Once More on Pressure in High School

This is a guest editorial from Palo Alto On-line,from a junior at a high-pressure high school who has much to say about the nature of public education.  And yes, I know if you read this, you might roll your eyes and think, "white people problems."  But despite Palo Alto being a wealthy area, talking about teen stress and pressure is important no matter where a student lives.

It is about what we are doing to kids, their joy of learning and the nature of learning.

My stress began in elementary school, where students were segregated into separate class meetings as "early" and "late" readers. Although we were just elementary schoolers, we perceived this as a differentiation between the less and more advanced students and either felt superior due to our intellect or shamed for a "lack" thereof. 

Middle school didn't get any better. At the end of sixth grade, we were placed into either Pre-Algebra or Pre-Algebra Advanced, though nobody referred to the classes as such. Any math class without the word advanced in it was referred to as the "dumb" math lane (a label that has followed into high school math courses as well). I like to think of this as the reason I lost my enthusiasm and confidence for math so early -- how could I possibly feel intelligent when the class I was in was considered dumb?  

Very good points.  She goes on to describe the pressures of high school and then says this:

I want students in this district to be content, enjoy their lives, and view our schools as places where they can come and receive legitimate support for any of their problems. And, let me make clear, I understand that not all problems relating to suicide and depression are directly correlated to school.

We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick. 

We, as a community, have completely lost sight of what it means to learn and receive an education. 

Why is that not getting through to this community? Why does this insanity that is our school district continue?

Effective education does not have to correlate to more stress. Taking an advanced course should not be synonymous with copious amounts of homework. Challenging oneself academically and intellectually should be about just that -- a mental challenge which involves understanding concepts at a deeper level. 

 One of the commenters - who previously attended Palo Alto High decades  - had this to say:

So what has changed in a quarter-century, apart from housing prices and this ill-conceived "zero period"? From what I gather, the kind of hyper-competitive, obsessive worrying we used to shrug at or even ridicule in my day has become the socially acceptable norm. No detail is too small to stress over. "If I only take three AP classes next semester instead of four, will I still have a chance of getting into Yale?" That's a made-up question intended as caricature, but embodies an ethic that seems to take such things seriously now.

The "Tiger Mom" ethic where anything less than perfection is deemed failure is insidious, pathological, even emotionally abusive in my book. This coming from an alum who "downshifted" from four to three AP classes senior year, graduated from Paly with a respectable but not spectacular GPA, went on to graduate from the finest liberal arts college in the country and ultimately Ivy League professional school. One of the first things they did at the latter was to sit us down and gently explain that some of us would be getting B's for the first time in our lives. The fact that they had to do such a thing, because 20-something elite graduate students' self-worth was riding on grades, speaks volumes.

What is the nature of learning?  Of teaching?  Why are we educating our students?  Or, should we just be training them?  

And what do the choices that we, as adults, make affect outcomes for children?


Anonymous said…
WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT if Seattle parents could join together to create legislation like these four bills that recently passed in New Jersey? What a difference it would make for our children, what pressure it would relieve on our high schoolers.


Anonymous said…
This is such an important and insightful article. Written by a teenager in the trenches. We would do well to read it and listen to the wisdom in it.

Roosevelt Mom
Anonymous said…
Segregation is wrong, grouping can be done without creating a superior group and an inferior group. It hurts all the kids to label some as gifted or highly capable. It hurts the kids labeled as well as those left to make up there own label, whether it's regulars(Bellevue schools) gened or non Spectrum(Seattle) or it seems in Palo Ato it's the "lane", fast or slow.
How is clustering working at elementary schools? Would love to hear.

Sigh said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
@sigh, I don't see the above as an attack on APP. The person is writing about labeling and segregation and how that hurts all kids. -NP
Anonymous said…
Umm - NP, this is what Tapir said: "It hurts all the kids to label some as gifted or highly capable." Is that not about HCC? If not, what is it in reference to?

Kids are not widgets, but they are also NOT ALL THE SAME. There has to be a way for all (or at least most) kids to get their needs met without pretending that some kids exist and others don't.

Kids in classes all know about the other kids - they know this one is good at sports, this one is good at math, this one is good at sax, etc. We cannot allow all kids to be treated to the exact same education so that no kid thinks another kid is better at something than they are (kids aren't going to believe it anyway). People are all different. Is there any adult reading this blog who believes that no other adult is better at something than they are? We should teach kids to do their best and give them as many tools to do it as we can, but we also have to allow them to understand that they are not growing up in Mr Roger's Neighborhood. They will be better at some things and other kids will be better at other things.

I am not raising my child to want a society like the Kurt Vonnegut story "Harrison Bergeron," and I don't think anyone else should either.

-not harrison
Anonymous said…
I agree NP. I hear this from my own over achiever. The editorial could be her rant and the sick part is she can't stop herself. The cohort pressure felt by these kids is real. Just read the angst ridden parental blogs, college confidential forum, NYT and WAPO educational and parental series. Check out AP/IB/SAT exam prep, college essay prep, the extra curricular sports/music program, the summer internship, the service hours highlighting some amazing save the world/community, environment, or disappearing species project. All efforts to get into that uni.

Anyway, to blow off some steam, and tapping the brake on this crazy merry go round, we just watched (and howled over) Napoleon Dynamite. Harold and Kumar is next on the list...

-bad parent
Julie said…
This article makes me think of the book: Hope For the Flowers by Trina Paulus. Our society's mindless striving for the top.

If learning was a joy for all children, that would be awesome. But I think it is up to the parents and teachers to make sure all students feel valued regardless of labels - be it your child or someone else's. The teens tend to hierarchically label everything and everyone. It doesn't matter if you get rid of special classes etc.. There will be something else to take its place. However, they are watching the adults for cues and simply reflecting our society at large. We have to be better role models.

There is a wonderful article on a super popular class at Stanford that has nothing to do with regular academics. http://www.fastcompany.com/3044043/most-creative-people/stanfords-most-popular-class-isnt-computer-science-its-something-much-m
Anonymous said…
so i guess calling folks trolls is ok, so back at ya', np

attacking a service like hc would be wrong, as would attacking ell, but to say that labeling by adults of a group and then segregating them and having the other students label themselves as inferior does really cause damage to both groups.

hc kids can be served in a way that avoids such needless harm. the district is failing both groups in their current delivery model.

now i must go back under my bridge

Jet City mom said…
If I was doing it over again, I would have both my kids in private for elementary school, where the only test was an occasional spelling quiz.
I would reassess what would be the best fit for them for middle and for high school, then save money by going public for higher education.
( incidentally, many private schools have very good aid for students, it is not only for people who live in Mt Baker or Broadmoor)
It's so sad that parents who are comfortable with their kids being tracked, as long as they are in the " capable" track, don't realize that APP in Seattle schools is nothing special, and can be much less challenging/empowering than other options.
Maureen said…
I may be looking at my kids' past with rose colored glasses, but I feel like their K-8 school did a reasonably good job at challenging the kids who might be labeled as gifted (defined however ) and the ones who might not be. I really feel like it is possible. If teachers are valued and treated as professionals and given reasonable working conditions (and no, I don't mean all middle class students, I mean support and respect ) then they can teach and kids can be challenged and can learn.

I'll be honest and say I think it's different in High School. I feel like kids' motivation is so much more important there. My older one went to Roosevelt. The vast majority of the kids there were well prepared, well supported and had no material reason not to be motivated. RHS believes that all of their students are doing Honors work, but I didn't see that.

My younger one is in the regular IB program at IHS. I can totally understand how students who don't choose to take IB classes (like "Ingraham Grad") might feel like they are being left out of something. But as a parent, I cannot express how great it is to have your kid be in challenging classes with teachers who push them and fellow students who all volunteered for the same rigor (no matter what their kindergarten test scores were.)
Anonymous said…
Folks you should read the editorial. It's an exceptional and very honest, well written piece by a Junior in HS. My daughter read it and concur with much of the sentiment. I really don't think this is about HCC. It's really about what is at the heart of education. What does it mean? Is it just an end game?

For this one young, yet mature writer, she wants her education to be so much more than GPA, ranking, and resume. I think that's pretty wonderful.

-bad parent
Maureen said…
I'm thinking we should all ask our teens to read this and comment here. Mine is asleep now. But I'll run it by her tomorrow.
Anonymous said…
I think this article is spot on!

I believe there can be many constructive motivations for education, i.e. values, religious, socio-economic. However, I'm going to suggest that public education is closely tied to democracy in that we need to foster deep thinking, tolerance, and perspective in our society. Public education, then, is in large part to create thinking citizens who are lifelong learners and approach problems with open, creative minds. I don't see this approach (open, creative, dynamic) coming out of SPS or much of the higher/lower entities. I imagine there are some specific SPS schools doing this, mine in West Seattle isn't among them. If SPS doesn't approach it's own problems with open minds and creative attitudes, how are they supposed to teach students to do the same?
Jet City mom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
"If learning was a joy for all children, that would be awesome. But I think it is up to the parents and teachers to make sure all students feel valued regardless of labels - be it your child or someone else's. The teens tend to hierarchically label everything and everyone. It doesn't matter if you get rid of special classes etc.. There will be something else to take its place. However, they are watching the adults for cues and simply reflecting our society at large. We have to be better role models."

This, so much. Thanks Julie.

In blended classes, kids are very acutely aware of where they perform compared to the others in the class....so it's not a solution. Even in non-blended classes. A kid in my daughter's spectrum class, where I volunteered in math, labelled himself as "dumb", because it took him longer than the others to grasp a concept. And other kids were aware of where they fell on the continuum of speed of understanding, labelling the others within their class as "smart" and themselves as "dumb". Sad.

The answer must be with the adults in their lives, chiefly parents but also teachers, that reward the right things....such as hard work, compassion (including for self), perspective (does this assignment really require so much angst? ), and who focus on the joy of learning by sharing their enthusiasm with their kids.

Dilemna said…
My high school student has taken general ed. classes, AP classes and honor classes. Without a doubt, the highest learning curve has been in honor and AP classes. General ed. classes are not challenging enough, but it is tough for my child to maintain a high GPA in gen. ed. classes.

Here is the problem: Our children are getting ready for college and need to maintain a high grade point average to get into a decent college.

In a perfect world, I would have loved for my children to be in small classes. They would have had the opportunity for personalized attention and feedback. I am happy to help, but after kids have been in school for 6 hours, it is impossible for me to keep up with their course work. Sigh.
Dilemna said…
"General ed. classes are not challenging enough, but it is tough for my child to maintain a high GPA in gen. ed. classes."

I meant to say: It has always been tough for my child to maintain a high GPA in ADVACED CLASSES.

Yet...so much was learned in advanced classes.
Anonymous said…
Honestly, folks: Isn't this the oldest story in the book? Living to keep up with others and keep up appearances makes one miserable. Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, The Graduate, Rebel Without a Cause, and on and on. I'm just not seeing the novelty of this student's complaints.

I suppose when the above collide with the data freaks in Silicon Valley, it reaches new dystopian levels and maybe creates new forms of awareness. But the issue has been with us since the beginning of time.

Pay attention to what we are doing with our own kids and quit griping about what we perceive others are getting or doing with theirs. That "grass is always greener for others" mentality is at the root of this teen's problems, and we are embracing it every time we say "all kids belong in X." No, they don't. And that, my friends, hurts all kids.

WSDWG, I disagree. I think those movies were about teen angst, not grade pressure (except for the one guy in The Breakfast Club).

I think she's saying learning should be something kids enjoy and stretch and strive for, not a cumbersome drag. Of course, you have to work hard but when you feel that spark that urges you on, that's learning.

I think there is much that is happening at both ends of the spectrum that is damaging kids and is new to our lives. We just need to recognize it.
Anonymous said…
My kid enjoys learning math - in APP. Great joy. And this kid would not be learning anything in gen ed - I don't mean to slam it for people, but this is one of those kids who just looks at things and knows them and builds infra red devices at home for fun, etc. So the kid gets a heck of a lot of joy out of APP math.

Harder/advanced work and "joy at school" are NOT mutually exclusive. Joy is about the atmosphere - not about the content.

Signed - gotta learn
Josh Hayes said…

I hear you, but I think the point is to attach the joy not to "school", but to learning. It's a cliché - which means it's true! - that we're trying to create "life-long learners". This only happens if kids, who turn into grown-ups, find learning to be a happy, or at least satisfying, experience. That's why I try so hard to instil the sense that science in general, and biology in particular, are just plain cool. Later in life, maybe they'll still find it cool!
Anonymous said…
All these articles about kids today feeling this overwhelming pressure to do more and more in school are definitely disturbing and merit a lot of consideration as to what can be done. But at the same time, I wonder if for every kid who feels this distress there's likely to be another who doesn't--a kid who actually enjoys the extra challenge, thrives in the faster pace, looks forward to going deeper into the material, and can't wait to get home to do that extra work. Those kids are out there--but they aren't as visible since their perspective is not likely to be welcomed. We'd rather call them "elitists" and "sheep" and talk about their "mindless striving for the top" instead, or about how we're sure they could probably be served just as well in regular classrooms.

We say we want kids to love learning--but apparently if they love it too much, that's not good either?

Anonymous said…
Josh: I think that is it, precisely. The holy grail here is learning -- getting kids to do lots of it, and to really enjoy it! By definition (since different kids have different minds, and a kid who loves building infra red devices in his spare time is not necessarily the same as a kid who devours fantasy books, or one who loves maps, or plants, or wants to raise cows).

The reason (in my opinion) that curriculum, and schools, etc. should be governed locally -- not federally -- is that in essence learning is highly individual. It is one brain -- and a universe of information (multiplied by time). As a societal model, that doesn't work (it is essentially home schooling, but even there, parental views of what kids should learn, should read, should focus on, etc. etc. etc. can get in the way of optimal learning -- though I would posit that parents in general beat all other gatekeepers when it comes to knowing what is best for their kids.) Parents don't always get it right -- but in my opinion, they do better than any other "deciders" further up the chain (teachers, principals, school district curriculum developers, state boards of education, Congress, the Dept of Education, Presidents Bush, Obama, etc., Pearson, Bill Gates, college admissions directors, SAT and ACT developers, etc. etc. etc.

I agree with HIMS mom that there is probably some subset of kids who do fine under the current model -- but I doubt that it is a 1:1 ratio (for each kid who hates it, there is a less squeaky wheel out there who likes it). Lucky are those kids who, at any given time, find that the status quo imposed on them happens to be, in fact, what they thrive on!

I have such faith in the parents of Seattle school kids (in general -- I am sure there are many I don't agree with -- and they probably think I am nuts too), in Seattle's kids, and in much of Seattle's teachers and school-based staff. We could create such incredible learning environments for kids, if we weren't so distracted by this gelatinous mass of testing and accountability goo that covers schools like a suffocating blanket.

How is it that finally now, when so much information is readily available to us and our kids -- so that virtually any kid has the ability to figure out what excites him or her and learn about it -- we seem (as a society) to be botching this so badly?

Tom said…
Seattle Public Schools suck
Anonymous said…
Teen angst? Certainly not in The Graduate!

"Grade Pressure" is peer pressure, and those movies actually dealt quite a bit with the topics of peer pressure, class, segregation (remember the train tracks in P.I.P?) and many others. Whatever.

On a more serious note, the movie I should've mentioned is Race to Nowhere. It covers the exact same issues this writer complains about and was filmed mostly in the Bay Area, near where this writer lives. I wonder whether she or her parents ever saw it, but I'd bet they didn't. And that's too bad, because it's directly on-topic to this student's complaints. I would highly recommend Race To Nowhere to anyone who shares the writer's concerns. It's right on point and the filmmaker started a movement to reverse the very course this writer complains about.

Anonymous said…
Excellent question Jan! And terrific "goo" analogy too! So, so true.

Anonymous said…
My student's experience with high school pressure was that so much of it was not associated with learning. That 4.0 was much more dependent on getting to class on time, using the correct format for note-taking, checking all boxes on the rubric, doing everything at a specified pace, figuring out how to please the teacher and so much more hoop jumping than actually learning. In fact the amount of busy work homework, especially with AP classes, often took time away that could have been used learning. You could pass a class without knowing the material & fail a class where you were completely competent based on how much effort you made to comply.

As an example, how about writing a 20 page research paper and getting a, “Very Good”, as the only feedback. The 9 hours spend on research was learning, but the 12 hours spent on writing was not, because there was no feedback to learn from, no way to improve. Of course, if it been handed in an hour late, or with the wrong heading the grade would have been at most 80%, so I guess the grade indicates learning promptness & following directions. But my kid already knew those things & wanted to learn writing, or at least spend the other 12 hours doing more research.

The explicit message from our school counselors was that rigor was the most important factor in high school. If you choose to take marine biology, because you are curious about it, instead of AP physics, you are a slacker. This slacker label will show on your transcript & will lower your class rank since the non-slacker students took the AP class even if they were interested in something else. No risk taking or exploration, that could lower your GPA. And you must specialize academically in order to fit in the most rigorous schedule.

Also be sure to specialize in your ECs & sports so that you can be at least state ranked if not nationally ranked in your chosen activity, according to college ADs who visited the school.

College is a huge relief. Lot less work, lots more learning, and the chance to take a class in anything that piques your interest, even if it turns out to be something you are not good at. My student strongly resents the barriers to learning of the high school race to the 4.0, National Merit, All-State Ranking, perfect college applicant. It is hard for parents to fight that when high schools & colleges imply it is the only way to to be taken seriously by colleges.

Anonymous said…
whew has nailed it, from what I recall of my kids' experience.

Why do kids have to go through this ridiculous rat race at ages 14 through 17 -- just to get into college where they can relax a little, and spend some time taking academic risks and doing things they love?

Because the colleges require it! How do we fix that?

And note -- for kids trying for med schools, or other graduate schools that also require 4.0s and rigid prereqs, college is the start of ANOTHER rat race of sorts -- where kids dare not take the James Joyce seminar with the really brilliant (but tough grading) prof, or a really challenging course combining elements of engineering and urban design -- because they can't risk a B.

I have no problem with kids working hard. I have no problem with kids coming to understand that to get certain stuff they want, they may have to take a course or two that they don't like (like organic chem for med schools). But the grownups have totally let the system get out of hand -- to the detriment of our kids. And instead of working to fix it, we seem hellbent on making it even more diabolical with MORE high stakes testing.

Anonymous said…
Go spend some time poking around college confidential where kids are asking which 8th AP exam to self-study for since their high school only has a 7 period day, and will presidency of 2 clubs be enough if only one of the clubs got a state award last year, what other kind of prep can they do for their 4th try at the SAT since they missed 1 question last time? Their coach told them that 5 hours of sleep will hurt their performance but they have to do 45 hours a week of homework to keep their GPA high and coach wants them for 20 hours a week. Then you could ruin it all with one A- that drops you out of the top 5-10% at your high school.

-HS Parent
"We could create such incredible learning environments for kids, if we weren't so distracted by this gelatinous mass of testing and accountability goo that covers schools like a suffocating blanket."

I may use this sometime, very good.

Tom,if you want to be mean, go elsewhere. Your comment adds nothing to the discussion.

Anonymous said…
There are some colleges who are turning away these perfect kids in droves because they are admitting kids who they know want to be there. My eldest goes to a college like that. I have been reading the college confidential for this years fall freshman class and seen so many kids rejected or wait-listed who had perfect stats and instead seen kids who are not so perfect but who clearly want to go there getting accepted instead. Many colleges are also not requiring SAT or ACT scores.

Anonymous said…
Jan, whew, and all others above,

I absolutely agree that the college admissions process itself is also to blame for the "high stakes" environment kids find themselves in at all levels. It's utterly absurd, and completely antithetical to the nature of true learning, which takes place not in a hyper-focused, laser-like, standardized testing kind of way, but in a kind of dreamy, apparently unproductive kind of way. If you read about the creative thinking of Einstein, or the dreaming of the poets, or the "eureka" of Archimedes, it is those moments of unfocused and wandering thought that lead to discoveries of all kinds.

This kind of thinking CANNOT and WILL NOT take place in a school environment that has given itself over to assessments, evaluations, and rounds of stultifying standardized testing, not to mention the worksheets, multiple choice tests, and dreary rounds of repetitive memorization in preparation for the above assessments and tests.

As a country, we are raising a generation of great test-takers - not scientists, or engineers, or writers, or artists. We will be the poorer for it.

Anonymous said…
Our kid isn't even considering applying for any Ivies next year because she is so done with the rat race - at 17 years old.

Her "stats" put her in that pool, but she is a well-rounded kid who is working on revising her priorities so she doesn't freak out about that A- vs. an A because she forgot to turn in the in-class worksheet that was completed but left in her backpack.

She also knows very well that since she hasn't developed the latest app or been running a non-profit since 6th grade the likelihood of her getting in is pretty slim.

The word is BALANCE and AFFORDABILITY. We keep preaching that no college in the WORLD is worth $60k a year if you are going to come out with more than $15k-$20k in debt in the end.

She is looking at schools that talk about collaboration and learning - specifically calling out that they are not about competitiveness.

Whitman is one - a place where everyone we know is HAPPY to be there. There are many others where she will likely receive merit scholarships because they are glad to have her as part of their community.

Those schools are out there - and in my opinion its time that parents (and kids) start to re-evaluate what is truly important.

-Garfield Mom
Anonymous said…
Vickie Abeles of Race to Nowhere is nearly finished with a new film... Beyond Measure.
Can't wait til it comes out...


Anonymous said…
The school culture in Seattle, as in Palo Alto, has turned toxic for kids. I think the problem is that everyone is buying into the crazy idea that our kids need to perform perfectly and be in the highest ranking classes and the specialized programs in order to get into a "good" (whatever that means) college which will then magically make them successful. And the administration is going with the flow--and not trying to educate the parents that high school is not and shouldn't be considered a life and death event. We have turned high school into achievement factories, not learning factories.

I used to be an academic advisor (at UW and at another huge university, NYU). "Whew" has nailed when they say that college is a relief. Once you get to college, the students (who haven't been damaged too much by their high school education) can go back to loving to learn.

As far as the APP/IB/Highly Capable programs go--they are broken in how they are administered. Aren't all kids highly capable? Once you label one segment of the population with this name, the other segments automatically get put into, what? Barely capable? Not capable? The names are insulting and unfair and so are the programs for those who aren't part of them.

Finally, what the heck are we doing to our students in terms of homework? Gack. The author of the article nails it--too much homework for no reason other than busywork and the status of homework. At the orientation for parents of new students at Roosevelt this fall, we listened to a panel of students who were all bragging that they did homework until 1 am every night. And the staff panel just chuckled. I was horrified. And I am horrified.

Roosevelt Mom
Anonymous said…
I think parents are a significant part of this problem. When you see statements like this one from Roosevelt Mom, it is clear: "The names [APP/IB/Highly Capable] are insulting and unfair and so are the programs for those who aren't part of them."

My kids are in APP (I know - insulting), and I have heard negative comments about it from other parents. Gems like "I would NEVER do that to my kid" or "what did you do to make your kid like that?" Classy. I have seen posts on this blog of people saying that they think APP parents want their kids in the program for some kind of perceived status. I find those comments funny since I never mention my kid is in APP because of the negative comments.

I am amazed at how much things have changed from when I was a kid. I didn't go to school in Seattle, but I did go in an area suburb. We always knew which kid was "best" in math or English, but I don't remember any of the kids talking about it or the sort of competitiveness that I see now. This district had a program like APP, and I don't remember anyone being worked up about it like what I see these days. I think the district has so many problems like lack of funds and poor curriculum that parents are lashing out at what the see as an easy target. Removing APP or Spectrum will not improve anything.

I also think the college entrants requirements these days are nuts. My kid will do their school work and fill out applications, but I won't have them join 45 sports teams and volunteer for 80 hours a week in order to go to college. If a college doesn't want my kid, so be it. Until parents stop being a part of this system, nothing will change. Parents need to allow their kids to not participate and to allow their kids to go to a "lesser" college.

Just an FYI to Roosevelt Mom. IB requires no entrance requirements - you just have to go to a school that offers it. If you're going to insult a program, you should have your facts straight.

-punching bag
Anonymous said…
Punching Bag:

My comments do not denigrate the kids or parents in the APP program. I am saying that how it is administered seems to be broken. Or maybe I should say, "feels broken to me."

The problem is: it is an exclusive program, period. Like Tapir said, It's segregation. It is only available to certain kids, based on testing that is somewhat erratic (or private testing that well-off parents can pay for), that then gives those kids more opportunities (at least it seem so from the outside) than other kids. This doesn't feel right to me. I want ALL kids to be treated with care and as needful of a rich and vibrate education.

I'm glad APP works well for you and your family. And even though it seems to hurt your feelings that people think APP is exclusive, there's no denying that it is exclusive. That's the problem as I see it.

And, you're right, the IB program is available to all students who happen to be able to get into those programs.

Roosevelt Mom
Anonymous said…
HCC might look a little to homogeneous for some universities if they place a priority on having an overtly accepting student body.It's obvious from the % of students in HCC that it isn't a super rigorous program, so the admissions staff would be looking at why it's so attractive and might conclude the extremely low FRL, ELL and SPED numbers are the draw. That would be wrong from my experience, but the SPS HCC could already be red flag.
Of course the same could be said for Lakeside or Prep for that matter, not that I'd be hitching my boat to theirs.

There must be some schools who value students who succeed and thrive in mediocre or good high schools like West Seattle or Ballard, with their neighborhood demographics, rather than the HCC with its non-representative demos.

University admissions officers are often looking for kids to fill certain areas and they want both reliable hard-workers and inherently capable students, but will often gamble on students with only one of those qualities predominating.

Going through four years of HS with no electives except music and foreign language seems cruel. AP Stat in HS is torture.

I'm taking the road that my kids will do as well as possible, take honors classes, but, maybe save language until later and do it with Running Start, maybe with calculus if they are looking in that direction. AP courses sound iffy, I think taking Physics in a real college, even at SCCC would be far superior to AP Physics.

What the heck is high school without pottery or photography or jewelery or auto shop(if you are lucky to have it).

My kids are going to be articulate and as un-sheltered as they can safely be and to heck with schools that don't want them. Plenty will.

Benjamin Leis said…
Switching back to the original topic.
This came out today:


We have almost as bad of a suicide cluster in the Interagency school as Palo Alto has plus a series of murders.

Roosevelt Mom, I'm with Punching Bag - at least get your facts straight.

"The problem is: it is an exclusive program, period. Like Tapir said, It's segregation. It is only available to certain kids, based on testing that is somewhat erratic (or private testing that well-off parents can pay for), that then gives those kids more opportunities (at least it seem so from the outside) than other kids. This doesn't feel right to me. I want ALL kids to be treated with care and as needful of a rich and vibrate education."

APP and Spectrum are NOT available to just some kids. Anyone can apply. Anyone can test. Testing is not "erratic."

Also, FYI private testing is available for FREE for F/RL students for appeals. Free.

Name me one more opportunity that APP/Spectrum kids get via the district that other kids don't. I'd be hard-pressed to think of one (it certainly isn't class size).

As for "rich and vibrant" education - again, what is it you perceive happens in those classrooms? They have the same curriculum and same resources.

IB is available to those who can get in? Again, wrong. No student has to be in the IB program to take an IB class. Anyone can just sign up for a class.

Josh Hayes said…

Perhaps the previous commenter meant that IB is not an "option" program -- and we all know that crowding in the high schools means that kids get into their neighborhood school and that's it. If your neighborhood school is Roosevelt, or West Seattle, or Ballard, or anything OTHER THAN Sealth, Ingraham, or Rainier Beach, the IB is not available. Not because the kid's not "good enough", but because you have to GO to an IB school to do the IB, or even IB classes.

I could be wrong about the original poster's intent, of course, but that was my reading. I wonder if the district should have three IB schools which are option schools, to provide equitable access, but that comes with its own problems, of course (moreover, we don't have the space!). It's thorny.
Anonymous said…

I'm speaking more broadly here. I meant, if you can get into a school that has an IB program. It's not that easy. For the record: we didn't try. But most of the parents I spoke with last year (at HIMS) were freaking out, trying to get their kid into Ingraham because of the IB program. And the situation seemed to be: if you didn't got to Stanford for elementary (and therefore had the language immersion card) or if you weren't in the APP program, there was little chance of getting into Ingraham. Again, you're right: once you're at the IB school, you can do IB. But getting into an IB school seemed (from what I saw last year--we didn't try) to be difficult.

The testing for APP seems a bit dicey. I have spoken to 3 parents (3 actual parents) whose kids didn't get into APP through school testing, so they hired a private tester (different ones) who asked them: "OK, what program do you want your kid in?" And then the tester put the kid into the appropriate score bracket to allow them into APP. This is what I'm calling "erratic" testing. When I tell this story, APP parents howl and say it didn't happen. But, again, I saw it happen to 3 actual families who were desperate to get their kids into APP.

Finally, my kid went to HIMS. She was in Spectrum. She was apparently lucky to get into the Spectrum program. There is no guarantee (as there is with APP) that Spectrum kids will get Spectrum classes. To be honest, we just wanted classes that met our daughter's learning needs and helped her retain her love of learning.

What happened is that she got some Spectrum classes and some general ed classes. In the general ed classes, she had teachers who did things like tell the kids to put their heads on their desks because the teacher was too tired to teach that day. Or the teacher let the "TA" (i.e., student) teach the class. Which meant making microwave popcorn and throwing it to the kids who wanted some as a game to pass the time.

One year, she also was in a Spectrum LA/SS block where the teacher showed the kids videos for the 2 hours--things like Teletubbies and Gangham style. He thought these were "fun." There was no attempt at teaching. And you're right: I don't have the syllabus of the APP classes, but when I talked to APP parents about the shenanigans in the Gen Ed and Spectrum classes, they said: "yeah, we have a couple of problem teachers, but for the most part our kids are getting excellent teaching from amazing teachers."

Ultimately, the non-APP parents all have stories like this. And yet when we try to tell them, we get shouted down. And then people try to convince us that APP is having problems, too. But it's hard to see those problems as that bad when special care is being taken of the APP kids: like getting school busses while the kids next door going to the same school have to catch a city bus. (again, this happened at HIMS). I am not against APP. I am against the exclusivity of APP.

I realize that I am talking to a hostile audience here. I guess I'm just trying to tell my story and my perceptions of what's going on in the schools.

Finally, I am not a stupid, unaware parent who sits at home and complains. I have served on the board of all of the preschools my daughter attended, on the PTA of her schools, and on the Advisory Councils of those schools. I've seen a lot. And I've experienced a lot. I've spoken to many, many parents, teachers, and school board members. I care quite deeply about all kids, not just kids who are at my daughter's learning level. And I see that all kids are not being served as well as some kids.

Roosevelt Mom

Anonymous said…

Yes, that is what I meant. Thank you.

Roosevelt Mom
Anonymous said…

You are not speaking to a "hostile" audience. Just because you are questioned does not mean "hostile," unless you are scarily sensitive. I do not believe random 2nd hand stories just because an anonymous person puts it on the internet, and I imagine you don't either.

I do wonder about what you write because my two kids have gone through APP at HIMS, and I have NOT had the amazing, perfect experience you write about. In fact, my second child was moved out of HIMS APP because we were so frustrated (Mr Rowe was awesome and was sadly the exception, not the rule). We even had to homeschool math for a year because of a poor teacher (yes, I know math isn't APP). APP LA/SS doesn't have a middle school curriculum and the teachers just make it up and they used to show so many movies in class that parents had to complain to the principal to actually have some teaching done. I really have no idea what school you are talking about, certainly not the one we were in.

I wonder if I know you. I was also on the PTA at HIMS, and I can't believe what you are writing here. It's like the Twilight Zone.

It's good to remember that perception isn't reality.

-Rod Sterling
Anonymous said…
Why do people here persist in the BS about HCC/APP being "too homogenous"? The racial composition of HCC pretty much mirrors that of Seattle's population. It doesn't mirror that of Seattle public schools because more whites than non-whites have left the public schools.

With that in mind, HCC should be praised for retaining kids in the public schools that would probably otherwise been moved to private schools.

Enough already
Anonymous said…
HCC is available to all who can test in, if that means it is primarily non-FRL, ELL, and non African-American and Hispanic,(and underepresented SPED) that's just the way giftedness was parceled out in our city.

Get over it, it's a level field and anyone can play!!

Patrick said…
It went to Paly in 1979-1981. It wasn't that much different. Lots of pressure, and classmates looked at primarily as the competition. Fewer AP tests, because there were fewer AP tests given and accepted for college credit everywhere then, but just as much pressure in other things. Academic Decathalon, Brother Al math competition, etc. etc. There was suicide.

But, I am not sure there's an answer. There are fewer jobs for high-flying professionals than there are people who could do the jobs if hired. Narrowing the field according to college attended or GPA or test scores is easy and creates at least the appearance of impartiality.
Anonymous said…
HCC reflects city demos no SPS, maybe, but if true then we have this program to serve those who would go private if they could or if they had to be with gened?

Anonymous said…
What are you trying to say?

Your writing leaves me

Confused too
Anonymous said…
Roosevelt Mom,

I can assure you that HCC has its share of weak teachers too. And since teachers are often shuffled around, there's a good chance some of those bad teachers your daughter had were once--or will someday be--HCC teachers. No program/service has a monopoly on good teachers.

You mentioned your daughter got a mix of Spectrum and gen ed classes. That's how it is for HCC, too. AL programs are only comprised of 2-3 core classes in middle school.

You also mentioned not being able to compare the syllabus for the APP class. Syllabus? There's not even an APP middle school curriculum! (Or at least not at HIMS or JAMS; WMS may still be using the original curriculum to some extent). Remember the Board meeting a couple years ago in which they voted to start JAMS as an APP site, with the amendment that the district also provide a curriculum for middle school APP LA/SS? Well, unfortunately that didn't come with money, so the split happened without the curriculum. In the absence of a curriculum, teachers are left to piece together their own materials.

As to the "exclusivity" of HCC, I know a lot of people won't like this, but I'll say it anyway: Yes, it is exclusive--by design and definition. That's the whole point--these kids are outside the norm in terms of cognitive abilities, and need something different. They learn differently. HCC is exclusive in the same way ELL and SpEd are exclusive--they serve specific populations (with specific eligibility requirements) with services that are supposed to be more consistent with their needs. Exclusivity is not inherently a bad thing--it just means services can be targeted.

Anonymous said…

it's been asserted that HCC keeps students in SPS who would go private otherwise.

It's been asserted that HCC represents Seattle demographics but not SPS demos because of all the white kids who go private.

So, for example if Seattle is 70% white students and 20% of those go private, that's about 15% less whites in SPS. So, in fact, the loss of whites to private school makes the demographics of HCC even more unrepresentative, because there are less whites in the SPS population.

So, if it's not very rigorous,is it to keep the white students who would go private in SPS? Is this because they are white?
Respectfully, I am still,



why are frl, sped, black, hispanic, native, and ell so underepresented? Is it as poster Roseanne aked, somehow the gifted in Seattle are almost all English speaking, white, non-poor non-special needs?
Not a statistician but is that possible or is their a systemic bias in the HCC?

So Roosevelt Mom I can only say that it's important - especially when you are speaking out against a program - that you clear in your meaning. That you had to go back and explain what you meant and why should tell you that.

No one called you stupid so please do not put words into anyone's mouth.

If I had Gen Ed teachers that bad, I would have gone to the principal and Ex Director. Did you do that? Because you are right - that is very poor teaching behavior.

Confused, no, not all the gifted kids on SPS are white. That's just not possible and not the case. There are several reasons - long-standing and tough to crack - for that. I think the AL department has made a sincere effort to reach out to non-white parents (and sometimes getting dinged for that effort) but many non-white parents see the small numbers of students of color in the program and worry about their kid. If there were more parents of color willing to take the leap of faith, it would be good all around.

As well, it has long been a practice of some principals to discourage parent of color from even applying.

It could also be that the testing is culturally biased (although, again, it is my understanding that the AL department has been trying a couple of different things to negate that).
Anonymous said…
please do not put words into anyone's mouth.

Confused, no, not all the gifted kids on SPS are white

as we used to say, practice what you preach

Anonymous said…
Here is yet another story about how poverty can really hurt the brain's development. Child poverty must be dealt with in order for all children to be able to develop into their full potential.


childhood poverty brain development

-income inequality
Anonymous said…
Our elementary principal, as well as some teachers, disparaged the AL program with everyone. The principal told us the kids just sat on the playground reading books and weren't "normal." Needless to say, we did not stay at that school. And this is in North Seattle.

Tagging on to HIMsmom's comments, if anything, the lower performing teachers seem somewhat protected when teaching AL students - grades and test scores won't reveal just how deficient class is, as students are already working above grade level. Parents are likely to step in and provide support (outside tutoring, supplementation, etc.), which masks the deficiencies in the classroom.

Anonymous said…
Let's be careful to not jump on the "poverty must be fixed first" train. Read the study. Pooor people are exposed to toxins more than others, be it lead or other sources, also to quote,

"Neither study explains the cause of the cognitive differences. Although the authors of both studies admit that genetic factors could be involved, they suspect that environmental exposures such as stress and nutrition are more important and begin even before the babies are born."


"Still, the researchers are hopeful that the impacts could be reversible through interventions such as providing better child care and nutrition. Research in humans and in other animals suggests that is the case: a study in Mexico, for instance, showed that supplementing poor families' income improved their children's cognitive and language skills within 18 months."


"Neither study explains the cause of the cognitive differences."

Let's stick with science.

Anonymous said…
Petra, I'm not clear on your point.

You said not to jump on the "poverty must be fixed first" train, but then provided quotes that highlight the impact of poverty/SES. As you noted, brain differences can be related to physical environmental exposures (e.g., more chemicals, poor nutrition); social environment (e.g., poor quality child care and school, limited parent interaction); epigenetics (e.g., impact of stress on DNA); and genetics. All but the last are likely impacted by poverty/SES. The suggestions re: how to minimize such disparities also address poverty-related factors (e.g., better childcare, improved nutrition, income supplementation).

If SPS is testing kids for AL eligibility in K and beyond, much of poverty's negative impact on the brain will already have occurred. Implementing prenatal and early childhood measures that can help mitigate the negative effects of poverty is likely to help increase cognitive ability of students of low SES, which may help increase their eligibility levels for AL programs.


Anonymous said…
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the authors have no cause for the difference in brain surface area.They speculate on the cause, as do others interviewed for the piece.

The reduced amount of brain surface may be reversible, follow-up studies were recommended.

The study ONLY shows a correlation between poverty and brain surface.

Real researchers want to know why.

"Here is yet another story about how poverty can really hurt the brain's development. Child poverty must be dealt with in order for all children to be able to develop into their full potential."

Do you see how this statement delegates cause. It is inaccurate.
The examples where causes are surprising and counter-intuitive are endless. The cause is no doubt related to poverty but what it is needs to be further explored.

If anyone is interested in the work from Dr. Noble and the ongoing research at Columbia regarding children and cognitive ability,



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