She's talking about one of the most sought-after and highly ranked public school districts in America: the Palo Alto Unified School District.
From her family's first moments in Palo Alto in 2016 — meeting a very pregnant teacher with no planned replacement, being on the receiving end of a casual suggestion that she donate $3,000 to the school PTA, hearing that seventh-graders would read just three books in English class all year and for free reading, could choose to read the same book more than once "because they'll learn something different from it every time" — Clavel felt increasingly disillusioned by the state of the school district. Her feelings intensified throughout the school year as leadership frequently turned over and pervasive technology use at school created conflict at home.
For some parents, this might be their sole educational experience. But Clavel was comparing her children's schools to those they attended in Japan and China before moving to Palo Alto in 2016. And Palo Alto's fell short.
"My children were getting lost in a district I came to believe was struggling with a systemic lack of oversight, where students' academic — let alone social and emotional — needs were getting lost in bureaucratic failures," she writes in a new book that documents her family's journey through sharply contrasting school systems across the world.
"World Class: One Mother's Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children" is a sharp critique of Palo Alto Unified, where her children attended elementary and middle school for two years before the family, dissatisfied with the quality of public education here, decamped to New York City. But it's also part family autobiography and part advocacy guide for reform in the U.S. public school system through the lens of schools in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The book draws on her personal experience as well as also education research, interviews with experts, conferences and visits to public, charter and private schools across the country.
"I felt like I had this social responsibility to write (the book) because I saw and experienced through my children something that I think most parents will never experience," Clavel said in an interview. "Although we were expatriates overseas, I did choose to enroll my kids in local public schools that were achieving really high standards and educational outcomes — higher than those in the U.S. on average."
Clavel had the idea for "World Class" in 2013, when she started writing articles about education while the family was living in Tokyo. She had just finished a master's degree in comparative international education and had seen her children through public schools — rather than international schools for English-speaking transplants — in Shanghai and Hong Kong. But it wasn't until they moved to Palo Alto that the book crystallized for her as something that should be broadly relatable to the needs of American parents, teachers and policymakers.
Her goal is to two-fold: to inspire parents to import or at least learn from educational philosophies that work well in China and Japan and to empower them to advocate for a better education for their children.
Clavel describes how practices in China and Japan that Western schools chafe at — rote memorization, academic drills, standardization, "unapologetically" competitive academics — actually gave her children "an unparalleled knowledge base."
In Shanghai, for example, schools are focused on mastery; every student is expected to learn the material and failure is not an option, Clavel said. Her son, then 6 years old, was reduced to tears after being forced to stay after school there one day because he got lower than a 95 on a math quiz. (She attributes this to him feeling rushed by his mother rather than the remedial work.) In Japan, textbooks are shorter, change less frequently and are taught cover to cover, rather than piecemeal.
She came to see this kind of standardized, rigorous approach as a benefit rather than a drawback. (In the introduction to "World Class," Clavel asks readers to stay open-minded to unfamiliar or provocative practices.)
"The common theme I found in Asia was a reverence for education that is cemented by a unified team of teachers, parents and students. I learned to appreciate seeing preschoolers sitting at desks, engrossed in academic puzzles. I grew to find joy seeing my children following the opposite of a personalized learning curriculum; instead, every student in the entire nation in the same grade learned the same material at the same time," Clavel writes.
"Children's success is not left to chance, corporate interests, or the socioeconomic backgrounds of their parents."
By contrast, she likens the American school system to Swiss cheese, with gaping holes filled only by those with the means to do so.
Those holes, she said, are glaring in Palo Alto, where privilege pays for private tutors, college counseling, extracurriculars and the like. (Clavel is guilty of this herself, signing her children up for an after-school math program, Mandarin and Japanese tutors and a Stanford Model UN program when she was dissatisfied with what she felt were low academic expectations in Palo Alto schools.) Privileged, vocal parents in Palo Alto also more often demand — and get — a seat at the table for important decisions affecting the schools, Clavel observed.
"For PAUSD parents and educators, many families seem to be going around the system — imposing high standards at home and giving up on the school," she said. "It's the 'broken feedback loop,' as one PAUSD board member explained to me. Parents and teachers need to work together for transparency, alignment (collaborative and curricular), accountability and higher expectations at school."
Inequities in U.S. schools are also exacerbated by uneven funding models. School funding in Japan is top-down, compared to in California, where wealthy, high-performing districts like Palo Alto benefit from local property taxes, and struggling districts must rely on state funding — a "legal form of educational gerrymandering," Clavel has said.
And while the Asian schools Clavel experienced were no-frills to the extreme (including no running toilets or heat), she was confident it was because dollars were being spent where they mattered most: on teacher training and salaries, professional development and student supports. In Palo Alto, by contrast, she balked at a $30,000 budget line item for ergonomic chairs for fifth-graders.
Clavel was also shocked by "technology run amok" in Palo Alto schools, including her son's fifth-grade class receiving PTA-funded iPads without her or the school principal's knowledge. She advocates for a more balanced approach to incorporating technology into the classroom.
"Tech — it's not the savior, and it's causing all kinds of strife in families at home," Clavel said, suggesting that all public schools be mandated to develop partnerships between schools and home on technology use.
After leaving Palo Alto for New York City, Clavel reluctantly enrolled her children in private schools, for a variety of reasons. But their experience in Palo Alto lit a fire under her to advocate for reform in the public school system. Parents who share this fire, she said, should educate themselves on school funding models and curricular standards, go to their local school board meetings and lobby their elected officials, including at the state level, for change.
Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.
She was ok with her kids going to "Asian schools with NO RUNNING TOILETS NOR HEAT".............. Had that happened to her kids in the Palo Alto school system. She would be suing instead of writing gobble goop..... [Portion removed.]
This has been discussed extensively on Nextdoor.com. Anyone who agrees with her observations are getting slammed as much as the author herself. There is a lot of similarities with our political views as anyone who doesn't go along with the majority viewpoint is scared to speak out. Speak out, I say. We need to see our weakpoints and make changes. Patting ourselves on our backs and thinking we are doing everything well while ignoring the obvious failings compared with other systems won't help. The status quo is not acceptable.
Read her opinion carefully folks. Another example from above article: She came to see this kind of standardized, rigorous approach as a benefit rather than a drawback. (In the introduction to "World Class," Clavel asks readers to stay open-minded to unfamiliar or provocative practices.) Sounds OR-WELL-IAN to me.... Or better this is a form of communism. All the same, nobody different, robot society. I am open to ideas. Just not her ideas and thinking.... Nothing wrong with that for me to speaking out..... Great rule. IF ALL THOSE AROUND YOU PANIC, YET YOU REMAIN COOL AND COLLECTED. It is possible you do not understand the situation!!! Maybe that is why she was lammed at NEXTDOOR.com Not because of status quo.
This article is spot on - our schools ARE failing our children, and we are NOT doing anything about it. This Author is not "unemployed" or all the other ways she is being slammed here. Read her bio -- she's super accomplished. Better, yet, let's read her book. Stop blaming the messengers who are trying to make change and actually make efforts to change the system. There is a silent but mass exodus out of PAUSD -- get your heads out of the sand.
I think we can afford both working toilets and "teacher training and salaries, professional development and student supports". I agree with the Ms Clavel about this: "For PAUSD parents and educators, many families seem to be going around the system — imposing high standards at home and giving up on the school". No question that is true. Parents who actually care about math will have to work around the system. OTOH, I only agree with her 32.78% about math. Smaller, lighter, simpler exercise-oriented math books that are worked through daily, and done cover-to-cover by the end of the year: great. But, that is only 1/2 the process. To actually understand math, you need teachers who actually understand math, and, time to work through a deeper understanding as well as do and test rote exercises. If we, as a society, decide that we want to do it, we can do it, but, isn't simple. And, BTW, I've met plenty of people who are products of the systems Ms. Clavel describes who have an extremely shallow mathematical understanding. OK for MBAs, but, not OK for the "creatives".
Completely agree with Resident. My son at Jordan (now Greene) had 3 principals in the 3 years that he was there. Morale was low, and teacher turnover high during that time. Parents would show up for games, socials, dances but hardly anyone showed up when it was time to discuss the new math curriculum.
The schools she describes sound like a nightmare suppression of personal creativity and motivation. Please don't impose that here.
I wonder whether Ms. Clavel considered and included the corrosive influence of the teachers' union in degrading our childrens' education. Due to the teacher's union, and the rigid salary schedules they negotiate which are based on seniority (and not performance of course), PAUSD does not and cannot pay high school calculus teachers more than PE teachers. The teachers'union is interested in job employment programs for their members and job security, above all. Well, salaries and generous benefits too, of course. A teacher in the Mountain View whisman school district has now been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting fellow teachers, and one of his students said he "hurt" her. Yet according to the Mercury news checking the CA teacher credentialing commission, he still retains his teacher certification, while a teacher who spoke up was terminated. Omerta anyone?
Still amazed at how this community loves to bash PAUSD. Not sure how it is "failing" all of these students who are getting into top colleges. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is perfect, but the way that community members anonymously post here, and how this paper bashes PAUSD you would think this is a bottom-tier district. As a parent of children in this district, I put the blame on other parents. I've been the room parent trying to get more parents involved either financially or in the classroom, but they don't want to do that. I've watched parent cliques form and try to oust a teacher because they didn't assign enough homework. This place is ridiculous. I'm a 4th generation Palo Altan, and don't recognize this place anymore.
Lots of biased assumptions "And while the Asian schools Clavel experienced were no-frills to the extreme (including no running toilets or heat)" - so far fine ", she was confident it was because dollars were being spent where they mattered most: on teacher training and salaries, professional development and student supports." - where is any evidence or facts to say this is the case?
In Asia and other parts of the world, teaching is a highly respected profession and teachers are valued members of their community. In this country, we routinely blame teachers for every failure of their pupils, expecting them to act as babysitters who are to instill wisdom with often little backup from parents. In most communities, they are poorly paid and browbeaten by parents, board members, and school administration. It's no wonder than anyone who can earn any other way does, leaving teaching to those who can take the abuse or who can do nothing else. If we supported excellence in teaching, maybe we would have excellent teachers.
Curriculum (by CA law) must be changed frequently, therefore one’s “Math Experience” will differ from others not that far apart in age. Sometimes they use our taxpayer dollars to acquire, train on, implement goofy curriculum. I admit Math has been an unnecessary and high stakes problem. The CA Legislature also entertains - or adds oddball requirements, schemes, bureaucracy making it challenging for well-intentioned administrators, teachers, parents, students. Let’s agree most parents care about their students. Still - I despise the changes that have led to inauthentic student education (costly high-level tutoring in advance or concurrent to taking high stakes courses for a grade; taking excessive AP courses for competitive reasons; psyching out peers with over-sharing and narcissism of one”s “advanced status.” Students should do their own work and earn their grades. Money should not lead to improved SAT scores. It’s “doctoring.” A form must be signed annually by each student in high school, testifying they have not taken online or Community College course in advance of taking it for the grade in HS. There was a problem emerging in the 90’s, I believe a former PAUSD Superintendent, Skelley, was Principal at Saratoga High School when this unethical and nasty and deceptive behavior started (documented in news media as cheating). Students concealed they took Calculus (to my recollection) over the summer at West Valley College, THEN took it for an (easy) grade as seniors at Saratoga. The “Arms Race” here started with the influx of Asian cram schools in Cupertino in the 90’s and spread around as Tiger Moms admired Amy Chua (who appears to have traded support for Brett Kavanaugh in order to obtain a valuable law clerkship for her over-managed daughter) exerted personal, financial, manipulative planning and power over their children’s education - Felicity Huffman about to be sentenced: I would give five years in jail. SAT exams, APs transmitted to cheaters in Asia after usage here in the States - how these people can look themselves in the eye I don’t know.
To clarify, I do not mean Skelley was involved in any way with Saratoga High cheating, deceiving students. He was an administrator dealing with the headache of these students and the news media. I also think there were students who got into the school’s computer system to change grades. Era: late 90’s?
@old and in the way You do realize CA just passed new legislation whereby CA students can’t be suspended? It was felt too many minorities were being suspended. This is the manipulation of our crazy CA state legislature. Now there is little recourse to remove a student who disrupts a classroom, is scarily oppositional to a teacher, OR bullies or inflicts disruption upon another individual student. When I moved to CA myself way back when and entered the school system, I was shocked at the laxity and reduced discipline compared to the state I came from in the Mid West. Yes, I’ve seen it since then, but don’t have a child in the public schools now, Thank God.
Palo Alto Teachers are well paid, receive lots of time off (summer) and get pensions. They have been receiving significant raises as well. BTW: many of them are truly fantastic and not only teach but also inspire the students. However, the administration needs to work harder to weed out the few poor performing teachers and computer science appears to be particularly difficult to get decent teachers. PAUSD does not believe in a one size fits all, focuses on creativity and social emotional development, independent thinking and creating opportunities for students to explore their interests. These are not aspects of teaching the author values and prefers a one size fits all approach. In addition, PAUSD has been doing a great job of modernizing their schools and adopting new technology. With the onset of automation, the teaching style of PAUSD is doing a much better job of preparing students for a world where computers will replace jobs that consist of repetitive tasks.
The recent college admissions scandals have brought to light the fact that education is not an equal playing field. Not only do some families "cheat" by paying for false SAT scores or sports abilities, but we hear anecdotally of other forms of cheating being backed by parents. When we hear of Palo Alto students getting into top colleges, do we ask ourselves how many years of private tutoring they have had, how many private math programs during the summer that will put them ahead of their peer group in the classroom when they return to school, how many private college preparers have been editing their essays, how many have had parent advocacy charitable overseas missions, or even managed to pay for their school district to change the names of 2 schools? The tip of the iceberg in college application scandals have hit the headlines dramatically. However, there is still a lot of questionable action action which goes unreported and whether this is borderline or cheating differs depending on who is talking.
#Anonymous - what's wrong w people trying to educate themselves? Lincoln educated himself through reading in a log cabin. Not ok w you? Only allowed to do it in a public school, and only when the first day of school begins? According to whom? And you consider that "cheating?" So no basketball player is allowed to shoot hoops on their own if it's not part of an organized team practice? People can't read books on their own at home because they might be 'getting ahead' of someone else? And that's so unfair. No parent is allowed to help their child w their math homework unless all parents are helping each child, and only in the same way, and no parent should have more training in math than another or they're not allowed to help? Impossible and ridiculous.
@Wishful Thinking - you should check the government statistics on performance of the different states' education systems. The top 12 performing states all spend at least 54% of their budgets on teachers whereas the bottom 12 performing states all spend less than 54% of their budget on teachers. This could just be a coincidence but I doubt it.
Remember the political quote about being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple? That quote captures 90% of why we parents "bash" PAUSD. PAUSD serves a cohort of students where the "middle of the pack" comes in doing hand-stands, has fantastically educated and present family support, and full y enriched after-schools and summers. PAUSD takes this cohort, gives it middling support at best, and then pats themselves on the back for world-class outcomes. They honestly think they are hitting triples.
Our experience is that PAUSD offers a lot of positives while having an ongoing need for introspection, change and improvement. Ms Clavel has correctly identified some of our problems including the over sized role of paid tutors undermining strong classroom education, creeping elitism and a history over the last decade of inadequate administrative leadership and oversight. But her overall critique seems very scattershot and internally inconsistent, starting with the characterization of her analysis being "visceral". Visceral is nice and most of us have our own visceral feelings about our kids' educations, but I don't know why we should defer to her intuition over our own. Beyond the headline, she proceeds to offer some odd values; rote learning over critical thinking and higher teacher salaries over working toilets to name a few. I recall a friend telling me about his educational experience in Asia. He was a math and science super kid, enough to get a scholarship at a leading U.S. university. But he now says that he didn't learn anything of value until he experienced the U.S. educational system that taught him the critical thinking skills that were the foundation of his professional success. If Ms Clavel were to look deeper into the more recent self reflection within Chinese and other Asian educational thinking, she might become familiar with the movement to adopt more of the American orientation toward critical thinking and away from robotic rote learning. I wish her well with her kids being educated in elite private New York schools, although it would be interesting to hear her rationale for a so-called public education advocate to slam our schools and then run off to New York private education. She didn't have to escape from here to get that alternative. Our region has some great, innovative private schools without having to leave the peninsula. Something doesn't add up in her story, but maybe that's just my visceral response. Just sayin...
She does have some good criticism on some of the issues PAUSD has. However, both her tone and her interpretation of a lot of things is really just... off. Not to mention the number of inconsistencies and eyebrow raising statements she makes. Starting with the most obvious one - she is dropping off her children on the first day of school (so, middle of August...) and its 40 degrees. No matter how you look at it, 40C or 40F (as she does not specify) - this has never happened. Its never that cold, or that hot in the middle of August in the morning.... And the rest it just peppered with this sort of inconsistencies. Seriously, a teacher who says that kids already know everything when they start school so how could they be graded? That teacher needs to be reported and removed, but I am guessing this also never happened.. And 3 books in a school year also NEVER happened. Anyway. I am not the biggest fan of our school district we have all sorts of problems, but spewing hateful misinformation is probably not the way to go.
Critical thinking is not being taught in our schools. Certainly independent thinking is not welcomed. Anyone who thinks independently along lines that are not the accepted norm are just not made to feel welcome and certainly not given credit. Critical thinking goes beyond following the ideas of the liberal majority in education. We must be teaching our young people to think for themselves. They must be taught how to think not what to think. Have we any real deep thought that goes into the minds of our young people? Have any of them listened to some of the Intellectual Dark Web? If not, why not? If they don't hear more than one side, how can they learn to think independently. Let's encourage them to think for themselves and not to parrot what they are told.
There seem to be a lot of comments about rote learning here. I was educated in Europe where rote learning is used as a tool in the teacher’s tool box to deliver specific results. It’s good for teaching certain fundamentals that kids just need to know by heart and it’s good for teaching mastery - learning a poem by heart and reciting it to the class has educational value. If you read the author’s book (which I have but maybe few others posting here have) then you will understand that she is not advocating for the wholesale implementation of rote learning but that a certain amount of rigor, memorization and mastery goes a long way (I won’t try to paraphrase the book or distill all her take always). Creativity also has its place of course but not at the expense of learning basic material. And it seems the whole individualized learning style movement is falling apart under the lens of scientific rigor. Let’s be careful before we adopt the next learning fad.
As someone said, "The stupidity of the mynah shows that in birds, as in men, linguistic and practical abilities are not very highly correlated. A student who can repeat a page of a text book may get first class honours, but may be incapable of doing research." Posted by New resident, a resident of another community >> I was educated in Europe where rote learning is used as a tool in the teacher’s tool box to deliver specific results. [...] she is not advocating for the wholesale implementation of rote learning but that a certain amount of rigor, memorization and mastery goes a long way (I won’t try to paraphrase the book or distill all her take always). I haven't read it. But, the message that some are getting out of the book seems to be "rote learning". Perhaps they didn't get the real message of the book? You could write a more thorough review yourself perhaps? The following series of news articles represents a kind of critique of rote learning, though: Web Link >> Creativity also has its place of course Unfortunately, it seems that you can't teach creativity. Nor, apparently, is there an algorithm for it. But, you can teach a deeper conceptual understanding. So far, the only way known to do it is a teacher-intensive process by teachers who understand a subject well themselves. I wonder if the general public will be willing to pay for thorough education?
I had three children in the Palo Alto Unified School District. I have a Ph.D. from Stanford and a B.A. From Yale and now teach at The Harker School in San Jose. Yet I couldn't even get an interview in PAUSD, so I think there is a problem in the hiring process. PAUSD does seem to opt for cheaper, fresh out of college teachers, and won't consider older teachers like myself who live here and wouldn't be leaving in a year or two because of the cost of living. That aside, I respectfully disagree with the author that we need to implement more Asian-style rote learning practices. My youngest is now at Carnegie Mellon and has turned out to be an amazing theoretical mathematician, but his skills did not manifest until high school. Measuring students' capabilities on their ability to do arithmetic in elementary school is not necessarily a reliable predictor of how they will do when they reach higher level math that requires very different cognitive skills. Overall, I feel that PAUSD served my three boys well, and they had very different learning styles and interests. We left the district for three years to go to New Mexico, and we had to put our children in private school because the public schools were so deficient. I don't think that private school is a panacea, but I will say, as a teacher, that having a smaller class, allows me to address learning differences such as ADD or dyslexia or other challenges, much more effectively. I suggest that PAUSD focus on teacher and administrator retention by considering qualified applicants who may be older and have more experience but who are likely to stay. I also recommend that PAUSD continue to try to keep class sizes small and allow teachers as much flexibility as they need to teach effectively. Yes, I wish they didn't tenure after only two years, but eliminating tenure entirely carries its own problems. I hope that we can have a respectful and productive discussion of our public school system without assuming there is any "silver bullet" out there. There is not.
My son has done well in the pausd schools. Elementary was not the best fit, especially in the upper grades, but he really enjoyed the flexibility of the Connections program at JLS, his teachers at Gunn are experienced and competent, and he loves the top notch band and industrial tech (at JLS) and Auto (at Gunn) programs. The students are many and diverse, the support staff is there when needed, and the schools are local and free. A kid who went to a local private school and started at Gunn recently asked her parents "Why haven't you been sending me to public school all along?" Another parent at a private school railed against the elitist, moneyed, academic hyper-focus, and wishes his kid hadn't gone there. Even parents whose kids are happy at private wonder at times if there might be something better to do with that $200K. While our public schools could be improved, I much prefer the suggestion of Daniel Markovits in a recent Atlantic article that "For one thing, education—whose benefits are concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Private schools and universities should lose their tax-exempt status unless at least half of their students come from families in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution. And public subsidies should encourage schools to meet this requirement by expanding enrollment."
When parents shift their kids around every year trying to chase the "perfect" school, I can't help but see it as a vote of no confidence for the kid. Education is the child's responsibility, and part of that is figuring out how to work with situations that aren't ideal. This is an important life lesson. Whether the student goes to Harvard or Stanford or MIT or wherever, they WILL encounter bad teachers in their future.
Bravo to Ms Clavel for speaking up and putting her name out there on the national stage. It takes guts to make real change and our district needs it. SF Chronicle, pick this up...
@Longtime Parent, If American K-12 education is really creativity- and critical thinking-oriented, why are most STEM graduate programs in the U.S. dominated by foreign students? Why are more than 50% of American college students washed out of STEM majors in their freshman year? Why has the U.S. had to import millions of H1B talents despite gigantic expenses and efforts on education since the Sputnik panic? Disparaging the Asian education as "rote-learning" is an aged scheme conspired by progressive-minded professors from schools of education in American universities.They have effectively derailed American K-12 math with "critical thinking," "problem-solving," "21st century skills" fads and so forth. In "What to Do about Canada’s Declining Math Scores," Canadian scholar Anna Stokke examines how Discovery Math imported from U.S. has undermined Canada students’ math ability, leaving over 70% of students not able to do 1/3-1/4 right.Web Link. Nowadays, most American teachers and parents of school-children grew up after the 1970s, when U.S. K-12 math started its steady deterioration. Few of them have seen the correct and effective way to teach math and physics. David Klein, Professor of Mathematics at CSU North Ridge, writes eye-opening, must-read papers about U.S. K-12 math education: "A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century" Web Link; "A Quarter Century of US ‘Math Wars’ and Political Partisanship" Web Link. The panel discussion,moderated by a former Nasdaq president and an Intel chairman, features three leading professors from Stanford, Harvard and John Hopkins University, respectively. They reprimanded the educational experts for misguiding teachers and students with wrongheaded math curriculum and false pedagogy. Web Link
A scathing amusement comes from W.S. Wilson, a distinguished mathematician at the John Hopkins University: "There is one big hope for our international competitiveness. Other countries see that their best STEM students come to the U.S. for graduate school—more than half of our STEM graduate students are foreign—and to start high-tech companies. Instead of thinking that this is possible because of their strong K–12 mathematics education, they erroneously conclude that they should adopt our version of K–12 mathematics education. We just might catch up with these countries without any effort on our part." Web Link This essay "Why the Palo Alto Schools Failed in Closing the Achievement Gap or Reducing Stress?" Web Link probes PAUSD's problem with many hard facts collected from Palo Alto Online. The way math is taught at elementary and middle schools PAUSD and most American public schools has little to do with creativity; rather, it is extensively entwined with anti-intellectualism. Both teachers and students are victimized by the destructive innovations of the elite progressive professors from educational schools, those math-education Ph.D.s who acutally know limited amount of math. The romantic, child-centered approach of teaching K-8 math has left most kids with arithmetic incompetency, which has further undermined their ability to learn algebra and more advanced STEM courses. This simple truth explains the "math-science death march" phenomenon of U.S. K-12 eduation.
Eileen, that’s quite a claim - that someone would move their whole family from Tokyo to Palo Alto just so they could write a book, 99% of which never get published, and 99% of those that get published never make a dime for the author. Seems more likely to me that she moved to Palo Alto because of her husband’s job and then was shocked at how woeful our education system really is. Why are so many people here unable to accept criticism? I’ve seen a lot of posts touting the critical thinking skills of Americans but that’s not being shown by many here - it’s a lot of “this offends me so I’m going to slam it without putting in any real thought because that’s easier to do”. Back to Basics seems to be one of the few that actually knows what they are talking about.
China and Japan have very homogeneous populations, while America has one of the most diverse in world. Therefore the effectiveness of different teaching styles and environments (including top-down vs. bottom-up management) for each type of population would of course be different. While the diversity we have makes it more difficult to educate our children, it is also one of the reasons for our great innovations and creativity.
Seems to be a lot of people here with hurt feelings... "The Lady doth protest too much, me thinks." I highly encourage every parent, educator, administrator and legislator to read World Class for themselves andunderstand the bigger picture here. America is in real trouble! If the "best" school district in the California is letting our kids down, we need to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and admit that WE are failing them. We owe our children a commitment to equitably support them on a path to global competitiveness, versus the "haves/have-nots" situation that is currently letting them coast or struggle, only to receive a less-than World Class education.
I can add is that PAUSD is a public institution with a good deal of nepotism. Teachers constantly complain about students and families, especially in high school, and what martyrs they are to all they have to put up with, and how many years until they retire, but then they brag that they got their son/daughter/spouse into jobs as teachers. So figure it out for yourself. Yes there are many great teachers, but the status quo and the insularity is preserved and passed on. Just responding to the guy at Harker who couldn't get an interview here.
@Pat In early 20th century, leading educators L.Terman, E.Thorndike and E.Cubberley, among others, concluded that minorities were born with lower IQs and thus should receive a more career-oriented education with less academic content. This racial prejudice has become so entrenched in teachers' colleges and so influential in the public that "soft bigotry of low expectations" has become subconscious even for many benevolent Americans. Low expectations for disadvantaged minority kids are sinister racial prejudice, which, ironically, hypocritically and horribly, have undermined the under-resourced kids under the banners of equity and social justice, through fanfares of “teamwork,” "higher-order thinking,” "21st century skills," “personalized-learning” and so forth. Web Link But the disadvantaged minority kids CAN be high-achievers, if they receive a truly high-standard education. In the 1980s, Jaime Escalante, a math teacher of an East Los Angeles high school in an impoverished neighborhood, got hundreds of his students—sons and daughters of day laborers, seamstresses, house cleaners—to pass the AP Calculus exam, and many of them have performed remarkably well in college and later in their careers. Some time around the 1990s, 14 of Escalante's students were attending Harvard, Yale, or MIT. Amar Bose, the late MIT professor who founded Bose Corp., paid a one-week visit to Escalante's classroom to study his teaching style. A 1988 Hollywood film Stand and Deliver and a 2016 Forever stamp immortalized Escalante.Web Link In 2016, at Lincoln High, a Los Angeles school where 80% of the students are Latino, the young math teacher Anthony Yom got his whole class to pass the AP Calculus exam, and a student named Cedrick Argueta was one of the twelve students in the world to earn a perfect score. Web Link In 2018, at New York City’s Success Academy schools, 98 percent of the students passed state math tests and 91 percent passed reading tests, and Success Academy schools occupied the list of top city schools in math proficiency. This achievement comes from a student group made up of 95 percent children of color and whose families have a median income of $32,000. In PAUSD, only 16% of disadvantaged students met math standards, a result not much better than the EPA schools. In California, less than 7% of black or Latino students met the math standards, and most of them are far below reading and writing proficiency. Such depressing outcome is not surprising to us at all. For those of us who had our rigorous K-12 schooling from our home country, PAUSD's K-8 education is weak, deficient, and misguided. Had we not painstakingly supported our kids' study at home, they would just fare the same as their EPA friends. I feel so sorry for the under-resourced kids who rely exclusively on school education. This website www.studibee.org offers a guide for those who are interested in free online tutoring and great learning resources available from our public libraries. It also collects a number of papers and talks by real mathematicians on how U.S. K-12 math has been led astray by educational establishments.
I agree with her on the use of technology in the schools and how they aren't transparent about it with the parents. My 5th grader was given a social chatting account without my knowledge. And access to youtube with inappropriate commercials on school property. The rest of what she says just breeds emotionally robotic humans and its sad to me. It's kills creativity and innovation.
There are definitely fair criticisms to be made about American education and PAUSD in particular. We have a system whose v funding model seems designed to embed inequality between schools and districts, the persistence of racial segregation post-Brown v Board of Ed, and in well-resourced PAUSD an inexcusable achievement/opportunity gap. However, Clavel’s appeal to a back-to-basics style education is not the answer and no doubt in her children’s new private school they are receiving something quite different. Ironically, Singapore and Shanghai are both working to move away from the model she praises and towards approaches progressive whole child approaches that originated in the US. Meanwhile the US looks to Asia when we should instead be embracing the approaches found in countries like Finland.Web Link I have not read the book and no doubt there is something to learn from her experiences but I’m underwhelmed by what I’ve read so far. Clavel definitely landed at Jordan/Greene at a particular low point and that seems a flimsy basis on which to provide a useful critique of American public education as a whole.
“PAUSD does not believe in a one size fits all, focuses on creativity and social emotional development, independent thinking and creating opportunities for students to explore their interests.” You cannot generalize that to PAUSD. Our experience was exactly the opposite. It was creativity crushing, socially and emotionally traumatic (not because of parents but because of district adults), and pushing out independent thinking and opportunities for students to explore their interests. Requests independent study were denied. Because we did not belong to the upper echelons, our attempts to address problems that were hurting a motivated learner and profoundly-gifted, sweet child were met with overt retaliation, including against our child by adults in the school. While we wish we could have made it work in PAUSD, because there are many good things about it including some of the wonderful classes mentioned at the high school, if we had stayed without the problems being addressed, our child objectively would have left PAUSD schools in less good condition to apply for college, less independent, less confident, scoring considerably less well on standardized tests, without having had the chance in those years to pursue interests, and again, objectively, less well educated. So, BOTH the kinds of education Clavel admires AND the independent/creative/autonomous self-directed learning were substandard/crushed in PAUSD. I agree 100% with her about the intrusive way technology is pushed with no cognizance of the “attention merchant/brain hacking” aspects that disproportionately hurt some students. We didn’t know it in the early years, but the fact that our child had a learning disability that, in hindsight, some of the teachers recognized but allowed the district to cover up so that it was never addressed, the fact that the district has no program to support profoundly gifted students much less 2e students,and the fact that the district adults show no signs of behaving honorably with people who need to solve such problems, meant that our child’s future in the district was sealed as substandard long before we knew it. The only thing that saved our child’s education was the individualization possible from homeschooling, which we only did because we could not afford private after basically being viciously pushed out. It was not our first choice, but when you have a district that cares more about cultivating its ranking and reputation than about meeting the needs of all students, or of doing the right thing when it’s difficult, (and no way to get rid of dishonest vindictive administrators) it becomes easier for them to push people to the point of breaking and leaving than supporting the potential of all. Hence all the OCR complaints that still haven't fundamentally changed things. I think a select few students get to do and be those things in our district and I think that’s a good thing for them. But this is a public district, and I think a lawsuit on behalf of those who have been pushed out is long overdue. Clavel is lucky that she does not have her children in the district. Given what we have experienced and heard from many others forced out, there would be no way to criticize PAUSD openly and expect her children to be safe in our schools. If she had actually stayed and tried to improve PAUSD, she would REALLY have had a book to write, once she figured out how to get the family and her children over the trauma of the pushback.
This is a very weak and complacent school district. Greene Middle School is especially weak. One can only compare and recognize it when they come from outside and have other school districts to compare it to. They should realize that they cannot take any credit for the high standardized scores of their students. The scores are very high ONLY because of the after school programs our kids attend to supplement this mediocre education. The school focuses on "soft" skills while the parents/tutors/after school programs/summer camps provide the actual academic rigor. Ridiculous. The middle school math program is an absolute joke. And the district purposely place hurdles in place to keep all the different level learners in the same class. Lose / lose for everyone.
@PA Resident -- From the parent group I have known, there is overwhelming agreement with your sentiment. One impediment to change is that each parent cohort needs to learn afresh just how shockingly hard PAUSD will work to do nothing to support families or improve outcomes. Thanks to the Weekly (not always my favorite, but credit is partially due here), it has becoming more apparent that this trend cuts across seemly everything the district touches, whether it be middle school math, serving students of color, sexual assault prevention and response, substance use during the school day, special needs support... and on and on. No kindhearted parent of a kinder believes this negative 'buzz' about PAUSD until they live through it a few years down the line, because it's so shocking, irrational, and disheartening. That tide may be slowly changing, though, because of a number of vocal citizens who have been willing to take bullets as the first wave, front line... often much to their own personal and family detriment. Without them, the Weekly wouldn't even have the raw material to bring to light. I am still hopeful that out of Churchill we might yet see a culture of responsive, transparent leadership committed to promoting student excellence and wellness. Let's get to work, parents!
@Sally "One impediment to change is that each parent cohort needs to learn afresh just how shockingly hard PAUSD will work to do nothing to support families or improve outcomes....No kindhearted parent of a kinder believes this negative 'buzz' about PAUSD until they live through it a few years down the line, because it's so shocking, irrational, and disheartening. That tide may be slowly changing, though, because of a number of vocal citizens who have been willing to take bullets as the first wave, front line... often much to their own personal and family detriment. " Count us in The district likes the data that makes them look good and doesn't like anything that might change that, even if that means covering up things that are hurting students but can be easily fixed, if they think it might make them look bad. You have nailed it, it's really shocking to experience that.
As someone who grew up in the Canadian school system... I find PAUSD is especially weak. There is no gifted program. And there really is no extra enrichment program for gifted students. It's so variable - that it's pretty much nonexistent. I am very unimpressed. In Canada, we had French lessons once a week starting in grade 3. By the time we hit grade 6, we were able to create and act out skits in French. Not only is there a lack of a 2nd language being taught (unless one gets into the Mandarin or Spanish lottery). In Canada... kids have typing class during computer lab in grade 4. They don't need individual ipads.. but there is a computer lab and computers is integrated simply as a TOOL to be used in other lessons (i.e. excel spread sheets and graphing). It's an extension to dive deeper into other learning concepts. Furthermore, physical education is taught by fully certified bachelors of education teachers, who have a degree in kinesiology and a bachelor's of education degree. So in gym class, I remember learning basketball in elementary class gym class. We learnt volleyball and soccer and baseball. We didn't need to have to enroll in after school programs to learn these various sports. WHY? Because it was taught by a real live teacher who understood kinesiology and education. Furthermore.... ALL principals come from a teaching background - having been a teacher and having been a fully certified bachelor's of education degree. Unlike in PAUSD where we have principals who don't even have a formal bachelor's of education degree or have taught in a school system. So when you put all these factors together.. is it surprising that the PAUSD system is inferior to the average Canadian school? Hmmmm.
When I was a student at Paly 60 years ago, my father, who taught writing at the Stanford Business School, had me write compositions for several summers that he graded and corrected. He taught me a lot about writing the schools had not. To this day, I am asked how I learned to write so well, and I tell people "I had a mean father." Being a voracious reader exposes you to language of many writers. Do kids read any more? Do they read the classics? This fable about reading the same book three times is pretty depressing.
It is such a complicated topic. We had two children who went through Palo Alto schools and I agree about some of the criticism. We did have to supplement, especially in elementary school, when it came to basics, such as math facts. I agree that all children should learn to master those facts as a foundation to their further math education. We even had one teacher quite literally and honestly tell us that she relied on parents to teach their children multiplication tables, as her job in class was to do the "fun stuff"! So, supplement we did, especially coming, as I did, from the European school system where basic math and grammar/spelling facts were unrelentingly drilled into us throughout our elementary school years. Then, my two children were identified as gifted, but one of them in particular was not only gifted but had had an amazing range of sophisticated interests long before her peers in elementary school ever noticed those topics. Nothing was done for that child at PAUSD. They identify gifted children, maybe because they are required to do so by law, but have absolutely no program allowing their GATE children to build on their gifts. No one cared about my daughter's interests and, so, she languished in some of the classes way below her level. Their official solution for gifted children, "differentiated education within the regular classroom setting" is an utter joke. Nothing is done. To this day, I still wonder what might have happened if I had taken that child out of PAUSD and put her in a school with a real GATE program. We could not afford private schools. That said, my children are now tremendously grateful that they went through K-12 in Palo Alto schools! They went on to thrive at college, even though they did not go to Ivy League schools or Stanford. However, now, in their careers, they have actually leapfrogged a number of their classmates who did go to higher rated universities, and they are thriving and successful at what they do. On top of that, they have very good memories of their Palo Alto years. So, was it so bad after all?
^ I went through K-12 in Palo Alto and have great memories. But everyone tells me that was then and now is now. And tomorrow will be tomorrow, same as yesterday.
Almost anyone who has been educated elsewhere in our district, be it Poland, the UK, France, India, China, Italy, Canada, Singapore, Ukraine, Massachusetts, Israel, New York is appalled by our low standards. And what happened to No Child Left Behind? In 2017-18, PAUSD spent $20k+ per pupil! Almost double the State average. How is this even remotely acceptable? Our children ARE getting left behind. Last night, I did read Clavel’s book and couldn’t put it down. It’s comparative but tells us what we need to do to fix our system. So before you all continue to defend what’s not working here, I suggest we literally take a page from her book. Read it, you’ll shift.
Very intruding article. With a master I expect her to know that one family experience does not represent the whole. We are not suppose to compete with China and Japan. We don’t want our kids to be machines or robots. They go to school not just to study. I am surprised she didn’t get this. We live in a different environment. Toilets and running water is not questionable. It is something we don’t even think about. The author is so concentrated in herself that she forgot to look at the whole. [Portion removed.]
Michelle - you don’t want our kids to be robots but you want the author to shut up and mind her place? Do you see the irony? Having read her book (which is excellent, btw) the author is NOT suggesting that we adopt wholesale the Japanese or Chinese educational systems but rather that there are huge gaps and failings in our own that can be fixed by applying lessons learned from systems that do work well (at least as measured in international rankings where the US is in the middle of the pack despite being near the top in spending per student). And like it or not, we ARE competing with the Japanese and Chinese, and we aren’t doing well. This will only get worse as our education system falls further behind.
Posted by Back to basic, a resident of College Terrace >> Low expectations for disadvantaged minority kids are sinister racial prejudice Agree with this part, not necessarily some of the authoritarian-tinged comments that follow. >> But the disadvantaged minority kids CAN be high-achievers, if they receive a truly high-standard education. Agreed. >> In the 1980s, Jaime Escalante, a math teacher of an East Los Angeles high school in an impoverished neighborhood, >> In 2016, at Lincoln High, a Los Angeles school where 80% of the students are Latino, the young math teacher Anthony Yom got his whole class >> In 2018, at New York City’s Success Academy schools, 98 percent of the students passed state math tests and 91 percent passed reading tests, Agree generally, but, let's look at the implications. The teachers and programs mentioned above were exceptions, in part because the teachers "demanded" respect, were respected, and could back that up both with excellent teaching and with a deep-enough understanding of math to be able to teach at that level -- both calculations, and, concepts. IF we wanted to do that at PAUSD, parents, and, administrators would -respect- highly-capable math teachers with both deeper knowledge, and, teaching skill. These would likely be experienced teachers that had to be recruited, not the cute young freshouts that educational administrators seem to prefer. I'm old and cynical I guess, but, I've met plenty of school administrators in my time who would never hire, or respect, great teachers. And, the majority of parents, too, habitually disrespect all teachers. For that reason, I would never advise someone to go into teaching today in the US. Sad but true-- a generationally-long vicious circle. For those of you out there who are "demanding" great math teachers-- would you actually respect them if you had them? I doubt it.
The proof is in the pudding. What we can see is that overseas educated graduates are getting jobs around here rather than American educated graduates and we have to ask ourselves why. Is it because Americans are more interested in studying feel good topics, liberal arts, etc. or is it because they are just not up to scratch when it comes to getting jobs in engineering or biotech? I tend to think it might be a mixture of both. If we can't teach our locally educated students to compete in the job market are we in fact doing them a disservice? If our high achieving high school students getting into IV universities and then consider they are well rounded while studying diversity and soft majors, are not being prepared to get the jobs in Google and Apple, is that really as good an education as we think? Should we in fact be preparing them to be engineers rather than obtaining of degrees in ethnic studies or something in which a career is more unlikely.
Ummmm Othersare getting jobs rather than American educated graduates!? Look at and compare size of the populations! Look at the rising standards of living, educational levels, aspirations to go overseas *here - U.S.* as awareness of and desire for opportunity increases! That’s fine, changes occur in generations. This is a very ethnically diverse country. Locally - If ~ 40% of PA City is Asian (mostly Chinese, I guess), and parents here highly emphasize tech, Maths, etc., then we’re surprised a lot of people IN Tech are Asian? We also have H1B Visas for educated tech workers, largely from Asia. We also accept entry for a high number of grad students from Asian countries. They apply to those programs in high numbers. Asia has a huge population. This doesn’t mean American-born persons are no good at Tech. So-called “white” ethnicity and other non-Asian ethnicities ARE diverse, more than assumed: N Europeans, Scandinavians, S Europeans, what about S Americans, Canadians, Middle Eastern and others/combinations of above of above (we know a highly educated part-Jamaican senior tech professional here). The job of PAUSD is not to guarantee your student will be a top tech professional.
We must live in an alternate universe. My kid just came through the schools here, as did I. Overall pretty great. I don't get it all.
I thought Finland was the model for world’s best education system. Or is it Singapore math? Or the low teacher-student ratios in Denmark and Russia? Or the flipped classroom 21st century experiential model? Every school year I hear about another great way to innovate our schools. The author’s criticisms of the PAUSD schools are fair enough. However, her praises for the Asian schools are skewed. She relays the experiences of her own children who are not average students at any of these schools. They were born into very privileged circumstances: well educated parents, global and multilingual upbringing, tutors, and wealth. How do struggling learners fair in a rigorous, standardized system? Some kids will never get 100 percent on that math test; others may get there in time. I would not trust a school policy that advocates such a rigid standard.
@ Resident My son graduated from a high school in PAUSD a few years ago, then graduated from college in STEM, and now, just like a number of his former PAUSD classmates works in Tech, as a tech engineer, and it's not just Asians, it is also a number of Caucasians for sure. Let us not forget that part of the reason tech companies import H1B visa workers is because they are less expensive! They are almost like indentured labor! But the bottom line is that yes, you can go work in tech after graduating from PAUSD. Let us avoid scaremongering here. In a way, PAUSD is damned is they do and damned if they don't. There is a category of parents who think that PAUSD is too soft on students and demands back to basics. However, there also is a whole category of parents who complain about AP classes, demand all easy As for their kids, etc. How do you reconcile the two?
Our PAUSD has gone above and beyond for my children and their education. I moved here in the fall fo 2014. Hands down this district, their campus', their teachers, counselors, principals and support services have given more to my children than they would have gotten elsewhere. We came from the top of the Central Valley, Calif. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and returned here to take care of aging parents. The sweet spot of public public education is here. I wish it were everywhere. Partners in Education (PIE) was instituted right after Prop 13 passed in 1978.I give every year. Brilliant, smart move Palo Alto!! My children's father was educated here in the 60's and 70's. Massive improvement from his educational days. My children talk about what they learn after school, on weekends, over the summer. It's not compulsive just conversational. Yes. Tech has persuaded, romanced, lured face to face, one-on-one learning. PAUSD has ongoing evening presentation regarding this struggle. The events I've attended sadly are low in participation. Try to get the word out about these events. Very important. Yet. The economic hand is the Tech giants in the area. So what are we to do? I have suggested to my now middle school age children: How about we move to another district. And the answer is always NO! They are not strait A student's nor are they particularly academically competitive. These students just know they are in the right place, at the right time!!
Both of my children went through the Palo Alto school system. My daughter is an MFT Family and Marriage Therapist with an office in Palo Alto. She was a star athlete / student all through high school and college. My son was one of those "thinking out of the box" students. Brilliant, funny and sociable but did not fit into the one-size-fits-all teaching model. He would get A's on the exams and then fail the class because of the missing homework and essays. My son was a highly gifted and creative thinker but the school system did not know what to do with an individual learner like him. So, at sixteen he decided to take the high school equivalency (HSET) test and leave Paly. He knew he wanted to succeed but just needed to find a way on his own. After a year working he went to Foothill College. With straight A's he went on to UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a degree in film. After four years teaching English in Vietnam, he went to Katmandu, Nepal to work as the Director of a Media Arts Collective. Three years later he decided to go to grad school. He is in his fifth year of a fully funded PhD program in Cultural Anthropology at Harvard. The moral of the story is: stop stressing about high school and help your students find their passion and encourage that. My son had a passion for film, his major in college. He did photo journalism while in Vietnam and took beautiful photos in Nepal. Harvard looked at what he did after high school and college and recognized his amazing intellect and self-driven talent. He was never meant to be a math wiz!
@Grateful, As I was reading, I could tell your experience was elementary-school heavy. I ignored the warnings about how things changed at our peril. Maybe they won't for you. Good luck. @eileen, what you report is all too common for boys. It wasn't your boy, but the fact that the district education better served your girl rather than your son. I'm glad it worked out for him in the end, but for many boys, the lost high school education and the labeling/damage to their opportunities has profoundly negative impacts. High school shouldn't be something they have to spend years overcoming, and they shouldn't have to leave entirely in order to get the broader education your son got at Foothill. The new superintendent is supporting more dual enrollment education now, but in the context of the way school still wastes their time (and pits advanced learning against students control and personal time), it's likely only to serve the students who already don't lack for opportunity within the district.
@TS Member, “How do you reconcile the two?” That’s easy. Let’s remember the PAUSD vision (as stated by the superintendent in 2017): “We support all PAUSD students as they prepare themselves to thrive as global citizens in a rapidly changing world. We develop our students’ knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, and nurture their curiosity, creativity, and resilience, empowering every child to reach his or her fullest intellectual, social, and creative potential.” PAUSD simply needs to put its vision, and doing the right thing by “every child” ahead of its superficial but longstanding need for control and rankings. It can: *Restore understanding and supporting giftedness. *Follow the law when it comes to special needs (including of gifted students with learning disabilities). *Allow and support individualization and independent study. *Support an ethical workforce with an ethos of doing the right thing by every child Specifically: 1) At the district level, this means establishing an office of ombudsman, that answers to a public entity outside the district (outside district hierarchy), such as the mayor’s office, so that there is a force of balance within the district. When families have problems getting the district to follow the most basic of laws, when gifted students aren’t getting their needs met, when a lot of students backslide because of a new broadly force-fed math program but some students benefit, when there are serious conflicts going unaddressed, this creates a way for needs and problems to better filter up and for the district to actually live by its promises to support all students. It creates a way for all students to have equal protection under the law rather than just those who can afford lawyers and tutors, and ultimately incentivizes the district to obey the law rather than try to get away with things at the expense of students because of this or that employees’ illegal or immoral self interests. Such an ombuds office would have saved us millions in legal fees and avoided immeasurable suffering (literally immeasurable, the district still has yet to be willing to conduct any kind of truth and reconciliation). 2) Immediately support independent study as many other districts around the Bay Area do. There are different programs (sometimes more than one within a district) that have been working for decades to meet the needs of diverse — including very advanced and special needs — learners. This allows all students to meet their needs as they arise, rather than languishing and waiting for things to never change from the top down. It also gives the district a way of seeing what works across the diversity of the student body without any risk, but it would be the hardest thing for the district to do because it requires them to loosen their death grip of control: to let the students be in charge of their learning, and even appreciating that advanced learning can actually involve joy and spare time (gasp). I went to a top private school when I was younger for a few years, that allowed students to accelerate per their needs. So, in 5th grade, I might have been in 5th grade geography and PE, but 7th or 8th grade math (with the older students), 6th grade English, etc. This was no “fad”, it’s a really old way of allowing acceleration, and we don’t even do that much individualization here. It is possible to live by the district vision, for less money, if the students come first (see point #1). 3) At the district level, either through direct adoption by the board (which will never happen, but it’s usually the first step to ask) or by initiative to revise the district code at the City level, the district needs to adopt some kind of rules that allow the community some control of and accountability by the district that is more specific than just voting for a board member or two every so many years. At other levels of government, we at least have things like referendum and initiative, which give some teeth to protest. They make change by the public still very difficult, but at least possible when an issue is very important. For example, there is a lot of money to be made in school textbook sales. How would we ever know if a superintendent was bribed to push through one over another or to avoid even evaluating a preferred one over another? If the population has some kind of power to effect change when things really go off the rails, it means such a thing is less likely to ever occur, because the superintendent would be held to account by the public adding a preferred curriculum for evaluation, or making it possible for students to choose through independent study. It’s an important check and balance that we should have at the school district level – we get problems with angry parents precisely because there is too little local control, too little ability for families to address the needs and problems of their own students, and these very local governmental agencies should have the most, not the least, control by the citizens. Parents aren’t complaining about AP classes, they’re complaining that AP classes (with students having no control of their lives after school) are the only way students in the district can access advanced content. Parents demand back-to-basics when their children who could do advanced math stop progressing and even backslide, and are miserable, when the district introduces a verbose math program with no math practice and their students are forced to waste their time doing the opposite of learning. Some students like/benefit from the program, others are miserable. Why are all children forced to do exactly the same math program? The district evaluates numerous online and text-based programs, and teachers usually have experience with many modalities for teaching different kinds of material. One math teacher, forced to toe the line on EDM, for example, threw away 30 years of math materials and retired in disgust. Parents were promised EDM would be only 10% of the math learning, it would be just one more tool. Then teachers were told they had to just do EDM. Experienced teachers who ignored the dictate produced the more advanced students. The district did zero self-examination and evaluation between elementary and middle school, and thus would track students based on where they were, codifying all the inequities (private tutors, better teachers, teachers ignoring EDM, redshirting, young 5’s lottery winning, etc). Students got tracked rather than afforded as much opportunity as we can give every one, which is neither more expensive, new/a fad, nor that difficult. It just requires a willingness to let students be in control of their learning and loosening the death grip the district likes to maintain for its own benefit. When the district cannot allow individualized advancement in learning because they can’t see “how do we measure them” (quote from a superintendent), something is very wrong. When my kid was in elementary, some teachers let the kids accelerate as they wished, and other (more) teachers refused to let kids accelerate. Have you ever seen a kid cry because a teacher wouldn’t let them continue doing math they enjoyed because they would get ahead of where the teacher wanted everyone to be? I have. More than once. In some classes, teachers ignored the dictates from above and let the kids advance. The differences between them and the other kids turned into opportunity differences down the line. For its own purposes, our district has many forces labeling/stereotyping/tracking students and hurting their opportunities, rather than supporting them. That just needs to stop (see points #1-3 above). By homeschooling, my child was able to get a far more advanced and broad education AND have time to pursue passions/interests and learn to be independent. Those shouldn’t be mutually exclusive because of school. If the district were to actually live by its own vision – or made to, see points 1-3 above – we could actually do our best by every child.
The author's post is ridiculous. Three books a year? Pregnant teacher? Faculty turnover? Unchallenging math class? Requests for donations? Those defending the actions of this school should be ashamed. Every one of you. Do you not realize (or care) the future of our entire nation rests upon the shoulders of the next generation? Our kids will ultimately fail if our national power decreases on a global stage. If they don't fail, then they'll be supporting the remaining population who can't compete. A rising tide lifts all boats. To me, the best thing I can do for my boys is educate them on how their global peers (and competitors) are preparing. If there are fifty applicants for one job, and my oldest son is one, I want him to have a chance. Knowing how to use a VPN to circumnavigate the school wi-fi is not the education I intended for him at PAUSD. My experiences largely echo the author's - the human capital my sons have acquired is not from PAUSD, but from home. That's a serious problem. Given the grade - we have an A+ from Niche.com - I don't see a lot of complaints about property values. How many families have bought homes here for our schools and then promptly left? Where's their voice? I'd like to see the statistics on that. I'd also be curious how many of you would be upset if your home's value was slashed as a result of PAUSD's rank and grade dropping because of the national attention this article is prompting. If we take away the effort we put in as parents, including the thousands I spend on tutors and outside extra curriculars, where do my sons land? Right in the middle with everyone else. We can - and should - be doing better for all kids. Stop defending average and demand exceptional of our schools. Change will only come if we as parents step up and take on this challenge together.
The results are in--public schools are not capable of fixing themselves. They haven't a clue what the problem is. Best case is to close them down, sell the buildings, and hope more private schools buy them. But that won't happen because the nation is wedded to the idea of public schools.
@Casey Jones, I don't know where you went to school, but with logic like that, you are entitled to a full refund.
"I'd also be curious how many of you would be upset if your home's value was slashed as a result of PAUSD's rank and grade dropping because of the national attention this article is prompting." In the last 10 years ago, PAUSD has received national attention for two suicide clusters, sexual assault investigations, financial mismanagement, painting over James Franco murals, and I don't even know what else. The idea that a half-researched book by someone no-one has ever heard of is going to "slash" the school's reputation is pretty far-fetched. And besides the most important feature of the Palo Alto school that your kids go to school with the kids of other upper middle class over achieving academic strivers. Some are Chinese, some are white, but they all fit the mold. And that's what most parents here actually want.
@SarahBea - I'm confused - you say the author's post is ridiculous and then agree with everything that she is saying? I agree with everything you say but am not sure how to reconcile the two.
@What We Want: "And besides the most important feature of the Palo Alto school that your kids go to school with the kids of other upper middle class over achieving academic strivers. Some are Chinese, some are white, but they all fit the mold. And that's what most parents here actually want." Perhaps partly. However, I suspect it's also partly a miscalculation of what drives student achievement. Palo Alto schools are top ranked because most of the kids won the genetic lottery. People mistakenly attribute that to the teaching philosophy or the enormous budget, and then are shocked to discover -- as the author did -- that these are just typical disfunctional California public schools.
"Palo Alto schools are top ranked because most of the kids won the genetic lottery." Not allowed to speak of genetics in Palo Alto.
This is insane. PAUSD schools are not perfect. No school is perfect. I pity the parents who spend their lives manipulating their children lives and making it their project. Let them find their own path and sucess in life, like some of the examples mentioned here. Give them the tools to succeed at home and to face any school program that comes their way. Yes, there is nothing wrong in wanting the best for your child. But moving around the world in search of the perfect school? Ballooney. Go live YOUR life not your dreams or expectations of life for your children. She forgot to move to Finland, btw. Or to put them in a school in Southern Europe, where happiness and foundational values come before multiplication tables. What do we all want as parents when it comes to success for our children? Happiness, self-fullfilment, good people and good citizens. This starts at home. No need to move around the world in search of the education holy grail.
These posts are getting ridiculous. It's clear most of you haven't even read the book whilst wearing your finest of judgmental pants. @sunnypa she moved around due to employment. @whatwewant "half-researched?!!" Laughable statement. The research is remarkable and extensive. The privilege of the mold you speak of is part of the problem. You might read the book to find out why it's a disservice to all.
There is something wrong when a body or its supporters cannot accept there will be times of criticism. There is something wrong when this is an educational body who cannot see more than one way of doing something. And there is something wrong when an educational body does not look to others to make valid comparisons and see that perhaps somebody else is doing things a different way and getting good results. If we can't learn from others, then what are we teaching our children?
Suunypa hit it spot on. What do you want to your children? What is the only thing acceptable to you? Guaranteed admission to Harvard? Well, news flash: Harvard takes, on average, one Gunn and one Paly graduate a year, sometimes two on good years. Even if we have five hundred parents who want their high school seniors to go to Harvard and who spend a fortune on trying to achieve it, and even if the school does everything you want in order to get your child there, Harvard will likely still take only one or two students from each high school a year. Universities operate like that. And yes, your special student will most likely be average for Palo Alto no matter what, which is by the way much above average nationally. So, again, what do you want? A child who might have a chance to get into Harvard but is a super-stressed, unhappy child likely to become a super-stressed, unhappy, university student, and eventually a super-stressed, unhappy adult? What for? The children I know who ended up at Harvard, by the way, were for the most part self-driven, super smart, very well rounded, and incredibly nice individuals that took charge of their own education, were self-motivated, and were not controlled by their parents.
Some appear to not have read what I posted above. The STATE dictates a LOT. Recent narrow escape from what (will be at some point) a new “ethnic studies” requirement in CA public schools. First iteration was shockingly biased And politicized so an uproar happened, temporarily halted this nonsense. Next - they’ll (our dear leaders, the CA State Legislature, which is located in Sacramento but run by SF) will pass some mumbo- jumbo. Doesn’t matter what Palo Alto school officials may think. They will be required to implement it. Be clear: I don’t dismiss Ethnic Studies out of hand. For a better article than the original that kicked off this discussion, I recommend in The Atlantic (hardcopy magazine and online), October 2019 issue: “When the culture war comes for your kids,” by an excellent writer, George Packer. “Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s Schools.” Wow, quite a read!! Be glad you don’t reside in NYC.
PA parents: there is a raging debate going on here based on an indictment against our schools and our school district. Clavel has spent a lot of time looking at different education systems and come to the conclusion that we could make ours A LOT better. Let's be role models for our children by taking an intelligent look at an argument and holding a reasoned discussion on its merits. Which means reading the whole book ("World Class") and not just an article on the book, and then thinking about what we can learn from it. Let's be the adults in the room.
Posted by Let's be the adults here, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis >> Let's be role models for our children by taking an intelligent look at an argument and holding a reasoned discussion on its merits. Which means reading the whole book ("World Class") and not just an article on the book, -I'll read it when I can borrow a copy. Most books like this never get re-read - So far, the advocates -for- this book haven't made the case for why it is interesting. >> and then thinking about what we can learn from it. Let's be the adults in the room. OK, sure. Please explain why this book is special.
@More Confused - it was a dirty trick on my part. I assumed if my post started with true intentions those who should read it most would simplly skip it. You are correct that it doesn't reconcile, but thank you for your support. @What We Want - your post hurt my heart. Withall of that negativity, you honestly believe we are forever infalliable?! What will be the last straw? Your post is akin to suggesting we rearrange seats on the Titanic. Pointless. I know how Titanic ended - do you? Go ahead and ignore the ice warnings. I'm adjusting course. @Casey Jones - really? Be part of the solution and not the problem. Public education was created to be an equalizer. With effort it still can be. We as parents need to demand transparency and quality from the Board and Administrators. As long as parents view schools as daytime childcare providers nothing will change.
@TS Member "What do you want to your children? What is the only thing acceptable to you? Guaranteed admission to Harvard?" Um, no. I want my kid to have the education guaranteed by the California Constitution and promised by the Palo Alto vision. Something like the superior education from homeschooling would actually save money -- main feature being the student's time isn't wasted and student gets independence and ability to be in charge of learning -- only with the choice to have some of the resources I am paying for the schools to have. That's pretty easy for the schools (see my post above), it just means accommodating my child the way the law requires and treating all of us like they would want to be treated.
Some disheartening facts about the Finland education folklore: Though Finland’s education model has been globally admired, as early as 2005, more than 200 Finnish mathematicians and scientists issued an open letter to call attention to “severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills.” Web Link Quotes from an excellent 2011 article on the conflicting indicators of Finnish students' math attainment: "Finland is a great country and makes a wonderful travel destination. It also has fine schools. But its reputation in education is a bit overblown, based primarily on high PISA scores and an aggressive educational tourism industry."Web Link Recently, Wayne Bishop, professor emeritus and chair of the math/CS department at CSU LA, alerted that Finnish students scored even below their American peers in 2015 TIMSS, a much more reliable test of students’ math capacity than the better-known PISA. Designed by a team of educational experts who adore progressive education doctrines but disdain real math, PISA is a very misleading indicator for math competency. Web Link. The Netherlands and New Zealand also excelled in PISA but underperformed in TIMSS. In fact, the creators of PISA also devised several notorious math programs, which had triggered widespread math wars in the late 1990s. On 11/18/1999, 220 mathematicians and scientists, including seven Nobel Laureates and Fields Medalists, issued an open letter in the Washington Post to protest against the Department of Education's recommendation of ten very deficient math textbooks to nationwide schools. Web Link "The U.S. press has not told the entire story about Finland." Web Link
@ TS Member - spot on correct. The kids who are the brightest are the self driven types. It is their natural intellectual curiosity which drives them. The kids whose parents orchestrate and direct everything, often are extremely depressed, and are not able to function without that enabling parent around. These kids are often forced to memorize math formulas and dictionary words at a young age, but lack understanding of the big picture - LIFE. Forget - Kumon and things like this. My child did this for 3 years straight. It was his own motivation which started at Foothill that got him through pre-Algebra through a full year of engineering calculus - all on his own. By the time kids take the SAT or ACT, most have forgotten all the things they learned in elementary school and middle school. Perhaps my son was a late bloomer. Anyway, the main things is to just let kids be themselves and have fun and explore. I regret putting him through the Kumon stuff - really. No he is applying to graduate schools and doing great. I have seen students do poorly when left on their own in college, and then if they graduate, they are dismissed from job for failing to be able to participate in group meetings and dialogue. As far as schools are concerned, the costly schools for the children of expatriates differs greatly than the local schools. The local schools and universities in these countries have a terrible problem of cheating and corruption of school officials. Actually, I would consider most of the teachers and professors unqualified. I taught Biology for 5 years at 3 different schools in 2 countries. I could not imagine raising my child over there as an entitled child of an expat, or attend any of the local schools in any of these places.
Those of you that support the status quo, are the "liked" people by the District and you must not make any waves because you are happy, you are getting all the AP and whatever else you want. You, for the most part are not special needs, Latino or African-American, low-income, divorced, etc... You get the part of the education that ranges 20%-40% more effective than the HUR (historically unrepresented). Given the corrupt and reprehensible way all the adults in the school system from lunch room monitor to school board president treat these kids (and families) with absolutely no interest in changing their lawlessness and permanent damage they are doing to children as they have quadrupled their layers of legal protection and have no fewer OCR or OAH cases pending against the district, even with faked documents and dishonesty at every turn some cases are so devastating you can't make enough excuses to get out of it. Its a miracle more twice-gifted students don't head for the tracks. The teachers and special ed commit crimes daily against these students and force them to do things they can't making them melt-down and eventually drop-out (that is the goal, right to save money because these student must have individual education plans not just warehouse room #1). Fake special ed classes. Only in name but not in services. With doors put in to connect rooms to be able to warehouse more kids with a single teacher and just put them on a computer to get their disability support. As someone stated about, people are leaving in droves and I wish we had taken the advice to leave after elementary school. Yet, since its brown skinned and poor people, nobody cares, no-one at the District, no-one at the State, only the Federal Government, and even then PAUSD chooses to fight and bribe the families to drop their case, because afterall, if you win, what do you win? Your child won't be able to show their face at school and the parents are shunned. All this to make my argument that I agree with Casey Jones, there is no hope for a civil school district, it needs to be razed!
My kids graduated a couple of years ago from PAUSD. One is ADHD. One is gifted. Both are doing very well in college. One just graduated and is now settled well into adult life. PAUSD, like most large organizations, has problems that we can work on. However, for the most part, my children got an excellent education in PAUSD. They will tell you that. This writer complains her kids got only a couple of "free" books. This tells me a lot about her research in her one year in PAUSD. As a parent, I know that every PAUSD child has access to a well-appointed library. They get time to visit the library and borrow books and use computers during the school day. In elementary school that library time is guided by a trained librarian who engages them in story time to expose them to different kinds of literature available in the library and teaches them how to use library resources. Skills for life. Better than getting "free" books. This writer is a educator? I'm not so impressed. This says to me that the writer didn't pay attention to the full scope of available resources and expected her child to be spoonfed learning. I expect my kids to learn about and take advantage of opportunities that are offered to them. The library is key among them. I expected my kids to learn their academics and learn how to navigate the world and solve problems creatively and thoughtfully. I think this writer is evaluating educational systems with a different metric--which may be why she is more comfortable in a different system. That's okay for her. PAUSD was a good place to learn for my kids--by my metrics.
@ADHD "PAUSD, like most large organizations, has problems that we can work on." I'm truly glad for your kids, they got what every special needs child in PAUSD should get. But you are wrong that PAUSD is like other large organizations. I have never dealt with a large organization that is chartered for the public good, that behaved in such a proactively harmful manner to stakeholders trying to work on solving problems. You are lucky, but many families were not so lucky, and were treated to pretty shocking abuse, sometimes just for getting on the wrong side of certain administrators or having children with problems they didn't want to accommodate. Our district has forced numerous families to move and leave the district over the years. I can't think of a single one that didn't work hard to try to improve PAUSD, that was usually why they were retaliated against.
If I'm reading this right, her kids were in rougly 5 different school settings in around 10 years. Maybe that's the problem. Kids crave stability and that many different schools is unstabilizing.
For those who think Ms.Clavel exaggerates about the profoundly problematic K-8 math in PAUSD (and in many, many other U.S. schools as well), please read the many hard facts gleaned from Palo Alto Online: "Why the Palo Alto Schools Failed in Closing the Achievement Gap or Reducing Stress?" Web Link Another thought-provoking article with an international comparison of schooling is: "My Childhood Schooling in the Soviet Union was Better than my Kids’ in U.S. Public Schools Today." Web Link A primer about progressive education is: "How Progressive Education Gets It Wrong" Web Link In recent years, some elite math-education professors at Stanford University's School of Education have been peddling progressive-style math under the banners of neuro-science, 21st century skills, personalized learning, creativity, and so forth. To understand how these fads are extremely misleading and destructive, and have been ruining our nation and economy, please read David Klein's eye-opening paper: "A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century" Web Link. The Road Taken by Johnny Who Can't Calculate Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry Johnny could not travel both And be one curious kid, long Johnny stood And looked down both as far as he could One guided by mathematicians, who urge Rigor, focus, and coherence. Additions, subtractions, multiplication tables, and long divisions; Ratios, rates, percentages, and proportions. Paper-and-pencil algorithms, Steadily sharpen your thoughts. Practices dispel anxiety, and practices grow knacks; Fears will disappear; confidence will grow. Knowledge is power, and you earn it with sweat. The other favored by educational experts, who chant A child-friendly wonderland: Story-telling, finger plays, and diagram visuals, Geometric slides, turns, and flips. Let calculators do the chores, And sweetie you are for creativity. Practices cause anxiety, practices make you nerd. Multiplication tables numb your brains, Multiple ways for five times ten are the magic. Spiraling through the K-12 woods, and you gain Critical thinking, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and Johnny— Johnny took the one guided by educational experts, And that has made all the difference. +-*/^%!+-*/^%!+-*/^%!+-*/^%
Pluto's appears to close after more than two decades in downtown Palo AltoBy Elena Kadvany | 17 comments | 7,710 views
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