LASD ThoughtExchange Experiment is a tedious turn-off

Too bad ThoughtExchange was too time-consuming to recommend as a opinion sharing online platform
Written by lalahpolitico

LASD ThoughtExchange for community outreach on the 10th site topic is too hard to use and too confusing. It can be manipulated to create the illusion of agreement when there isn’t any. Although fully participating can take 2 hours, a reasonably quick peek at a couple of the software’s reports is revealing. See a how-to and representative screenshots of what others see and experience when they join the 10th site ThoughtExchange experiment.

Last spring the Los Altos School District board of trustees voted to spend $20,000 to try a one-year subscription to ThoughtExchange – a sort of opinion sharing online platform.  Besides being useful for gathering opinions from teachers about curriculum and other employment issues, the major use case was for online outreach to the broad LASD community about the topic of a 10th site/school.

LASD sent email “opening” the platform for participation on the topic of the 10th site to current LASD student families on June 6.  The platform closes on June 19th. There was a follow up mailing on June 15. Trustee Ivanovich wrote Letters To The Editor to the MV Voice and the LA Town Crier. Trustee Spieser and Johnson were posting to various Facebook groups – including eduction ones and the LEAD alumni one. There may have been other promotions of ThoughtExchange participation.  I received some links to the platform from email contacts who urged me to take a look.

DEADLINE: The exchange closes JUNE 19th. Act fast if you want to look or participate.

as of June 16 am

I really was hoping to share the link to ThoughtExchange and urge people to participate. But I can’t in good conscience recommend you spend the time to “do it right.”  Why? Because that would require you read over 600 two-sentence long thoughts written by citizens, presented one at a time in a random order, and clicking on 1 star(ugh) to 5 stars(right on!)  for each thought in order to move to the next thought. That “survey” took me about 2 hours on Saturday morning! So many of the thoughts are hyper similar to each other. [Why couldn’t they be shown together or consolidated?] The experience was numbing.

Of course it works well on a mobile phone, so you could just read and star 5, 10 or 20 thoughts at a time, — when standing in line, stopped at a long traffic light, waiting for Godot, etc. You could check in every day, every couple of hours and see if there are new thoughts for you to rate. Lalahpolitico:  I think most of the 700+ people just visit the site once staying maybe 10 to 20  minutes or so.

Instead of taking the full 2-hour “survey,” I recommend you just take a look at the platform’s two tabs which offer alleged “reports.” Let me orient you to the platform and briefly walk you through. You can decide if you want to participate.

To participate you will have to register with either a valid phone number or valid email. You will be sent a 6 digit code, you will enter in the application.  You will create a password.  Then you are in.


As you can see the ThoughtExchange software is optimized for using on a mobile phone! But it also works on your desktop or laptop browser of choice.


Only this one exchange is open to the public.


The goal is to click that one caret marked with an arrow. You might have deal briefly with Welcome, Background, and Tell us…


DISCOVER PAGE – first thing, view the reports

Start with the ‘Hot topics’ report.  It is mercifully short. The ThoughtExchange software appears to be doing statistical cluster analysis to identify groups of participants who think alike. We are not told how many groups of think alikes the software had found.  [Obviously at least two groups!] We are told that the members of the two+ groups find these thoughts to be “important.” I guess that means group members are alike because they rate the thought either 1 or 5?

The ThoughtExchange software appears to be doing statistical cluster analysis to identify groups of participants who think alike.- Lalahpolitico

You can start to notice that no single “thought” on the ThoughtExchange has more than 50-something participants rating it. That means that as of Saturday morning,  of  712 people who signed up for a log-in, only about 50-something are plowing through the reading of and starring/ranking of all of the 679 thoughts. [Of course, some participants may have joined early shortly after the June 6  launch when there were only 100 or 200 thoughts… and never returned to rank new thoughts]


Click on Discover Icon, then on Hot Topics icon tab.


Red arrow shows you what to click on. DON’T start SHARING – writing new thoughts – or STARRING other people’s thoughts. Instead, let’s read reports by clicking on the Discover icon.


CONTINUE reading HOT TOPICS report

Scroll down…

You will notice that when a thought is important for differentiating between groups, there are lots of 5 stars and lots of 1 stars, resulting in a low overall Rank! Ha, imagine that. People are disagreeing a lot. That’s why these are called HOT.


Remember, the software is saying these are the thoughts which strongly differentiate between groups. Participants are strongly disagreeing.


SWITCH to TOP THOUGHTs  report tab

This is such a very, very, very long report because it lists I believe 100 or maybe all the thoughts on the ThoughtExchange from high stars rating to low stars rating. There appears to be some minimum number of participant ratings (5?) before a thought gets on the ranked list.

Given the two groups of participants that we know exist, the only way for a thought to get a high rank is to be anodyne, unobjectionable, to advocate for “motherhood and apple pie.”  That way, no matter who you are and what you think about the 10th site, you can probably give these nearly meaningless, “feel good”, non-actionable statements a 5-star rating!


‘Safe’ and pleasant ‘thoughts’ are highly rated.


Notice that the more highly rated TOP THOUGHTS have very few 1s and are hard to disagree with because they are so “safe,”



We are just skipping ahead now, jumping down to some lower rated thoughts now…for illustration…

By the time we scroll down a few screensful on the “Top Thoughts” report, we see rankings are under 4 stars. Even though some of these thoughts 25 to 28 seem pretty harmless, they have collected enough 1 stars to drag them down.  If more time went by, perhaps more people would come back and login again to continue starring yet their unread thoughts – the new thoughts that have been posted since their last login.


Add to Chaos By Writing Thought(s)

If you even care to bother to take the time for this step on the ThoughtExchange,  consider this.  Write some thoughts that have a pointed strong opinion about the 10th site. [ I assume you have heard from the MV Voice that LASD is now pursuing Kohls along Showers and Calfornia.  It has stopped pursuing Greystar’s Safeway-OldMill land. ] And then write some anodyne thoughts like “We need to be frugal and find a way to help teachers with their housing needs.” And string several loosely related thoughts together in one “thought” to confuse others on the ThoughtExchange.


This is the tab to use if you want to add to the excess number of redundant thoughts. And I recommend it, because everyone else is adding them redundantly. A race to the bottom.




Click on the top left corner of the screen, the icon of horizontal lines



Click on the text that says Logout


The platform was sold as a way for different groups of people to persuade each other to reach some common opinions — to become one group, not 2,3,4 groups.

Over the duration of the Exchange the divergence of opinions about the 10th site between groups is supposed to narrow. That’s a selling point.

Here is how Tech Support Explains it:

“‘Hot topic’- thoughts with mixed ratings -i.e: some participants give the thought 5 stars, others assign 1 or 2 stars.  Usually indicates a divisive issue or issue that is only important to a special interest group. [Lalahpolitico – it is hot in the sense of generating a lot of heat!, not in the sense of new, or breaking news…]

‘Top thought’ – highest rated (In order of closest to 5 stars)” [Lalahpolitico – it is something all can agree is true, good, a goal, etc.  A safe thought with few people objecting.

Perhaps that is why anodyne “thoughts” are being by added now by persons unknown – to create the illusion of convergence of opinion about the 10th site.

We have seen that such thoughts rank high because few give them the lowest rating – 1 star. Yes, of course, we are one group if the “thought” is as simple as “motherhood and apple pie.”


I approached the 700 ThoughtExchange thoughts with the goal of QUICKLY clicking 5 stars for the ideas I agreed with and 1 star for the ideas I think are retrograde, mean, wrong, or simply off-topic regarding the desirability of a 10th site and what kind of school to put there.

For example for me, I wanted to promote these ideas among others

5 – Don’t buy any new land…

5 – A 10th site should be for NEC families, should be a neighborhood school

5 – It will be necessary to redraw attendance areas


For example for me, I wanted to quash these ideas,  among others

1 – …must maintain small schools…follow the LASD small school model, etc.

1 – …must promote student equity…

1  – …teacher pay, teacher training, teacher housing

Let me clarify my 1 ratings.  

Small schools and student equity are good things, but not the only thing. Furthermore, LASD is using the terms for fear-mongering and virtue signaling. They are dog whistle terms.

Of course teacher bennies are a good thing but cannot be paid for with Measure N $150M because those bennies expenses are an operational expense not a capital expenditure. Thus teacher bennies are off-topic. Measure N is for capital investment.

Advice: Don’t waste time over fine-tuning 2,3,4 rating. Give 1s and 5s. 

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.