial bias, but also because the district doesn't have a culture of helping every student meet their creative potential (is the phrase still in the district vision?) Students are identified for special ed because of their inability to do the hamster wheel that is the grade-focused, rigid Prussian model that was sadly adhered to even when the pandemic gave the district an excuse to innovate. This BOTH misses students who desperately need assessment/help, AND overidentifies students who don't hamster wheel as well as others for reasons like language.

Since we were forced to homeschool because of the retaliation, it did allow us to separate the mandatory hamster wheel part of school from what truly supported learning, and to give our child the freedom to learn in the way that worked best. It's very clear to us that remaining in our local schools, whether the LD's had been identified or not, would have been devastating personally, emotionally, and academically. Which is a shame because the teaching staff are mostly really good.

It's also clear that if we had not been made so afraid of asking for help and evaluation by our district (had the resources), homeschooling would have been even more successful and our child could have begun the desperately needed OT long ago. If PAUSD looks at this as just needing to cull the SPED rolls, they will not reduce the harm.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2021 at 1:29 pm

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My Caucasian LD child, graduated from PAUSD five years ago, did not get identified as needing support until we were able to save the thousands of dollars needed to get diagnosis on our own and hire outside help. (This took years for us. Not every Palo Alto family is wealthy.) The district offered very little support--as, sadly, most districts (and private and charter schools do not, I might add) do not.

She is a bright person who needed help figuring out a better way to learn. With our support, Morrisey Compton, and a number of doctors, and her own perseverance, she got that.

I say all this to point out that it's very likely that numbers of all kids in the district are undercounted. I worry about quotas based on race because they might be used to deny services even more broadly to people who need them.

I hope the district will do a better job working with all families on diagnosis and individual treatment. Further, I hope that teachers' desire for training and support in this area will be met. Finally, if you can afford it, please consider donating to Morrisey Compton. They do so much to help families who cannot afford the help they don't get in the schools.

Finally, to families in the district who resent services offered to these children (and we encountered a LOT of ignorance in the area), asking a child with LD to learn the way every other child learns is like asking a paraplegic to transport himself on his own two feet. Many of these children are very gifted. They need to learn skills to unlock different ways to learn. When they get the support they need in this, they thrive. So please be generous and remember, before you get sanctimonious about your "elite" child who can learn in the traditional way, the old adage, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." You never know what life may bring you and your child next.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2021 at 10:03 pm

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I want to quote L.Ron Hubbard, who did a lot of research on study and learning as he was studying how the mind works and how to teach people to use what they were learning - he said: There are as many ways of learning as there are individuals. I fully agree with that - I teach violin and viola, which is a practical skill but also involves reading and translating symbols into sound (musical) concepts as well as muscular actions. And every student is different. I work with each one to find the path that will get the basic concept to make sense to him/her, and then the path that leads them to being able to DO the actions to get the desired sounds. In my opinion everything you study should be for the purpose of being able to DO something. Unfortunately a teacher with 20 or more students in a classroom, locked into program that says "we have to learn these chapters in the 9 months of the school year", doesn't have a lot of freedom, nor time, to work with each student to find his/her best route. I know teachers on the whole do try. But there are "agreements" out there about what is the "right" learning path, so my point is to disagree that there IS such a thing. And to hope that teachers and parents can be in better communication about what is happening with their kids' learning, and what the actual goals of that learning are.

Posted by Educating the most at-risk students
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2021 at 10:54 pm

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In the CDE's citation, PAUSD is now mandated to spend 15% of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds for coordinated early intervening services - including Special Ed improvements by addressing racial bias, English Learner needs, AND effective pre-referral instruction and support. SLD (Specific Learning Disabilities) is commonly associated with Dyslexia, and other difficulties w/reading & information processing. So interested community members should also look at a 2nd report that night, the "Every Student Reads Initiative" to improve reading outcomes (w/bell weather targets for HUR students) in elementary school which includes:
1. Lead Principal of Literacy Instruction to lead the Districtwide work in reading instruction.
2. Replace the K-2 Teacher's College Phonics Unit of Study with the Orton-Gillingham (OG-structured literacy) methodology of instruction in all K-2 classrooms.
3. Require all K-3 teachers, elementary principals, education specialists (serving mild to moderate students with disabilities), reading specialists, and English Learner specialists to attend OG’s 30-hour training this summer.
4. Elementary principals have a common professional learning community (PLC) goal in the area of reading in each school site’s 2021-22 SPSA plan.

See the plan here: Web Link

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2021 at 8:35 am

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Are special education programs a hinderance to a child or do parents of children with learning disabilities want their children in these programs because they want the best for their children? Like anything else, I guess it depends on who you ask. I would think these programs would be helpful, but as a parent -- I think I would have to be in that position. As long as the children are learning...

Posted by J. Laredo
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2021 at 8:51 am

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"L.Ron Hubbard, who did a lot of research on study and learning as he was studying how the mind works and how to teach people to use what they were learning..."

Personally speaking, Scientology has absolutely no place in a public learning institution or environment.

Adhering to cult-like manipulation and mind control tactics should be left to those who opt to participate OUTSIDE of the classroom and parents bear the FULL responsibility for subjecting their children to this kind of indoctrination.

Posted by Lance Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 27, 2021 at 1:01 pm

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I would not want my young children in elementary school taught by an avowed practitioner of Scientology or any other cult.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 27, 2021 at 1:39 pm

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I wonder if there has been any analysis on classroom management. I wonder if some of the reasons there are more students in Special Education is due to challenges some teachers have with managing the classroom - speaking as a former teacher. That would be an area to look into for professional development. I have NO DATA to validate this, just wondering if there is any relationship.

Posted by Educating the most at-risk students
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 27, 2021 at 3:20 pm

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@Jennifer -- yes that's right! Parents and the greater community should have every expectation that students learn and progress in school with their peers. The issue for students with LDs (learning differences/disabilities) is HOW and in some cases WHERE the instruction and support happens. Federal law requires that this be in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). So when too many kids are disproportionately being taught outside/separately/elsewhere rather than in the "General" Education setting then something is wrong. About LRE: Web Link

40% of people read automatically with ease, while 60% require systematic explicit instruction. The "Ladder or Reading" depicts that most students (not just dyslexics) require explicit instruction as part of their "general education", therefore NOT via Special Education which is usually different/restrictive and less inclusive (pullout from and missing what other kids have) and certainly not "NOT AT ALL". See the graphic: Web Link

See how revisiting PAUSD's reading curriculum ensures instruction is available in the regular, general education classroom to help ALL students (including those without access to outside resources AKA equitably). Web Link

P.S. this issue is not unique to PAUSD, but both these Board items point to a concerted effort to work on a longstanding problem of equity, access and outcomes. Thanks for reading this far, and caring about kids. Stay tuned...

Posted by Logan Arenado
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2021 at 5:34 pm

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Other factors to consider...

(1) English proficiency limitations attributable to English being a second language both at home and community.

(2) Not enough parental encouragement and emphasis on the importance of educational proficiency as a stepping stone to more lucrative vocational opportunities.

Case in wife is a second-generation Japanese-American and though her parents spoke limited English, they stressed assimilation and the importance of pursuing higher education.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2021 at 11:05 pm

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I knew that mentioning L.Ron Hubbard would get some negative responses. All I can say is that if you have never actually read Dianetics the Modern Science of Mental Health, or any other of Hubbard's books, or looked at the website, then you should not make statements such as "cult" or "mind control". I hope that other readers will take that to heart. Hubbard's studies of how people learn have led to excellent results in schools all over the planet, in all levels of economic "class". Here's a basic one: if you find yourself confused about something you are reading, look back to the end of where you felt you understood, and see if there is a word, or a symbol, that you didn't fully understand, or maybe had a wrong definition for - and look it up and get it understood. Then read on and it will make sense. (A very silly example off the top of my head: someone says "he's a dog". The reader/listener pictures a terrier or a lab or some such, and it doesn't make sense. There's more than one definition for "dog", right? so to understand the sentence and what follows it, you need the correct definition.) Kids nowadays are often taught to guess at the meaning of a word they don't know - and from there on they are left in a bit of mystery. Which compounds each time they do that. Here's another one: can you actually learn about a thing without having seen or touched it? That's my big objection to all this online stuff for young kids - if one has never actually "met" a tree - stood next to it and looked up into its branches; hugged it; felt its bark; heard the leaves rustle in the breeze; maybe even climbed into one - the word "tree" really has no meaning. Once you've actually met one, then you can read about another one and have it make some sort of sense, because you have some actual experience to compare with what you are reading. That's very obvious to many of you, probably, but it can be a huge barrier to learning if it's not used.

Posted by Pierce Layton
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2021 at 7:04 am

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It is no wonder that the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the fanatic diatribes of his caliphates are so popular among their followers.

It serves as an invaluable mental tool for those unable to put 2+2 together and somehow arrive at 4.

Of note:

- if you find yourself confused about something you are reading, look back to the end of where you felt you understood, and see if there is a word, or a symbol, that you didn't fully understand, or maybe had a wrong definition for - and look it up and get it understood. Then read on and it will make sense.

^ Yes...this readily available resource is called a 'dictionary'.

- can you actually learn about a thing without having seen or touched it?

^ Getting back to the dictionary, by looking up the word 'vicarious', one can possibly get an answer to this most intriguing query.

Authors and filmakers often create a 'vicarious experience' for those unable to attend certain events or hug a tree.

Now when it comes to science, some things cannot easily (or actually) be seen or touched and so we have reference materials, microscopes, telescopes, linear accelerators etc. to aid in the perspective.

And as far as someone being mistaken for a pooch, a simple explanation of 'figurative' vs 'literal' (along with a couple of good examples) should so the trick.

Posted by Free Your Mind
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 29, 2021 at 8:59 am

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Educating small children (regardless of their ethnicity) via Scientology teaching techniques raises a few red flags.

Exerting mind control tactics to ensure a herd mentality is neither healthy nor conducive to promoting a society of individuals capable of making adult decisions on their own.

Posted by The Harsh Reality
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 29, 2021 at 10:27 am

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The few Scientologists that I have unfortunately crossed paths with tended to be on the overbearing and overly assertive side.

Perhaps this is a key part of their seminar training and ongoing efforts to ensure a personal sense of success.

Tom Cruise (famous Scientologist) is very intense in his support and admiration for this so-called 'religion'.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 29, 2021 at 7:16 pm

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I am sorry that some of you have met people you didn't like who happened to be Scientologists. I still ask that you actually read something directly from Scientology before you make up your mind fully.
As for Pierce's points, all absolutely true. But are kids actually taught to use dictionaries in school? I wasn't; I don't know how it is now. And of course there are figurative meanings - my point was that if the reader doesn't KNOW that meaning, he'll be confused. And if he doesn't ask or look it up he'll stay confused. A kid who's been allowed to ask questions without being squelched for bugging the person he's asking (I realize that's hard on overloaded parents) will be willing to ask, and will get the answers he needs.
And to respond to "free your mind" - what "mind control techniques" do you claim Scientology uses? I don't know of any. Another of my favorite Hubbard quotes is: "what's true for you is true for you; what's true for you is what you have observed yourself". And if there's anything that Scientologists are NOT, it's a herd. Take a look at the website, the link "meet a Scientologist", to see the number of different people and professions represented.
But if your mind is made up I don't want to confuse you with any facts.

Posted by Efren Garza
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2021 at 8:27 am

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The late L. Ron Hubbard was a mysterious person and most likely mentally deranged.

No different than Jim Jones of The People's Temple, David Korac of the Branch Dividians, and countless KKK Grand Wizards (both past and present).

All are cult leaders empowered by feeble-minded followers who let others replace their own thinking along with some basic common sense.

The same can be said of ALL Donald Trump supporters, 95% of the current Republican Party leaders, and the 800
predominantly white insurrectionists at the DC riots.

Going back in time, we can also add Hitler and his fervent followers into the mix.

Cultlike mind control techniques have absolutely no place in a a child's education.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2021 at 5:55 pm

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I see people using the term "mind control". Please give me an example of where you have actually seen that in Scientology. And tell me that you don't consider giving kids mind-altering drugs as a form of mind control.

The final product of Hitler and Jim Jones and others mentioned was death. If you actually look at the website, at "meet a Scientologist", I think you'll see quite a different type of product, from a lot of individuals.

As I said, if your mind is made up, don't bother confusing it with some facts.

(A point about the cult followers: the only thing common to all humans is the reactive part of the mind. So those actions done by mobs are NOT analytical, sensible, responsible individual choices. They are just reactions. But you'd have to read some of Dianetics to understand that.) (Can I dare you to read it?)

Posted by Janine Collins
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2021 at 6:52 pm

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It is one thing to read or glance through a book (e.g. Mein Kamf or the Communist Manefesto) and another to become an active card-carrying (and oftentimes) fanatical cult member or follower.

People who are incapable of thinking on their own often allow others to do their thinking for them.

And this in turn is both dangerous and irresponsible.

Scientology has absolutely no place in the Special Education of young schoolchildren.

Posted by Tamika Jordan
a resident of Stanford
on May 30, 2021 at 8:54 pm

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Lest we forget, Scientology is a key aspect and fundamental of 'The Church of Scientology' and being a religion, its teachings have absolutely no place in a public school environment.

That said, Critical Race Theory (CRT) as advocated by President Joe Biden should be included in all public school curiculum as a means of educating students of color that many of their academic shortcomings are primarily attributable to white American racism which has subjugated their ancestors to the lower rungs of economic and educational opportunities.

In other words, teach them to rise above the suppression perpetuated by a white society who continues to view them as second class citizens.

It is time to tear down the walls of the white power elite and rise above them.


Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2021 at 11:21 pm

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Tamika, I understand your point of separation of church and state. (and I fully agree that all of us - BIPOC, white, any race or even religion - need to know the WHOLE truth about our nation's - and the world's - history of various peoples subjugating other peoples, and the lasting effects of those actions). But I am not talking about religious teachings. I am talking about basic study techniques. A student of Scientology is taught to look up any words s/he doesn't fully understand. Is also taught to find examples of what s/he is reading about in ones environment, or sketch them, or make models of them, in order to really understand it (finding a balance of theory and practical application). Does that mean that those principles should not be taught in public schools?

A quote I've seen attributed to Confucius, tho I don't care who said it, I use it in my teaching of violin and viola students all the time because I have found it to be true: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand." It's too easy for some to set up a "tape recorder" in ones mind (does that term date me?!) to memorize what one reads in order to spit it back on an exam. (and very difficult for others to do)

Which brings me back to my first point: there are as many ways of learning as there are individuals, and we teachers need to help each student find his/her best method, best path, best technique, to understand and be able to USE what s/he is studying.

Which is what this thread is spozed to be about, ?no?

Posted by Bill Jacoby
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2021 at 7:41 am

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Using Boy Scouts as an example, if one attains the rank of a First Class Scout, they have pretty much achieved the necessary skills required for this recreational outlet. And anything beyond that involves earning merit badges (achievement certifications) towards higher and optional aspirations.

The same can be said of a general education. An solid eighth grade education is all one really needs as high school and college are simply padding one's educational pedigree.

And so in essence, perhaps it is best to focus on the fundamentals and if one aspires towards higher goals either vocationally or academically so be it.

Algebra proficiency is unnecessary but basic math skills are. And the same applies to sound reading and composition skills as any exposure to advanced literature should is optional at best.

Add basic middle school civics, biology and physical science into the equation and an individual is pretty much covered. Save the physics and chemistry for those planning to enter college.

These kids are not behind. They are simply being forced to equate with other students who may have higher aspirations and this practice is unjust in terms of unnecessary expectations.

Establishing proficiency in BASIC and fundamental educational skills (if further required) should be emphasized and focused upon rather than high school and college preparatory curriculum.

And if an interest towards higher educational aspirations develop, proceed from there.

If a GED is the equivalent of a high school diploma, why bother getting overly bogged down with high school coursework?

On the other hand, teaching children to critically think at these stages is also important so that as adults, they do not become Scientologists, members of Antifa cells, myopic fundamentalist Christians or white supremacists.

Posted by Erubial Tejada
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 31, 2021 at 8:49 am

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My uncle dropped out of high school at 15 and works as a heavy equipment operator at construction sites.

He makes $115.00 per hour and this is a lot more than many college educated people earn, especially if they majored in something useless and non-vocational like liberal arts (although some later become parasitical lawyers).

I am going to do the same and if I want to read Shakespeare or Camus I will simply go to the public library.

And I don't need calculus to operate a crane either.

Posted by Tyler Harris
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2021 at 10:16 am

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In lieu of pursuing any education past the 8th grade, joining the armed forces is another option but you don't have much say in where you are sent or the job you are assigned.

This is not a good choice for those with other options

And without at least a high school diploma you can never be promoted to a higher rank like general.

Posted by Guns Across America
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2021 at 1:55 pm

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Not a good time to be joining the armed forces. You end up anywhere.

Since 9-11, too many well-intentioned Americans servicemen have been killed or become permanently maimed over countries that are not worth fighting for.

Who cares about Iraq, Afghanistan or its people?

Posted by Madison Petrovsky
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2021 at 4:46 pm

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Since ACT and SAT scores are no longer being required at many major colleges and universities, just apply for college acceptance via Affirmative Action as a minority group member.

There is no need to be relegated to Special Education because there is tutoring in colleges + some even have pass/fail grading.

Everyone can now go to college if they want to and President Biden is even offering FREE tuition at junior colleges.

Why go to work for a lousy minimum wage job?

Just attend college and drag it out...better to be a professional student instead of a professional flunkee working at a nowhere job.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2021 at 3:16 am

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I just found a fabulous quote/example in a book review in the NY Times(and I want to read the book, even tho I loved geometry and don't need to be sold on it):
[author Jordan] Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is rather spectacular at this sort of thing. A seam in his narrative is a critique of how math, and especially geometry, has been taught. (His strategy for success in teaching is to employ more strategies; multiply approaches so students might find one that works for them.) The book is called "Shape", with its modest subtitle: “The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else.” In granular detail, he reveals how geometric thinking can allow for everything from fairer American elections to better pandemic planning.
That fits right in w/ my argument about different ways of learning for different people.

Posted by Cole Mansfield
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2021 at 1:26 pm

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If you are gifted enough in the sports or entertainment fields and are successful, you don't need a higher education.

The college educated lawyers and beancounters work for you.

Posted by Carson Winslow
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2021 at 3:23 pm

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I'm going to be a hairdresser. Don't need an education for that. Just training.

School is a drag and a total waste of time for some.

Posted by Jeffrey Lane
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:03 am

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> without at least a high school diploma you can never be promoted to a higher rank like general.

Not so...upon his father's death in 1743, George Washington left grammar school and never received any further formal education.

He went on to become General of the Continental Army and our first President.

And so in many ways, one does not even need to complete middle school in order to become elected POTUS.

Posted by Penelope Gerhardt
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:33 pm

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Abraham Lincoln didn't go to college and became both a lawyer and a president.

This just goes to show that a higher education is oftentimes unecessary to become famous and have money named after you.

Posted by Edward Jones
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 3, 2021 at 1:27 pm

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The law schools need to trim their admissions by 75% as we already have way too many practicing attorneys and most of them are either incompetent or complicit parties.

Anyone can be an attorney nowadays as there are countless 3rd & 4th tier law schools in operation and the requirements to pass the CA Bar examination were recently lowered to ensure that most pass now.

Posted by Alvin Jackson
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2021 at 2:21 pm

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The inferred superiority of white students over students of color is both racist and condescending.

Just put those deemed inferior in Special Education programs predominantly run by white educators who will show them the way. Right.

This is 21st century America not some Native American reservation or a Pacific Island run by white missionaries.

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