ALERT – “Draft California Mathematics Framework Shortchanges STEM”

4/5/2021 – Introduction by D. Kristofferson:

The California Department of Education publishes guideline documents for academic subject areas in K-12 education.  These documents influence teaching practices and textbook publishers and are updated on a seven year cycle.  I was alerted by the author of the following guest article, Michael Malione, that the revision for the K-12 California Mathematics Framework document is currently in progress and that public comments are being requested on the draft now.

Mr. Malione has spent considerable time studying the Framework document and has written the critique in his article entitled Draft California Mathematics Framework Shortchanges STEM.

The opinions expressed in the article are his alone, but I share his concern that the proposed 2021 revisions may have a significant and very likely negative impact on mathematics eduction in California public schools. I therefore encourage readers of this blog to consider Mr. Malione’s objections carefully and respond to the Department of Education survey via the link in his article before the April 8th deadline.

Note added 4/14/21 – The first public comment period is over. The committee working on the draft document will review the comments received, make revisions to the framework, and then put it out for a second 60 day round of public comments in June 2021.

The Local Math Wars Begin *Again* – Part 2

This is a continuation of the article at The Local Math Wars Begin *Again* . The San Mateo-Foster City School District (SMFCSD) recently cited a research study by Burris, Heubert and Levin in the American Educational Research Journal, Spring 2006, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 105–136 which supports detracting middle school mathematics. I have devoted several hours to this paper today and posted the following comments on Nextdoor. I continue to believe that we need to consider other ideas to close the achievement gap besides detracking.

I’ve been going through the paper by Burris et al. for close to three hours today. It is a very detailed and qualified study and I am not completely finished but have read enough to relate some important notes to all of you.

First, I highly doubt that most of the people that cite this study have actually taken the time to really study it.

This does not mean that it is a bad study, but it reflects the myriad complications faced by education researchers, and the text is consequently loaded with required qualifications that make a careful study very time-consuming.

Here are a few examples.

First of all, note that the study was based on a single district in a small Long Island (Nassau County) community. They tried detracking middle school students AND placing them into an accelerated math track as Gene McKenna noted earlier.

Detracking started in 1995 for sixth graders. Six years of students were followed through high school – students from the three class years before the detracking and the first three years of students who went through the detracked program. The last of these students graduated in 2002.

Note that our country has gone through many changes since 2002…

Most of the students in the school district were white with “upper middle class incomes” and the article implies that there was a single high school with an “average enrollment of 1,100 students.” African-Americans made up 8% of the students, Latinos 12% and Asians 2%. The majority of the African-American and Latino students came from lower income families and lives in subsidized or government-owned housing. This is pretty different from our local demographics.

From the paper:

“The district developed a multiyear plan to eliminate tracking in mathematics at the middle school level (Grades 6–8). In addition, it instituted changes in teaching and learning conditions that school leaders believed would help all students succeed. These changes involved the following: (a) revision of the curriculum in Grades 6–8, (b) creation of alternate-day support classes known as mathematics workshops to assist struggling students, (c) establishment of common preparation periods for mathematics teachers, (d) integration of calculators, and (e) a revised mathematics teacher schedule consisting of four accelerated classes and two mathematics workshops.

The district decided that all tracking for instruction in the middle school would end with the sixth-grade class that would enter in 1995 and that all subsequent sixth graders would study accelerated mathematics in heterogeneously grouped classes. The superintendent and the middle school leadership team believed that the combination of (a) heterogeneous grouping, (b) a high-track curriculum, and (c) mathematics workshops would enable all learners to be successful without reducing the achievement of the most proficient students.”

So note above that the district started out with the belief that this method would work and did a lot to make it so:

“Students were placed in the alternate-day mathematics workshops according to teacher recommendations or parent requests. Workshop class sizes averaged eight students, and students were allowed to enroll in or leave the class on the basis of how they were doing in their regular class and their personal desire for support. All work in these classes supported instruction in the regular mathematics classroom, and, whenever possible, students were assigned to a workshop taught by their regular mathematics teacher. Approximately 25% of all students took a workshop class at some time during the year, including a number of high-achieving students who wanted the additional instruction.”

It is clear that this small district thought this process through carefully and devoted resources to improve the odds of success.

The researchers took the data from this district and analyzed it.

To place students into low, average, and high achievement groups, the only data that the researchers had to use was a national math competency test created in Iowa (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) and administered a single time in fifth grade.

Furthermore they had to deal with the problems of dropouts and people entering/leaving the district:

“Selection effects are possible, however, even in stable populations. For example, the inclusion of transfer students whose educational histories differ from the majority could bias a study’s results. A strategy for dealing with such effects is to include only data for the cohort members who have the most similar histories (Cook & Campbell, 1979). To reduce this possible source of bias, we included student data only for cohort members (entering high school in 1995–2000) in regular education who (a) were continuously enrolled in the school district from fifth grade to their exit from high school or completion of this study, (b) entered ninth grade between 1995 and 2000, and (c) had a permanent record folder containing all data of interest.”

This creates obvious problems with interpreting the data for the low achieving group.

The Iowa test mentioned above to define achievement levels creates an issue about interpreting data for the ill-defined high achieving group.

Overall, though, the superintendant and others in that district were happy with the results which is the most important take away.

However, the researchers note in their discussion:

“Nevertheless, it is important that further research explore the essential components of this reform. The district that implemented the reform is a suburban district that has allocated generous resources in providing support to struggling students. Fifth-grade stanine scores in mathematics indicate that students in the district earn higher scores than the national average, and the proportion of low achievers in this study was proportionally lower than the number of average and high achievers. Would the reform work in a district with fewer resources and larger numbers of struggling students?”

They do not know the answer to that question.

This study illustrates common problems with education research. The study is valuable in showing that one community attained the results that it desired. Such an outcome is not guaranteed without the desire to succeed, resources, and careful planning, and no representation is made in the paper that such a reform would necessarily succeed in areas with “larger numbers of struggling students.” This does NOT mean that we should therefore do nothing to help struggling students, but it does mean that simply detracking students in itself is not a magic bullet that will guarantee success.

I may have additional comments later, but this is about all of the time that I can spend on this today. I have not had time to go through the detailed data analysis, but am concerned from a first pass that, even though there was quite an improvement in the low performing group, the results still need detailed consideration.

For example, the “Seq II” high school math class in the paper, which is geometry, went from a 46% “low achiever” pass rate by 10th grade before the middle school curriculum change to a 64% pass rate after the change. Note that passing means a grade of >= 65%.

I don’t have the comparable “low achiever” numbers for our local high schools, but I would not be surprised if they are lower, meaning that this work might be a much heavier lift for local teachers.

The Local Math Wars Begin *Again*

3/27/2021 – A discussion began yesterday about a San Mateo-Foster City School District (SMFCSD) school Board effort “to get rid of the GATE program and all advanced math.” Nextdoor users who can access Baywood Park neighborhood posts can access the discussion entitled “The death of the San Mateo foster city school district” at

(Note – if this link does not work for you, please try cutting and pasting it into a new browser window. For some unknown reason WordPress is having a problem connecting to this link.).

I wrote the following response which I will quote here. Please read through to the end because the link to the slides has been made available and there is some controversy as to what was actually portrayed at the extremely long meeting. Stephen Floor on Nextdoor quoted the following from the meeting: “I want to make sure nobody walks away this evening with the idea that the district is proposing to get rid of compacted math. We understand the very important reasons that student want to accelerate in mathematics and the concern about getting to advanced math. We’re proposing to the board that due to the pandemic and related circumstances we really need to move to a heterogeneous math course and then engage with our stakeholders with what that would mean going forward for rising sixth graders in subsequent years.”

Unfortunately this comment was supposedly made at 5 hours and 28 minutes into the meeting…

Despite this comment immediately above, the concerns that I stated below remain relevant regarding reform efforts in mathematics education. There are several “progressive” influences that are currently impacting the California math curriculum.

I have been lobbying against efforts like these for years on my blog at I call your attention to the following article

Jo Boaler is a Stanford professor of education whose work is highly influential in California. She is a strong influence on and is part of the group who is *** currently rewriting the CA Dept. of Education Math Framework *** so expect to see much more efforts like the above as time goes on if parents don’t get organized.

Parents can comment on the CA Math Framework revision through this link (or through the link on the CA Math Framework page entitled “Mathematics Framework Online Survey” if they obsolete the link), but note that the first page of the survey makes it look like you have to be an educator to comment. This is NOT the case. Just fill in your personal info in the required fields and then click Next to move on to the second page.

*** Comments are only being received through April 8th. ***

Note that Boaler’s research work is not without its critics. This is a hot topic so I will present Boaler’s case first followed by Milgram’s and Bishop’s replies. Both sides appear to have legitimate gripes, so your “homework assignment” is to read both carefully if you want to be informed.

As I mention in my blog article cited above “Never Believe Educational Experts – (Or Me)!”, California has a long history of educational experimentation fostered by places like the Stanford School of Education which one would think is a prestigious organization.

In Silicon Valley we like to think that bold new ideas are great. I am a scientist by training who went back to teaching late in the game after a long career in science, scientific software, and biotech. I was in on the ground floor of the Human Genome Project and managed the national gene sequence database (GenBank) for the NIH in the early 90s. I have always been open to new ideas.

Unfortunately education research has many problems as I describe in my blog article above, and the sorry history of failed educational experiments in California that have resulted in damage to children is lengthy.

I wrote my blog to try to warn younger parents of these problems so that each generation does not keep repeating the same mistakes. I hope that you will find this information useful.

*** I want to be very clear though, that the inequities that the reformers on the school board are trying to address are very real and require action too. Please be respectful of this fact. We need to act in a way such that we raise the general level of our society; not just fight for our own children. ***

My concern remains though that we can hopefully achieve that goal without injuring our most talented students.

My experience working with local high school students is that better students who are put in mixed math classes are bored and feel held back. This is largely because our society has become so divided by income levels that there is a chasm in education levels among students of the same age.

At the same time, the opposite happens for students who are put into accelerated classes that are beyond their capabilities as the blurb cited at the top of this conversation indicates. I have addressed this problem at length in other articles on my blog.

Please get organized and speak up TOGETHER now, but PLEASE also heed my other concerns mentioned immediately above.

In general I favor evolutionary change in educational practice. Abrupt changes affect too many kids and can not be undone. Kids should NOT be guinea pigs in educational experiments done to enhance the publication records of academics.

I’ve been told that Jo Boaler, originally from England, likes to end some of her writings with the phrase, “Viva la Revolution.” referring to shaking things up in math education. Proceed with caution…

This is a later comment that I made on Nextdoor.  Note that the slides for the meeting are available here: 7_2_MiddleSchoolMathProgramUpdate032521_0.

I skimmed through the slide deck (43 slides !!!). I am not surprised that this meeting went on till late at night. Slides 11-29 appear to be a “lesson” in Common Core Math, for example, probably intended to illustrate its “richness.”

This is another example of the problem that I often see at school board meetings. Administrators make up massive slide decks that people can not take in at a single sitting and then proceed to lose their audience. As a result, all kinds of misperceptions can occur. This is not my idea of good teaching technique.

I agree with Stephen Floor above that the slides do appear to show that there is still a path to Calculus in High School, but, not having heard the actual discussion, I do not know how much this was emphasized during the meeting. I have often seen slides skipped over quickly as time grows short and the Board and audience grows restless.

I DO know that Common Core has always tried to slow things down and delve more deeply into topics, and this has led to this exact same debate in years past. Common Core itself is a subject of massive controversy which has also been discussed in articles on my blog.

I will add a link to the slides in my blog article and add the qualifications above, but I don’t have the time to watch yet another five hour board meeting. Something is clearly wrong with this method of decision making.

NOTE – for those of you who are so motivated, the link to the Board meeting video is here: The meeting went on for SEVEN hours apparently.

NOTE added 3/27/21 at 9:30 PM: Gene McKenna has provided notes/comments on the Board meeting video on this topic at

“Private Schools Are Indefensible” and a Speech for my Daughter’s Wedding

March 20,2021 – This morning I posted a note about the latest cover story in the April 2021 issue of The Atlantic entitled “Private Schools are Indefensible” to the “Public Affairs” discussion group that I administer on our local Nextdoor site.

I wrote:

Never having traveled in those elite circles of wealth, I suspect that there may be some exaggeration in the writing due to the clear disgust with what is described, but I don’t know how much.

It does strike me though that this is the logical end of a system that rewards money over all else…

This is probably the article that justifies my subscription price to The Atlantic  for this year. I will be writing up a detailed response later for my education blog.

An interesting discussion ensued on Nextdoor and mention was made of a “landed gentry mentality” developing in our country along with references to the recent college admissions scandal which included people from our own backyard.

Regarding the subject of the influence of money in our lives, I felt that this was an appropriate time to share with the group a speech that I composed for my youngest daughter’s wedding in October 2018. The text follows below.

First, however, please note that this article is not the detailed response that I mentioned in the Nextdoor quote above. I am still pondering the article’s implications and am seeking other perspectives from readers before I write a response. After you read the Atlantic article, I welcome your opinions in the Comments section below.

Now for the wedding speech which, believe it or not, is relevant to the topic above. As it was not quite the appropriate time (plus a a bit late 😉 ) to give advice about sex, I spoke about the other big obstacle in many marriages – money. Obsession with riches has invaded many aspects of our society and leads to the behavior described in the Atlantic article.


Back in the early 1970s, while I was attending college at UC San Diego, one of my all time favorite movies was released, “Fiddler on the Roof.” I saw it on a truly enormous silver screen at the Loma Theater on Rosecrans Street in San Diego.

Little did I know that the girl who I would eventually marry lived just a short distance away from that theater, but I wouldn’t meet her for another decade and in a completely different city. That meeting would eventually lead me to this place today.

Why do I mention “Fiddler on the Roof?” Besides the memorable music, the picture it portrayed of traditional life being challenged by the powerful forces of modernity stayed with me, in particular Tevye’s haunting line, “… and because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

This phrase resonated strongly in me, a member of a generation brought up on Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics “‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping. ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.’”

Those in the audience who remember that time might also recall that biologist Paul Ehrlich was predicting catastrophe by 1975 due to population growth outstripping the planet’s resources.

Well, folks, we survived, and, looking around the room, I can’t help but think how blessed we are. Yes, now we are confronting other challenges like climate change, but I remain confident that we will find a way forward and that our children’s children will continue to thrive.

But this will be “because of our traditions,” not in spite of them.

We live in one of the most exciting and beautiful areas of the world, the Bay Area, which is home to Silicon Valley. This is where the future is being made.

We pride ourselves on being “disrupters,” exhorting knowledge workers to “move fast and break things.”

But humans need a source of stability and tradition in their lives in order to thrive, something that is not “disrupted,” and that is what we are celebrating here today, the marriage of Amy and David.

They are one of the happiest couples that I have seen, and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. There is a wisdom in their relationship that almost makes me hesitate to give them any fatherly advice at all.

It’s a little late for me to give the “Sex Talk,” so instead I will address the other source of strife that many people encounter in marriage – money.

Everyone has heard the old saw, “Time is Money.”

I believe whoever composed this line got it completely backwards:

Time is not Money. Money is Time.

So many people, both husbands and wives, work very long hours and exchange their time for money. They have no time left for their families. Life in the Bay Area is demanding and expensive, and there seems to be little choice but to submit.

My advice to the newlyweds is to live modestly and not become slaves to possessions.

Unless you are the richest person in the world, there will always be someone with a bigger house, a nicer car, a bigger yacht, or a fancier wine cellar than you have. In my opinion, that is the road to envy, not happiness.

It is too easy to become trapped into devoting all of your time to paying for a lifestyle instead of living it.

When you work, you exchange your time for money, not just to pay your bills, but, most importantly, to ultimately gain the freedom to spend your time the way you wish to do so.

If you remember that money is primarily your store of time, you will not squander it, but invest it wisely for growth.

But, as with everything, one must strike a balance. Not only would it be sad to be a slave to possessions; it would be just as sad if one deferred consumption completely in favor of savings, and then ran out of time to enjoy it.

Finding that balance is your challenge, but, ultimately, time is your most important asset, and your money should only be a means to make the most of it.

So please raise your glasses and let me end with a toast, using the words from another, more recent, song:

“I hope you” have “the time of your life.”

Critical School Reopening Issues from the SMUHSD Board Meeting

We are facing such critical decisions that I took well over six hours today to put this article together which highlights many of the most critical issues via direct internal links into the SMUHSD Board meeting video. I hope you find this massive effort useful.

6/28/2020 3:48 PM – Introduction

This morning I once again listened to ALL of the approximately 60 public comments made in response to Agenda item L.1. and am putting together the following synopsis with my analysis.

In particular we all need to address the many comments made about students’ mental health because ALL of the people speaking on this issue missed “the elephant in the room,” a phrase used by one speaker.  Speakers tended to say that students had to be back in class so that they could be “monitored” …??

If you read nothing else in this article, please be sure to finish this Introduction and then read the Student Mental Health Issues section below carefully!

Besides this problem, there was much debate about the problems due to the spring semester closure, whether it is safe to return to school (several doctors and psychologists addressed this), the effectiveness of online learning from a variety of perspectives, multiple pleas for teachers to be listened to and treated like professionals, problems with ELD and special needs students, and finally a moving plea by teacher Jenny Caughey who lost her elderly aunt to COVID-19.

I have spent weeks listening and talking to participants on all sides of this debate, so I hope that you will lend me the courtesy of taking the time to read ALL of what I write below. I am a Ph.D. scientist who among other things was a pioneer in the use of the Internet for biological research – work for which I became a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

I was an invited speaker and publicly addressed the entire CDC in their large main lecture hall; I managed the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology.  I worked in scientific software and biotechnology companies, including one that created the first custom Affymetrix “gene chip” to monitor gene expression of the entire human genome!

After all of this work I was also a high school educator (first in the Peace Corps after college and then again at the end of my career starting in 2010 through the present; I now tutor in retirement).

The following report is carefully considered and will not be a waste of your time!  Please read it to the end.

This article will make frequent reference to the video recording of the meeting which can be found at .

For those who missed my earlier article Comments Following the 6/25 SMUHSD Board Meeting, here are the main sections of the meeting pertaining to the school reopening issue.  The discussion of agenda item L.1. on school reopening begins at 1:05:15.  Board clarification questions after the presentation start at 1:44:05.  Public Comments begin at 1:46:14.  Board deliberations begin at 3:09:20 and end at 4:11:10.

I have added links below that go straight to the comments in question so that you can hear them for yourselves without wading through the entire 4.5 hour meeting.

Note that this remains my selections from the video, so I invite anyone who wants to highlight a different section to comment in the Comments section below after the article.  You can pick a start time by using a web browser with the FULL web version of Youtube, pausing the video at the desired start time, clicking on the “Share” option, and then checking the “Start at” box in the pop-up window.  This option is not available, e.g., on an iPhone.

Because there were many overlapping comments, I have picked those which I thought were representative of a position, and I apologize in advance if anyone feels slighted if I did not pick their comment.  Unfortunately names were often muffled and sometimes not displayed, so I also apologize if I butchered anyone’s name below.  Please feel free to contact me through the Contact form on this blog, and I will make corrections.

Comments were restricted to one minute, but President Marc Friedman was pretty considerate and did not shut people down precisely at that time limit.


Parental Concerns about Online Learning

At 1:48:55 in the video John McDonald eloquently expressed the common parental reaction to spring quarter distance learning.  He is concerned about the effect of online learning on kids.  “The biggest issue was teacher engagement.”  He mentioned that during spring “several teachers checked out for weeks at a time.” and also said that he “is on Zoom everyday from 8:30 to 6:00 PM on my job and I hate it. It is a horrible channel on which to engage with other human beings.”  Please listen to his comment directly by clicking the time link at the start of this paragraph.

Kevin Nelson, one of the most highly trained teachers in the district in online learning wrote an article on this blog to address precisely these parental concerns.  He was supposed to speak at 2:38:47 during the session but did not get through because of technical problems, and, very sadly, no effort was made to reconnect a valuable speaker like him even though this was done for every other speaker for both of the last two board meetings.

The irony of this communication problem can not have escaped the attention of the many people in the audience who know him, both because of his criticisms of how the Spring shutdown was handled, but also because one of the most technically literate teachers in the district could not get through on Zoom!

As to the latter problem, I note that Mr. Nelson would normally, during class, be in the role of meeting leader, not commenter, but one has to wonder how many students during distance learning might be shut out from asking questions due to technical problems.  This is a glaring problem repeatedly encountered during Board Zoom meetings!

Mr. Nelson teaches in both the SMUHSD at Aragon and also at Skyline College.  His online classes are at the College.

A legitimate question remains as to whether online learning will succeed as well at the high school level compared to the experience that he highly recommends based on his experience with community college students.  In this regards, an interesting comment was made by Jack Hickey, a student, near the end of the comment section at 3:05:03.  He claims that he and his fellow students did not think that distance learning was effective.

In my private discussions with teachers and administrators, when I raise student concerns, they are not infrequently dismissed as “unrepresentative” or from “just a kid.”   This might be true of an isolated comment, but when I hear the same issue raised repeatedly by students, it should be considered carefully and not dismissed out of hand.

It was also interesting to hear the opinion of Stacy Nawrocki at 1:52:43 who worked for the last 15 years for video collaboration software companies and yet has serious reservations about doing 100% online learning in schools.

I also worked as an IT Director for many years and have seen technology oversold in schools on numerous occasions.  We need to be very flexible and willing to make corrections ASAP if things go wrong.  Unfortunately schools have a history of continuing with educational trials by adding band-aids instead of stopping them in a timely when they are failing.


Student Mental Health Issues

Joelle Kaufman provided comments on the subject of student mental health that are available on this blog, and spoke on the video at 1:59:58.  Joelle also promoted the use of the UC Scout Plus software to assist distance learning as did the psychologist mentioned in the next paragraph.

Psychologist Jessica Rosenbaum addressed the Board at 1:50:31 and emphasized the need to have direct in-person contact to be able to tell which students are at risk.  She stated, “Pre-pandemic,” (that is before the pandemic even started) “anxiety disorders affected nearly a third of our teens!”  This is a staggering statistic if true, but many listeners do not know what range of severity this covers unfortunately.  I have had direct experience with a few severe cases in my tutoring practice though I can not corroborate that severe cases reach the level of 33%.

Sandra Sullivan, a clinical psychologist who deals with depression in both children and adults, spoke at 2:36:00 and emphasized the need for in-person social connections.

Too many psychologists in this group used words like “astronomical” and mental health problem “tsunami” without providing real data.  Another medical doctor described the mental health issue as “huge” at 2:24:15.

Lack of quantitative data often allows people to dismiss this case.  I run into the same issue when trying to convince parents of problems with the AP system, because we all know cases of successful students that handle the load, and the parents of these students are often the most active and vigorous defenders of the AP program.

So here is at least some slightly more detailed data.

Maureen Martin spoke at 2:07:15 and stated that, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 30% of students suffer from depressive episodes every year and 13% each year are major.

Debbie Conwood (last name ???), a psychotherapist who works with many students, spoke at 2:24:41 and said that she and her colleagues had never seen the “levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts” like they have seen in the last four months.

Personally I am convinced that this issue is very real though uncertain on the precise numbers.

What amazes me, however, is that the only solution proposed is sending the students back in-person into the same environment that is a significant cause of these problems in the first place, simply because that environment is “better” than leaving them at home alone!!

“HELLO!  IS ANYBODY HOME?  THINK, MCFLY!” to quote Back to the Future!

I have spoken repeatedly about the stress levels caused by AP courses and the advice that counselors continually give to students to take the most demanding schedule that they can.  Too many kids have no idea what their breaking point is, and these high stakes exam classes are portrayed as make-or-break pathways to their successful future.

As Pogo used to say, “We have met the enemy and he is us!

Many teachers throughout this video meeting said how much they care about their students.

The teachers unions still are a political force to be reckoned with nationally.  If teachers really care about their students, then they, through their unions, need to take action nationally in conjunction with college admissions offices to end this AP madness!  People in our own district have termed this student behavior as “Mutual Assured Destruction,” but the supposed adults in the room never take action to stop it!  Parents need to wake up too!

Bullying on social media and other factors like the constant stream of bad news about the future are also factors in these mental health issues, but doomsday news and bullying are not unique to this time.  I was on the east coast about 60 years ago and expected to die within a day or so during the Cuban missile crisis as a kid, and I could relate stories that my father told me about bullying and large fistfights on school grounds in Chicago going back to the Depression era.

As long as students are told that piling up AP classes is the way to get into college and are staying up in high school until 2 or 3 in the morning, this problem will continue and very likely get worse!

Sending students back to school in-person to “monitor them” is yet another irresponsible adult action instead of getting to the core of the problem.

Every time I hear stories about college admissions officers rolling their eyes during application reviews when they see yet another applicant taking seven AP classes in a semester, I would like to to yell at them what I quoted from Back to the Future above!

If we can not go back to the old system where teachers create their own honors courses and just bypass the AP exam system, then there at least needs to be some kind of national cap put on the number of AP classes permitted per student each semester.  This can happen if teachers, school administrators, and college admissions offices work together to solve this problem.

If we fail to do this, we are, once again as we do so well these days, sacrificing a lot of decent, intelligent children to maintain a system that best serves those at the top.  

This harsh method has been used in Asian countries that have large populations and which were trying hard to develop economically starting from very limited resources.  It is not a method that we should use in (what used to be?) an advanced country like America as even this Chinese educator will attest.


Is It Safe to Return to Campus?

Dr. Annie Luetkemeyer (sp?), an infectious diseases doctor at S.F.General and a COVID-19 researcher at UCSF spoke at 2:05:28 and stated that it was possible to return safely and that this needed to be addressed soon because the pandemic may go on for 2 – 3 years.

A related perspective was given by another health care worker Anette (last name??) at 2:18:45 in the videos, as well as by Dr. Suneil Koliwad from S.F. General at 2:22:55 . Dr. Koliwad was also the commenter at 2:24:15 mentioned in the Mental Health section above.  He also previously addressed the Return to School Committee (recording here) and these earlier remarks generated some pushback as expressed here.

Ms. Krishna spoke at 2:27:22 about the safety risks of returning to school and how the Latino community was hit disproportionally.

I believe that all of these medical professionals have valid points, but just within the last few days COVID-19 levels are once again showing a worrisome rise as people get complacent.  We need to focus initially on preparing for distance learning and keep monitoring the health data.  Trying to do both in-person and distance learning initially will be more complicated and mean that neither will be done effectively.


Teachers ask, “Why don’t you treat as as professionals?”

Victoria Daniel spoke at 2:53:00 .  She is a very capable, veteran English teacher in the district and gave a reasonable case for distance learning ending by saying that “Every decision teachers make is made with our children as our first priority . .. trusting in those who have made working in school their life’s work is a great place to start.

Teacher Roten Penaloza-Blustein (last name sp???) spoke at 1:58:47 and gave parents an idea of what teachers were going through.

Unfortunately despite all of these clearly dedicated professionals, there was also the parental experiences related by John McDonald at 1:48:55 in the video and described earlier in this article.

First, teaching is a very difficult profession.  Burnout rates are high and the average teacher in California supposedly last about five years in the profession.

Unfortunately students encounter those burnout cases in class and parents hear about them.  This is sadly a big strike against the teaching profession and part of the reason why it is always battling for respect.  It only takes a few bad apples in the barrel to cause a lot of problems.  There are no easy solutions to this dilemma other than to try to make parents aware of this issue and hope that they listen to the more accomplished teachers in the district.

Secondly, I personally think that a lot of the problem is also due to the way teachers are trained by the education schools and California education rules requiring that the curriculum be “refreshed” on a periodic basis (currently every 7 years if I remember correctly).

No other profession conducts such radical overhauls of their knowledge base as seems to happen in education.  Most teachers are not research scientists and rationally tend to believe what they are taught in education programs, even though a lot of education research may be of low quality (see for example, what happened in the case of Everyday Mathematics, advertised as one of the most highly researched elementary school math programs available).  This leads to frequent “new ideas” being introduced into California schools in particular, which are tilted toward progressivism.  When these ideas backfire, the effects on the kids exposed to them are long-lasting as I have documented in Never Believe Educational Experts (or Me)! and other articles on this blog.

Because of the large regular work demands on teachers, it is not reasonable to ask them to delve critically into the detailed background research every time a new educational fad is foisted on them in order to determine if its research should be believed.  The more frequently we “refresh” our curriculum, the bigger this problem becomes.

However there is a way to overcome this problem if we trust teachers to stick with a long-established textbook series and evolve their own lessons over a long period of time as teachers used to have the freedom to do.  Too many education reform efforts try to disrupt everything as I have described, for example, in the case of the Next Generation Science Standards, and this can result in a lot of quality lesson plans being discarded.

No doctor or lawyer would dream of attempting the kind of radical overhauls to their practice which happen in education.

Teacher unions should seriously consider trying to overturn or seriously modify these curriculum refresh regulations and restore autonomy to teachers.  Every time teachers are forced to switch to a new curriculum that backfires and hurts kids, it seriously erodes confidence in their profession.


Problems of “English Literacy Development” (ELD) and other special needs Students

None of the models presented to date adequately address the ELD student problem nor students in special education.  This is acknowledged by almost all people and work on this problem is ongoing, but I want to point out at least a few of the many speakers that addressed some of this issue.

Edwin Contreras spoke at 2:50:16 describing the opposition of Latino students and families about physically returning to school and being exposed to the virus.

Arienne Adamchikova addressed the Latino community in Spanish at 2:11:45.  Having only studied French and Bahasa Malaysia, I unfortunately do not know what she said.

Daniel Wekselgreen, the District Math coordinator, spoke at 2:30:49 and described how distance learning may actually benefit students who are struggling the most by allowing greater interaction remotely than social distancing requirements will allow if students return in person.


A personal tragedy

I will end this long article with the comments of teacher Jenny Caughey.  Her tragic story speaks for itself at 3:06:24.  She was followed by Aura Smithers, the final commenter of the night, who also is well worth listening to.


If you made it all the way through to the end of this long article, please accept my gratitude for the concern that you have displayed for our children!  This article with all of its supporting links was a major effort to compose, but I hope that you have found it useful.


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The Mental Health Issues Involved with Distance Learning

6/24/2020, 6:30 AM – This article is also excerpted from our local Nextdoor discussion on school reopening. The full Nextdoor discussion is accessible at, but requires both a Nextdoor account to access and is also only geographically accessible from some, not all, neighborhoods in the SMUHSD.

Nextdoor’s discussions are free-form, comments are quickly lost in nested sub-threads, and include a lot of repetition of issues covered previously in the convoluted discussion thread.  Consequently, I have been highlighting on this blog aspects of the conversation that strike me as being of particular importance.

The following comments were written by Joelle Kaufman and reproduced here with her permission.  Some of my remarks during the conversation are also included below.  There were a couple of other participants as well but, as the Board Meeting is coming up soon, and because I promised that Joelle’s remarks would go up this morning, I did not have time to seek out permission from the other participants.  Technically, any post on Nextdoor is in a public forum and could be quoted elsewhere, but I prefer not to operate in that manner on this blog.

Joelle Kaufman introduced herself early in the conversation as follows: “I am a business person – and a parent of a BHS graduate, BHS Senior and an 8th grader who will attend BHS.”  The “survey” which she mentions at the beginning below was conducted by SMUHSD to gauge parent and student sentiment about returning to school this Fall.

Joelle’s comment is followed by my reply, and then her response to my request for available data.  As I received this late last night, I have not had time to review any of the citations that she quotes and leave the evaluation of these links to each reader.


Joelle Kaufman: Without a doubt, the survey was flawed and a less biased, transparent survey should be deployed to get broad parent, student and teacher input.

I think that your blogpost, David Kristofferson, may have missed what I think is the underlying problem with the call, from 75% or 2/3 of the teachers, for 100% distance learning. When we moved dramatically to distance, we know teachers really couldn’t prepare. Teachers begged, pleaded publicly for credit/no-credit to protect the most vulnerable students – and acknowledged that students who were striving (vulnerable or not) would be potentially demoralized and demotivated – but that it was better for everyone’s mental health and more equitable to go credit/no-credit.

Turns out – it was neither. The lack of structure and the lack of expectations disproportionately impacted more vulnerable students who may not have parents who can act as teacher’s aides or tutors (or hire them). The psychological damage of isolation, lack of structure and no purpose is now well documented for the dramatic increases in anxiety and depression. While there are other factors obviously contributing to those problems, the recommendation of the teachers removed key defenses against those mental health consequences. And I don’t think anyone thinks the District is not also culpable – but the recommendation came from teachers and it was not good for the kids. The pleading for 100% distance learning also came from the teachers at the last Board meeting – not from the Board, Administrators. Teachers, who are educators, are not psychologists (although they may feel like them sometimes!).

Psychologists I know were very alarmed by the credit/no-credit and are very alarmed by the 100% distance recommendation. For example – you have NO IDEA who is actually vulnerable – it’s not just socio-economic or IEP/504 or students struggling in school. The largest population of anxious and depressed students are high performing, relatively affluent teens. It’s very sad. The only way to know who is struggling is to SEE them and OBSERVE changes in demeanor and behavior to refer them to a counselor for help.

Now we have another recommendation from teachers – driven by fear for their own safety. And only one teacher in the district has training and experience in distance learning – so we have teachers recommending something that they did not do well in the spring, are not trained to do and have no experience in doing, because they are scared. And it is scary. And when you look at the rate of infection and of complex cases, the adjusted risk is very low (not zero) for people under 65. I’m happy to share with you a model of that risk so you can adjust the assumptions . I do not know how many teachers are over 50 or have a medical condition that significantly increases their risk (my model guessed 45% to be conservative). But all living is risk – driving to school, exposure to influenza, eating unhealthy (but tasty) food, having children on screens fo 3-6 hours per day. My model calculated 2 cases (not deaths – none of those) in the entire SMUHSD given the infection rate and mortality rate by age. Our county is declining in cases – in spite of more interaction – as people exercise personal responsibility.

School will be different as we mitigate risk – for the teachers. The teens are already interacting with each other, as they do and as they need. Let’s educate them as they need as well – in person, in community and teach personal responsibility for community.


David Kristofferson: Hi Joelle, your clear concern is the psychological impact on kids of distance learning, and I think this is what you are saying that I did not address on my blog about school reopening. Yes, that is correct and you make very good points above.

I have been writing for several years, though, about the negative impacts of the AP course load on kids and have noted the irony of the frequent mention of mental health resources by the school district, e.g., even to the point of declaring September to be Suicide Prevention Month a year or two back. See for example my articles “Critical Warnings re AP Classes” at and “Mutual Assured Destruction” at

In the limited time to try to make sense of all of the complicated, competing plans and interests, I unfortunately omitted this important issue, so I apologize.

In order to make a rational decision on the competing concerns of teachers versus students, we need data though.

In the case of mental health issues, privacy concerns may hinder data collection. When dealing with economically disadvantaged children a similar issue arises given the fears of undocumented immigrants.

When one sees pictures of corpses being loaded into refrigeration trucks in New York as a result of COVID-19 and holds this up against non-quantitative claims of increased anxiety and depression, it is hard not to be more moved by the former rather than the latter in the current crisis.

Call numbers to suicide prevention lines are a possible statistic, but can be due to many causes. One would expect the biggest problem right now might be due to adults who are out of work and unable to pay their bills or put food on the table and for people with serious illness and no health insurance.

Have you seen any *real data* pertaining to kids, either nationwide at the very least, or better yet for our decision purposes, in our area?

Without data, I think that most people will have no choice but to conclude that death is a more serious outcome than anxiety and depression. *** I am saying this not to minimize the students’ problems, but only to point out how hard it is to balance all of the competing concerns fairly. ***


Joelle Kaufman: Thank you – I’d love to be a guest blogger on your site – please feel free to repost my comment with the following added data. The studies on mental health impact are too early to be published – but I found a number of potential proxies to emphasize how serious mental health is for our students – and that our schools are their first line of detection. – you can read that Anxiety is 10 points higher since the start of the pandemic. People text CrisisTextLine – Text HOME to 741741 to text with a Crisis Counselor – when they need help.

Their top suggestions for students is to “stay on track” and “stay on a schedule” – both of which were totally undermined in the spring. I recognize that the intention is to do something different in the fall – but without a curriculum designed, by curriculum development professionals, for virtual learning.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are writing about the amount of abuse (domestic and familial) that is occurring.

And finally, California is 10th in the nation for CrisisTextLine activity. Suicidal ideation is down (thankfully as suicide is the leading killer of teens – and Covid-19 represents 0.1 of the suicide deaths). But anxiety, depression, eating disorders and abuse are way up.

The mental health issues can be damaging lifelong and impact a much higher percentage of students than Covid-19. We have to balance the risk – the students need school to learn and for their safety.

Thank you again for the continued civil and informed dialogue and for sharing my thoughts with your audience. Respect.

Please post your comments following this article below.  You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the “Reply” link following a particular comment to respond to that comment.  This forum is moderated, so comments will not appear until approved.

The WordPress software that runs this site requires that you enter an email address in order to comment, but your address is not checked for validity nor displayed, and I do not collect or use this information.  Also, you will not receive emailed comments on the article from other people unless you check a box in the form to request this.

Thanks as always for your participation!

Board Agenda Posted and a Letter from San Mateo High School Teachers to Parents

6/23/2020, 3;30 PM – The 6/25 Board Meeting Agenda is now online at

The School Reopening issue is item L.1. and English and Spanish versions of the presentations are linked to from the Agenda.

The periods are now 75 minutes instead of 90 in an earlier version. See slides 4-6.

Slide 17 mentions that school year could begin in phase 2 for “at risk” students.

I have also been made aware of another letter from SMHS teachers to parents which can be found here:


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