‘Surge of Charter Schools Coming to Silicon Valley, whether districts like it or not,’ was the title of the April 8, 2009 editorial in the San Jose Mercury News. Are we preparing ourselves for the aftermath of the destruction the surge wave can cause our public school system?
Last month the Santa Clara County Board of Education on a 5-2 vote (Di Salvo and Song dissented) approved three Magnolia Charter Schools, emphasizing math, science, and technology, that will take up to 1,800 students away from their sister public schools in the next 2-3 years. Good chance that the students who will enroll for a lottery pick for Magnolia will be some of the best and brightest.
A brain drain from public schools is not a good thing for our democracy, nor was it the intent of the original charter school legislation. This brain drain is analogous to a crack in the dike wall during a tsunami surge.
Using a per-student allocation of $7,500 for Magnolia, the total amount of public dollars taken from their sister public school districts, when all three Magnolia Charters are opened, equates to $13.5 million. In addition, these schools will be competing with the public middle and high schools for math and science teachers that are already in short supply in Silicon Valley.
Yet, the dollar and brain drain is perilous for those students who remain in the non-charter public schools. Another crack in the wall…
Reed Hastings (NetFlix CEO), speaking at a Rotary luncheon on April 15, told Rotarians that the typical private school’s tuition in our valley is near $15,000, which should give members of the audience, he said, an idea on how much it really costs to educate, with quality, one child in Silicon Valley. No, I am not asking for more money, rather I am asking for a critical conversation with key government and education leaders on how we can be serious and strategic about eliminating the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates, moving 95 percent of all students to grade level or above grade level performance when we are creating before our very eyes a two-tiered system of publicly funded education.
I must admit I am chagrined at the districts that do not come to our County Board meeting to tell us why they are not authorizing the charters themselves. Although in the case of Magnolia they came directly to the County first, yet hearing from the districts would have been helpful in our deliberative process. Actually, East Side High School District had a few high level representatives in attendance.
Perhaps issues we need to put on the table for discussion include tenure laws, pay for performance options in the public school sector, longer school days and year, just to name a few. Actually Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Charter in San Jose Unified offers significant performance pay incentives and a 10 hour instructional day for their students.
Public schools must learn from successful charters like Rocketship, yet there is no mechanism yet for sharing the success stories. Why, I ask?
Does anyone out there want to join this essential conversation? The surge wave is a few hundred miles away from our shore, but its approaching with catastrophic potential and there is nothing that can get in its way to to slow it down.