For the number one civil rights issue of our time, there was a distinct lack of passion at the rollout of SJ2020 last Thursday at City Hall. However, the singular goal of the initiative is very bold. Just the fact the event was held at the Council Chambers in the 10th largest city in the United States was significant.
Congratulations to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Superintendent Chuck Weis for pulling together the community to embrace the mission of becoming the first large urban region in the United States to eliminate the achievement gap in 10 years.
I invited my 35 SJSU graduate students to attend the invitation-only event, all of whom are becoming K-8 teachers. These wise adults in my Educational Psychology class have been thoughtfully and articulately blogging on my written rants here each week since the fall semester began. When we as a class debriefed the launch of SJ2020, it was clear some of us felt that there were not enough voices from the Latino or African-American community at the podium for the launch. Some students felt the messaging was not as much about the moral and ethical issues involved in the achievement gap, but rather the message was about the economic issues for Silicon Valley brought about by the academic gap.
According to the SJ2020 timeline, many groups of stakeholders will be meeting during the next eight months to chart an action plan for San Jose to eliminate the achievement gap by 2020. To accomplish the goal there must be consistent bold and courageous leadership to sustain the mission. The initiatives must be audacious and as John Porter, Superintendent of Franklin-McKinley, said, we must place children first, as though they are national treasures—or in this case City of San Jose treasures. Porter implied that those countries that have improved their educational system in the last few decades did so only when the lens through which children were viewed changed.
One of my students wrote to me after the debrief session and said, “I think the biggest part of the problem is that we’ve become so used to white culture/values dominating so many arenas that we fail to see how prevalent it is and how much it clashes with other cultures. We see our schools as presenting curriculum that is objective and free of any cultural perspective but it’s not.” Another student wrote, “Why not offer an incentive to talented, experienced teachers to take positions in our most struggling schools and classes. Pay them for their expertise.”
In our class discussion we listed additional ways to accomplish this valiant goal: quality dual immersion classes in all schools for Spanish; performance-pay for the best teachers; ending tenure; attracting and retaining the best teachers for San Jose by offering affordable housing; growing our own teachers from our local high schools and offering them scholarships at the local universities; developing teachers by having them intern with pay for one year with the best teachers in the district; and making certain school leaders are able to lead, inspire, govern and build parent, community, and staff support.
In addition, we must provide all students who are struggling academically and socially with community mentors. Building academic language skills and reading skills to grade level is imperative. We must implement an all-court press to make certain that by 3rd grade all children read on grade level, even if it takes an extended day and year.
What ideas do you have to support this goal of SJ2020? It will take our entire village working tirelessly for 10 years to eliminate the achievement gap. It is a moral imperative. I am very honored to live in a city that is charting a new course. To get there we must turn up the passion. Remember the garbage strikes in Birmingham and the grape boycotts in Salinas? Are you fired up and ready to go?