Save the 2,008—

for Healthier High Schools

in Full

 

The Six Steps

 

What and Why

 

        Save the 2,008—for Healthier High Schools is a grassroots coalition that aims to bring a more hopeful life to Palo Alto’s high-schoolers.  

 

        For Healthier Schools offers an action-plan of six steps, intended to undo the worst conditions of any modern-day high school—crowded classrooms, overwork at home and in AP course loads, all-day student phone use, constant grade-reporting, and rampant cheating.

 

        Undoing these conditions will lift the toxic cloud of stress, depression, and distrust that they bring on—so that, once again, ties between classmates, and especially student-teacher working relationships, can grow and thrive and bloom.

 

 

1.  Class Size

 

Shrink the largest classes to a friendlier size, creating a closer feeling between classmates as well as stronger teacher-student ties (which can sometimes become lifelines).  Of all the ways to ease campus pressure, this is the most powerful, because it's the teacher's attention that makes each individual student feel recognized, welcomed, and inspired to learn.  When school life is stressful, changing the teacher-student ratio has the same transformative effect as lowering control rods into an overheated reactor core.  And as teachers know, one-on-one attention is the very definition of "differentiated instruction." 

 

What:

 

•  Shrink our overcrowded classes, starting next term.

 

•  Start with the classes where the numbers are most disadvantageous, and downsize from 38 to 34, from 31 to 27—etc., as needed.

 

•  Save the 2,008 isn’t for wholesale, across-the-board cuts in class size—such that every single class would decrease by some percentage, whether 10% or 15% or more.  It makes no sense to assign the same importance to reducing a class from 30 to 27 as to reducing a class of ten to nine (with the latter, in fact, the class would only be made worse!).  Save the 2,008 proposes the targeted shrinking of class sizes, such that a class of 35 would be more important to shrink than one of 25.

 

 

Why:

 

•  So each student will feel less invisible—will be seen and known as a person.

 

•  Because college and high-school students report that “seeing me as a person” and “being interested in me” was what made their best teachers the best.

 

•  Because the warmth of engagement between the individual student and his or her teacher is the single most powerful motivation to learn.

 

•  Because Project Safety Net, in their foundational report (of 2010), wrote (italics ours):  "Perhaps most germane to our work was the strong expression by youth that, in times of need or concern, they will only reach out to adults with whom they are familiar." 

        And the facts are these:  for more hours of the day than they see their parents, their counselors, their coaches, their school administrators, or their leaders in faith, our students are with their teachers.

 

Further discussion, i.e., "the weeds, :-)

 

•  Because for each and every student a classroom professional should:  give help with assignments; answer questions asking for clarification; coax and welcome the student into class discussions; test for grasp of the material; figure accurate scores and grades; respond to emails; respond to parents’ or guardians’ emails; report absences; be helpful during and after illnesses; be available to talk outside of class; say hi and goodbye every day; know and call the student by name; note or inquire sometimes after a student’s mood; praise performance; put the student in charge of something meaningful; listen closely, at length; showcase a student’s work; help retrieve lost items; phone home with praise to reassure parents; respect confidentiality; and—via the exchange of looks and wisecracks and hand-gel during cold season in class—spread health, recognition, encouragement, affection.  

        Clearly, when teaching loads are well above 100 students, or class sizes well above 25, the above is an impossible charge and many students will be short-changed.

 

•  Because smaller class sizes means that workloads for our classroom professionals will allow them to do everything better.  In particular, teachers will have the time, as they wish, to attend students’ concerts, games, exhibits, and plays, and also to make evening phone-calls to parents, in praise of student qualities not conveyed by a grade (wit, social competence, courage, independence).  

        If each of our high-school teachers were freed up to make only one such phone-call per week, that would mean—over the course of an academic year—some 7,200 calls to Palo Alto parents.

•  Because the problem is urgent, due to demographics; and class-sizes will only balloon unless we begin to act.  Through 2020, enrollment at our secondary schools is destined to climb.  From the district's own projections (reported in the Palo Alto Daily News, May 20, 2016):  "High school enrollment is expected to grow by 16 percent until 2020 and decline thereafter."  In the next four years that means roughly 600 new students arriving in our high-school classrooms—needing teachers.

 

•  Into the weeds:  the scientific study of class size.  The sociological studies that measure academic achievement against class size —is smaller better?  is larger worse?—are unfortunately fraught and uninformative.  When it comes to the issue of the effect of class size, it’s as easy to determine whether dinner parties of four or of eight are greater successes, or whether legislatures of fifty representatives produce better law than legislatures of a hundred.  There are just too many variables and intangibles—especially if one is concerned, as we are in Palo Alto, not only with learning (somewhat measurable) but with social-and-emotional well-being (hard to quantify).  And of course, every different assemblage of human beings will willy-nilly have a “personality” and “chemistry” all its own; and any group, no matter its size, can be knocked askew by a single smart-mouth, a single filibusterer, a single complainer.

        Even writer Malcolm Gladwell—as intelligent as anyone about such things—in his chapter in David and Goliath on class sizes, seems to reach no clear conclusions.  He asserts that when you add up all the studies their findings are a wash—but he notes that classes that become too small (eight kids, six) are without question worse; and he treats sympathetically the dilemma of a teacher for whom the difference between 18 kids and 24 is of great magnitude.  Gladwell omits to wrestle with whether the studies do or don’t tease out the differences between reducing a class of 30 to a class of 20 and reducing a class of 24 to a class of 22.  He nowhere distinguishes between academic achievement as a function of class size and a sense of social cohesion and emotional safety as a function of class size.  He doesn’t differentiate between grade-schoolers, and teenagers—though the latter are much more sensitive to whether or not they’re in a room with year-mates (e.g., frosh with frosh and sophs with sophs), and are more self-conscious or inhibited depending on a particular set of classroom peers.  

        So we must remain skeptical of class-size studies that depend on head counts and standardized test results rather than on the lived experience of classroom professionals.  Most, I believe (as someone who spent fifteen years in the classroom), would tell you that 18 in a classroom feels like a team, 25 feels like an audience, and anything above that begins to feel too big.  Though most teachers, if lacking a class clown, a class philosopher, or a class rebel—the kinds of kids who spark things—would be glad to admit one more, qualified kid.  

 

•   What about the cost?  The District has just announced a projected increase in local taxes of $14 million.

        Alternatively, In a city as wealthy and community-minded as Palo Alto, and with a fine spokesperson and communicator such as Superintendent McGee, as it should be possible to find a person with deep pockets and a big heart who would like to take credit for underwriting the single thing that is most likely to contribute to a less stressful high-school experience for our kids.

 

 

 

2.  Homework

 

Moderate the amounts of homework in the most accountable, in-touch, up-to-date way—by giving students a nightly online voice.  To get the homewok issue right, we need more than a policy, we need a tool—a tool for healthier student-teacher, and teacher-teacher, communication.  Create confidential school websites (anonymity guaranteed; use optional; built by our very own whiz-kids) that will give our teenagers a nightly voice in their workload as well as shield them from pile-ups of simultaneous tests, projects, essays.

 

What:

 

•  A confidential website where teachers and kids can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked, and which teachers can use to avoid "test stacking" (major tests, essays, projects with the same due-date).

 

•  Call it “ClockTalk.”

 

•  Before the school-day ends, teachers pause to type in “minutes assigned” for each class.  Later that night, their anonymity guaranteed, students pause to click on “It Took Me Exactly That” or “It Took Me More” or “It Took Me Less.” (And maybe type in “actual minutes” and a Twitter-length comment.)  

 

•  Result next day:  Algorithms and trained mice of ClockTalk have crunched the numbers to show students and teachers how many total minutes assigned and worked, as compared to:  other students, other classes, other teachers, other teachers teaching the same course, etc., etc.—including how many total homework minutes were worked in just one night by any one student so that any one teacher who is worried about any particular student can know what’s going on.

 

•  Teachers are given green, yellow, or red lights for due-dates or due-weeks, according to whether they’re lightly or heavily subscribed.  

 

•  Students’ names not visible to teachers regarding particular “complaints”— only regarding averages and overall workloads.

 

•  Private to kids and teachers.  (This isn’t Big Brother.)

 

•  Use optional.  (If We Build It They Will Come.)

 

Why:

 

•  Homework is—and rightly should be—part of the class-to-teacher relationship.

 

•  Homework is to teacher-and-students as a shared bank account is to marriage partners; and deciding on the right “balance”, and what it should be spent on, belongs to this close collaboration.

 

•  During that extra, reflective pause every day, teachers will be more careful about “minutes assigned.”  And during their pause each night, kids will reflect on how effectively or poorly they’ve used their time.

 

•  Rules, oversight, enforcement from on high?  We’re talking too unwieldy, too contentious, too cookie-cutter, too slow.  Administrators shouldn’t be homework cops; teachers shouldn’t be suspects.  

 

•  Kids have no way—as things are now—to “speak up” to teachers about homework.  (It’s too scary.)  ClockTalk will provide this and spark conversations, too, in class.

 

•  The cost?  Ask our Gunn and Paly students—whiz-kids that they are—if they’ll build this in exchange for being celebrated by their classmates as heroes.

 

•   A caution:  Off-the-shelf, mass-produced electronic educational products are designed to please those who control the purse-strings (school officials) rather than the students and teachers who will actually be required to use them.  Far, far better and more user-friendly—less apt to become matters of contention—are custom-designed tools.  

        And products such as “Google Classroom” are biased toward paperless interactions—when recent scientific data are telling us that reading from screens is less conducive to learning than is reading from printed paper.  (See “Why the Brain Prefers Paper,” Scientific American, November 2013.)

 

 

 

3.  AP Course Loads

 

Foster wiser family decisions about AP course loads through timely meetings among parents, kids, and school guidance counselors—who can speak to the emotional nourishment of sleep, time with peers, dinnertimes, downtime, cultural time, exercise, and developmental assets, and who can testify to the wide availability of admission to scores of colleges nationwide that offer excellent life prospects.

 

What:

 

•  Students and parents, headed for multiple APs, will encounter a “flashing yellow light”—a pause consisting of a form to fill out and a heart-to-heart talk with a guidance counselor.

 

•  Once student and parents have a rich, full understanding of the trade-offs (and risks) that come with multiple APs, and have signed their names—only then the green light.

 

Why:

 

•  The costs of multiple APs include:  more stress; more anxiety over grades; less sleep (which can cause depression); sometimes the use of drugs to stay awake; more stress; less time to connect with teachers and classmates; losses in social, family and cultural time; damage to twelve of the “41 Developmental Assets”; more stress.  

And major universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and Yale recommend against students over-indulging in APs.

 

•   Timely guidance counseling could include the following finding (based on a careful review of more than 20 research studies) from Challenge Success, the respected school-change consultancy firm:  “We found no conclusive data to suggest that taking AP courses makes students more likely to succeed in college, boosts students’ chances of college admission, or makes college more affordable.” 

     And families will be relieved to hear that there aren’t just a couple of dozen colleges and universities worth attending, there are hundreds.

•   From the website for the Stanford admissions office (8/5/16):  "Our evaluation of your application goes beyond any numerical formula. There is no minimum GPA or test score; nor is there any specific number of AP or honors courses you must have on your transcript in order to be admitted to Stanford."

 

•   Each of these college-level courses comes with a homework price tag of some 45-90 minutes per night.  (The number depends on the course, the teacher, and who’s doing the estimating).  The P.A.U.S.D. pegs the price at 5 to 7.5 hours per week, although at the higher end this implies that the Palo Alto teenagers who are taking five APs—and there are currently 81 such kids—have signed up for as many as 37.5 hours of homework per week, roughly the equivalent of a fulltime job. 

 

     Our district strongly recommends that students take no more than two APs; but this note of caution has been too weak to dissuade our 680 high-schoolers who are currently taking three, four, five, or more.

 

•   For the student enrolled in multiple APs, the most risky trade-off will probably be a loss of sleep.  The 20 pediatricians of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation wrote to the Palo Alto Weekly:  “Surveys have shown that Palo Alto teens sleep an average or 6.5 hours per night.  Studies show that teens need 9 hours of sleep to function at their best.  Inadequate sleep has a strong correlation with mood disorders, poor cognitive retention and increased distractibility.” 

     The American Academy of Pediatrics cites a threefold increase in the risk of suicide attempts among adolescents who sleep less than 8 hours per night.  Taking our local pediatricians’ figures and doing the math, we'd have to conclude that, added up over an entire school year, an average teenager in Palo Alto is losing 630 hours of sleep. 

     Over the course of that whole year, then, how many full, nine-hour nights of sleep is our average teenager losing? 

     Seventy.  The number is terrifying.

 

•   For students taking multiple APs, the temptations and pressures to cheat are intense.  Paly principal Kim Diorio has said it is the schools "high fliers" who tend to be most academically dishonest.

 

•   For the purposes of this “yellow light,” meeting face-to-face with a counselor has far more impact than just filling out a form (our current school practice).  Forms can’t talk; forms can’t counsel; forms can’t spot the different personalities of different parents and students and respond to those variations; forms cannot ask follow-up questions; forms can’t express skepticism or optimism. 

        This is  too serious a matter for a mere form.

 

Further discussion, i.e., "the weeds, :-)

 

•   So they’re not just words on a page, the guidance counselor can review which of the “41 Developmental Assets” (set forth by Project Cornerstone and endorsed by the Palo Alto School District as markers of resiliency in youth) are likely to suffer amid a heavy AP workload:

 

#1.  Family Support.  (Family life provides high levels of love and support.)

#2.  Positive Family Communication.  (Young person and her or his parent(s) communicated positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parent(s).

#3.  Other Adult Relationships.

#9.  Service to Others.  (Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.)

#17.  Creative Activities.  (Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.)

#18.  Youth Programs.  (Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.)

#19.  Religious community.  (Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.)

#20.  Time at Home.  (Young person is out with friends "with nothing special to do" two or fewer nights per week.)

#25.  Reading for Pleasure.  (Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.)

#26.  Caring.  (Young person places high value on helping other people.)

#27.  Equality and Social Justice.  (Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.)

#33.  Interpersonal Competence.  (Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.)

#34.  Cultural Competence.  (Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.)

#41.  Positive Cultural Identity.  (Young person feels comfortable with and proud of her/his identity, including but not limited to disabilities, ethnicity, faith/religion, family status, gender, language, and sexual orientation.)

 

 

4.  Student Phone Use

 

Stand between our kids and the all-day siren song of their phones.  To survive the school-day, teenagers use their phones to check in with friends and social media.  But that private world—so susceptible to gossip, insult, photos—brings its own disquiet while eroding engagement with teachers, classmates, and learning.  Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and the demands of instant response make impossible the very relief our teens seek.  The solution is twofold:  make school itself less alienating; and, as in our middle schools, forbid student cellphone use.

 

What:

 

•  Student cellphones must be turned off and out of sight—first bell to last.  (Students may keep their cellphones while at school—just not use them.)

 

•  (Exception:  instructional use within the classroom.)

 

•  Current rules (i.e., communications devices may neither be audible nor visible in class) will remain in force, and be enforced, including for "wristwatch" devices.

 

Why:

 

•   For some years now, as the pleasure of school has diminished, and as cellphone features have grown, students have increasingly (and even resourcefully) handled the daily treadmill by turning to their phones—for a sense of contact, support, and excitement.  We can shrug this away and let it get worse, or we can roll back their dependence on their phones—which itself adds distraction, harassment, and alienation to campus life—at the same time we make our classrooms more lively and personal, and schoolwork more filled with meaning.

 

 •   No student should have to sit in class with her cell in her bag, or his in his pocket, and be anxious for it to glow or vibrate.  No one should have to sit through a class right after reading a long text from your boyfriend’s former girlfriend saying what a slut you are, or deciding what to have your friends bring you from Starbucks, or anxious to check your online grades before your folks can, or worried whether the parent you’ve just texted is on the way with your homework, or mortified that after the test is over you’ve gotta text mom or dad how it went.

 

 •   Surveys regularly show that, even at schools that bar cell use in the classroom, about 70% of kids still do it, unseen. 

 

 •   Even phone use outside of class disrupts education.  During passing period, on the way to her next class, a student may read an upsetting text that disables her from paying much attention to Shakespeare or French or photosynthesis for the next hour or more. 

 

 •  And when a student rushes out of class at the bell, to check his phone, he misses a chance to clarify something with his teacher or to have a special moment of excitement about that day's lesson on mass psychology or how wars get started or automobile repairs.

  •  Student phone-access during the schoolday allows them to set up sexual assignations in bathrooms and in empty classrooms.  It allows them to take "revealing" photos during class or students' clothing and physical postures, and send them out immediately.

 

   Adults will never be able to end some students' involvement with online sites such as "Bathoom Wall" (where the "graffiti" is never painted over and is instantly mass-distributed), or with posting naked photos, or with revenge porn, or with social media flaming, or with social banishment delivered by omitting to tag an individual in a group Facebook photo, but is there an upside to giving our kids the means to do these things while at school?

 

•  In a recent PBS interview, Mary Jo Sales, author of American Girls:  Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teens, said: 

      "It's really challenging for girls, especially, to have an expectation to produce images of themselves, to get validation, the validation everyone seems to want, of likes and friends and followers.  It's challenging for them, to produce images of themselves in which they look, quote-unquote, 'hot,' and also to navigate through all the comments on their photos about how 'hot' they are or not 'hot' they are." 

      Sales elaborated on how self-aware and analytic girls are about their use of social media—while still being unable to detach themselves from it.

     "Girls are quite aware of the ways in which it's really toxic and yet they can't leave it, because this is the swamp they're swimming in, this is the world they're enmeshed in, where you have to be on it or you're not a part of the conversation, you're not a part of what's happening."

      Sales gave an example of a typical experience of a typical girl:

"A boy that she doesn't know very well asks her, really demands of her, 'Send nudes.'  He may not even be her boyfriend.  And then all sorts of thoughts start to go through her head, like, 'Wow, should I be flattered?  Should I be outraged?  Should I be insulted?  Should I do it?  Should I not do it?  Well, if I did it, what should it look like?' These are new things for anyone to have to think about, especially 13-year-old girls."

     Do we want our kids to think about these things while at school?  Can we expect them to get off their phones on their own?

 

 •  Allowing students' attention to be diverted to their phones in the midst of the important business of schooling suggests to them that it may be harmless for their attention to go to their phones during the important business of driving a car—a behavior that can cause injury or death.

 

 •  Student cellphones can create danger in a crisis. 

        An organization that looks carefully at school security and the presence of cellphones on campus, National School Safety and Security Services states:

      “We believe there needs to be a clear understanding of how cell phone use during a tragedy can detract from school safety and create a less safe environment…

      “From a safety, security, and emergency/crisis preparedness perspective, school boards, administrators, crisis teams, and public safety officials must have a detailed conversation on the impact of cell phones on day-to-day school climate, their potential adverse impact on security, and their high-risk for detracting from efficient school emergency response and management in a critical incident...

      “Cell phone use, texting, and other outside communications by students during a crisis expedites parental flocking to the school at a time when school and public safety officials may need parents to be away from the school site due to evacuations, emergency response, and/or other tactical or safety reasons.”

 

Further discussion, i.e., "the weeds, :-)

 

•  The Main Office, department offices, classrooms—they’ve all got phones for genuine emergencies!  We’ve got school-wide P.A.s, and teachers and administrators with walkie-talkies.  Our safety net for emergency communications is strong.

 

•  For the Weekly's excellent in-depth report on "How Social Media Amplifies the Power to Hurt" among Palo Alto teens, go to:  www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2013/08/16/teens-online-how-social-media-amplifies-the-power-to-hurt

 

•  The latest California Healthy Kids Survey shows that, among Gunn and Paly juniors, the percentage of students reporting they've been electronically bullied rose from 77% (in 2011-12) to 87% (in 2013-14).  

 

•  The average American teen sends and receives 3,339 texts per month.  (The number for girls is 4,050.)

 

•   For a report on sexting in high schools, go to: www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/

 

Confidential to students, concerning cellphones:

 

•  If you're less distracted during the school day, and use study-time in class to study instead of text, then you'll have learned the material better, gotten more homework done—and you'll have more free time at night to do what you want.

 

•  You'll no longer feel pressured to race off "to the bathroom" during class—perhaps missing something important that your teacher says.

 

•  If you talk at lunch and brunch, talk in class discussion, you'll rack up much more practice for dates, for job interviews, for talking with your girlfriend's father or your boyfriend's mother, for talking your way into the college courses you want, for getting ahead in the workplace, and for talking your way out of traffic tickets. :-)

 

•  A student comments (Gunn senior Erica Watkins, in the student newspaper, March 16, 2015):

 

        “Walking through the hallways alone, I look at my phone and scroll through a Twitter feed I checked ten minutes ago.  I would rather look like I have something to do on my phone, than look a passing stranger in the eyes.... Being alone has become uncomfortable.  My hallway strategy to avoid a seemingly awkward situation is not an isolated incident.  While social media has made the vast world exponentially more connected, our phones and apps have pushed people much farther apart.

        “…The problem with social media is that we have replaced meaningful conversations and quality time with Instagram posts, Facebook messages and texts.  Using social media as our way to connect is becoming problematic, as it can never fill our need to be around people.  Social media becomes a vicious cycle, because once we finally do have coffee with an old family friend, or grab lunch with a budding love interest, it is easy to feel like there is nothing to talk about. 

       “Two people probably know more about each other than they should because they have been stalking each other’s Facebook pages, and see a picture of the other person every day on Instagram.  We no longer need to have an in-depth conversation with someone to learn what they did over the summer or what their opinions are on the world.  Private details in our lives are broadcasted to thousands of people each day.”

 

 

5.  Grade Reporting

 

Slow the bombardment of grade reporting so our kids have room to ride out the ups and downs of adolescence.  No teenager who’s holding on through a parental divorce or through rejection by a friend should have to live under a G.P.A. gun day after day.  Adolescents, already laboring hard in the workshop of identity, need intervals to coast a bit and heal.  (And how would any grown-up feel about getting a workplace performance-review every three weeks?)  

 

What:

 

•  The District concluded a labor contract in 2013 requiring its teachers to send grade-reports home, online, every three weeks.  Instead of these twelve grade-reports per year, let’s return it to four.

 

Why:

 

•  Because, for the vulnerable teen—who has slipped behind due to a broken friendship or romance, a family disruption or loss, an athletic defeat or a failed audition—the relentless grade-reporting allows them no chance to "coast" for a bit, and heal, and get back on their feet.

 

•  Because the continual grading is no more healthy or confidence-building than, say, a grade sent home after a girl's every horseback-riding lesson, or a score sent home after a boy's every violin lesson.

 

•  The more effective option, for moms and dads who want to shepherd and gauge their children's progress, would be to read "Death of a Salesman" along with their teenager, or build conversation skills over dinner, or watch a movie about slavery together.

 

•  Curtail the grade-reporting, thus curtailing the emails it occasions from parents, and teachers will be able to return work more quickly, devise better lessons, see more students one-on-one…and so forth.   

 

•  It’s implausible that a student who’s already feeling without hope, at the end of his or her resources, is much helped by a more frequent reporting of his or her grades—which grades, if they’ve suffered along with the student’s suffering, will only cause the student to judge himself or herself a greater failure.  That this judgment comes in the context of believing (as most of our students and their parents do) that being rejected by his or her desired colleges will constitute, in effect, a life-sentence of diminished prospects, only deepens the possible downside of insistent grading.  

 

Further discussion, i.e., "the weeds, :-)

 

•  As for our counting on parents to avoid checking in on their students’ marks, or counting on our kids to avoid checking in, this is unrealistic in a climate that insists on the all-importance of the G.P.A.—an importance that we ourselves reinforce through our grade bombardment.

 

•  Some parents and students argue that, if there’s too long an interval between grade reports, the student’s anxiety is heightened by not knowing exactly how he or she “is doing” (in grade terms).  Whether this concern has to do with the difference between failing and passing, or the difference between a B+ and an A-, we don’t know.  

        But when all is said and done, the choice we face—between protecting one group of students from the emotional distress of not receiving precise grades every three weeks, and protecting a different group from the distress of being reminded of their grades every three weeks—is just one of many choices that we must make, as a school district, about what’s best for the greatest number of kids.  Kids who are more talented in math than in English, for example, are nevertheless required to take the latter, even if it may “stress” them.

 

 

6.  Cheating

 

End the anxious, debilitating climate of cheating—the degraded atmosphere that kids feel obliged to inhale, just to run the academic race.  Spurred by outsized workloads and enabled by too many parents, the rampant fraud erodes self-esteem and stirs up so much angst—with every paper, every test, every project—that it’s an issue of mental well-being.

 

What:

 

•  Replacing a longtime culture of cheating—rife with anxiety, collusion, and distrust—with a secure, proud culture of honesty necessitates:

 

  • raising the awareness of, and supporting in advance, all stakeholders (students, parents, administrators, counselors, teachers);

 

  • writing an honor code—not as a strategy for “catching cheaters” but as a plan for teaching integrity—that includes both students and teachers, and spells out a precise definition of cheating as well as definitive, sure consequences for violations;

 

  • yearly, ongoing education of all stakeholders, on and off campus, about the new culture of honor, the definition of cheating, and the sure consequences.

 

•  The education of parents and students should include statements in newsletters, in the school newspaper, at assemblies, in class, the posting of the honor code and school motto of integrity, and a letter mailed home and returned that requires the signatures of the student and a parent or guardian as agreement to abide by the honor code.  

     This letter should be clear about what parents may and may not do which may constitute cheating on behalf of their child.  It should be clear that we are undoing a culture that goes way back—that has included parents’ doing projects and homework for their children since early grade-school.

 

•  Since cheating exists largely as a way for students to survive outsized workloads, outsized classes (where it’s hard to get teacher help), and a culture that emphasizes grades, there should be no sudden “crackdown” on cheating.  Its elimination should instead transpire as a complement to the Save the 2,008 measures that will ease homework, APs, class-size, and grade-reporting.

 

•  Parents and students new to the school should be given a grace period in which violations will not go on a student’s permanent record.  After that, there is no “get out of jail free” card—as students may simply cheat until they’re caught for the first time.  

 

•  The school should create and use a motto that captures its pride in its own integrity—along the lines of “Cheating?  Not In Our School” or “Titans are True-Blue” or “In Vikings, Veritas.”

 

•  Teachers should be asked to:  include reminders about academic integrity in their syllabi or course overviews; stress their belief in and commitment to the honor code; and speak from the heart to their students about how personally wounding and discouraging it is to receive dishonest work.

 

•  A student judicial committee should work with violators to make sure they know what cheating is, and to help them make ethical decisions.

 

•  Violations should go on the student’s permanent record.  Admissions officers are capable of distinguishing a “youthful indiscretion” from a serious offense.  Room must be made in the District budget for legal assistance as needed.

 

Further discussion, i.e., "the weeds, :-)

 

•  “Restorative justice” should be rolled back as a policy—because cheating is an offense against everyone (all students are in competition for GPAs), and there is no way to make amends to every single schoolmate or to restore to oneself the lost integrity and self-esteem.

 

•  "Peer courts," and the sentences imposed by them, eat up more student time and more teacher time; and they run risks of confidentiality.  This popular approach to resolving cheating is no substitute for firm administrative action.

 

•  Allowances for “inadvertent plagiarism” should be written out of the code, because its rules and definitions will have made clear what is and what is not cheating.  Allowances for the “inadvertent” encourage students to cheat until once caught.

 

•  Sample text for honor codes, both for students and teachers:

 

Student:  “I promise to listen to the opinions of others and to treat my classmates with respect.  I promise that all of my work will be my own, and I assume responsibility for all my own actions and decisions.  I will do my fair share of work.  I also promise that I will encourage my peers to uphold this code of integrity and not tolerate or ignore dishonesty on the part of others.”

 

Teacher:  “I promise to be honest, fair, and encouraging.  I promise to trust all students with responsibility and to value their input.  I promise to take appropriate action when the integrity of the classroom has been compromised.”

 

 

Why:

 

•  Because cheating is rampant and makes everyone feel bad about themselves.

 

•  Because we should no more require young people to attend a school where cheating is countenanced than we should ask them to sit in classrooms where the walls and ceilings contain asbestos.

 

•  A culture of honesty builds self-esteem, self-reliance, and trust.

 

•  At high-achieving high schools in this country, 95% of students admit to engaging in some form of cheating.  Over the years, surveys at Palo Alto’s high schools have shown similarly disturbing rates of dishonesty.

 

•  Means of cheating (our kids aren't stupid; they're ingenious!)  include cheat-sheets hidden in shoes, clothes, on the labels of water bottles, and in phones.  Also:  photographs taken in class of exams; and inventing or forging absence excuses in order to obtain extra time to study.  Cheating includes copying from or downloading papers from the Internet, as well as submitting to teachers the work of a parent or home tutor as if it were one’s own.

 

•  The time that students expend on agonizing over whether to cheat, bargaining with one’s conscience, figuring out how to pull it off, planning the lies to cover it up, seeing a counselor if caught—this time is pure stress and mental turmoil.

 

•  The time that teachers spend on tracking, catching, and educating violators is not the best use of their professional abilities.

 

•   From Gunn student Sabrina Chen, in Dec. of 2015, posted to the online forum for The Oracle, the school newspaper—her lead paragraph:

"A typical night for a Gunn student might include studying for the math midterm, reviewing for the AP Statistics test and preparing for an in-class essay. Meanwhile, a chat window from a best friend appears on the screen. It reads: 'Hey, did you take the French midterm yet? Can you test me?' The response (to not let down the friend) includes detailed advice with several questions that were on the test. The student sends, 'Can you send me your bio homework?' A photo of the homework appears, followed by a message: 'That’s what friends are for.'”

 

 

 

In Sum

 

        The sum of Save the 2,008 is greater than its parts—because the measures complement and build on each other.

 

        Students won’t waste the new accessibility of their teachers on in-class texting, nor will they need so desperately to cut moral corners, because their study-time will be in check.  Less frequent grade-reporting will be one less reason that a student feels desperate to check a phone a school.  

 

        More accessibility to teachers, for extra help and reassurance, means students will be less anxious about tests and papers, and the ban on cheating will seem less onerous.  Finding themselves less wrung-out from keeping up with too many APs, students will have the time and energy to seek out teachers for closer collaboration, and the teachers—freed from cheating, continual grade-reporting, and with smaller student loads—will have more time to be of help.

 

        Feeling the new self-confidence that comes from having a voice in their amounts of homework, students will feel emboldened to contribute more to class discussions; and they’ll have the space to do so, because their classes won’t be bursting at the seams.

 

        When once these six adjustments have settled into place, it won’t be long before students will hardly be able to say exactly what has changed (did we once have larger classes?  were we once reminded of our grades every three weeks?  did we really use our cellphones all day long?).  

 

        But there’ll be no mistaking that their hopes and spirits have lifted.