Danger and Opportunity

California public education is in deep crisis, but more to the point, a huge fiscal crisis. The depth of the lack of funding and its instability due to the economic downturn is unparalleled in my career. There is folk etymology that was popularized by John F. Kennedy that indicated when the word “crisis” is written in Chinese, one character means “danger” and the other means “opportunity.” For the sake of argument let’s say the etymology is true.

I think there is real danger by lowering the number of days students are in school by up to five days through the use of furloughs. Yet, I applaud the school districts that have worked together with union and management to gain this concession. However, reducing the number of days below most other first world countries, is dead wrong. An opportunity exists for California to discuss, with the upcoming gubernatorial elections, the length of an appropriate school year for developing 21st skills, including all students being required to learn a second or third language.  We have yet to have a serious discussion about extending the school year in this state.

There is significant danger by eliminating summer school in 2010 for almost all districts and students, with few exceptions. This summer will be a long and hot one for too many children without access to free and appropriate summer school. In fact, the school lunch is sometimes the only full meal a child eats. This is an opportunity for CA to discuss folding summer school into a school year where all teachers work a full year teaching students. The opportunity to work a full year, let’s say 220 days, will increase teacher salaries by close to 20%. This increased salary would increase the pool of young college graduates who will go into teaching.

There is increased peril in the system by not giving teachers enough time for professional research and development.  Districts could take up to 8 days for providing, hopefully, very high quality professional development about 8 years ago. The state has reduced the funding source so districts now only take 1-3 days and this figure is declining with the budget crunch. The opportunity here is to give teachers with a full year of work (220 days) at least 10 days to become involved in high quality R & D. These 10 days of R & D can work to increase student achievement results for all. It is always about the quality of instruction, not only the time in school that counts the most.

There is risk in the fact that with district’s deficits hitting record figures the number of layoffs of classroom teachers will be the highest in a generation. Based on the education code and teacher contracts the most senior and veteran teachers “bump” the newly hired teachers out of a job. A system of seniority makes some sense in some respects, however this is an opportunity to reevaluate the use of seniority and its effect on student achievement results. The issue for me is that we need to keep the very best teachers during down economic times or develop a stable funding model for schools. I am not convinced that a model of keeping teachers based on seniority is the best for children.

Proposition 13 reduced the local funding control of schools and switched most of the funding burden to Sacramento. Proposition 13 was laden with danger for centralizing the funding that was never meant to be this unstable. Schools to be world class MUST have a stable funding source from year to year. Since Proposition 13 was passed it has taken a “supermajority” of 2/3 vote to pass local parcel tax measures to increase local school funding. The opportunity here is to increase local funding for schools. Currently, signatures are being sought to qualify a statewide ballot initiative, the Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act, for the November election. I hate signing petitions for ballot referendums, but this one I will sign.

This crisis in public education begs for us to use it as an opportunity for all our children. Our elected leaders must be bold and courageous in order to show us the way out of the ditch we have dug.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

28 Comments

  1. It is a travesty what is happening in our schools.  School districts have no choice but to make the cuts you are listing, and the end result will be a less-prepared workforce and a lost generation.

  2. > California public education is in deep crisis, but more to the point, a huge fiscal crisis.

    How can this be?!

    We are in the third century of “progressive” public education.

    The biggest slice of the state budget goes to public education.

    We have a federal Department Education to offer even more expert expertise to inform our already expert state education administrators.

    We have more Doctors of Education on the public payroll in California than most countries in the world have public employees.

    The competency of every teacher teaching in the public schools in the state is certified by the government through the award of teaching “credentials”.

    The working conditions, pay, benefits, and dignity of every teacher are monitored and safeguarded by ever watchful unions and a solicitous and accommodating legislature.

    The students in the schools are provided with free books, free transportation, free lunches, free diversity, free condoms, free and discreet abortions, and free global warming awareness.

    It sounds to me like the ideal circumstance for education super-achievement.

    So where’s the problem?

    • If we cut out the free condoms, would the public education crisis get any worse?

      On the other hand, if the free condoms improve public education, wouldn’t it help matters if we also gave free condoms to the teachers, administrators, and legislators?

  3. “Based on the education code and teacher contracts the most senior and veteran teachers “bump” the newly hired teachers out of a job.”

    Any discussion about the problems with education in this country comes back to the same point: the teachers union has created a system where there’s zero accountability for teacher performance and seniority trumps all. This creates an environment where incompetence is rewarded the same as proficiency, and undermines any attempt to attract and retain quality teachers.

    Here’s my favorite article that I’ll keep posting every time this topic comes up:
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/234590

  4. Joseph states “Our elected leaders must be bold and courageous in order to show us the way out of the ditch we have dug.”

    I don’t think there is a way out, and that is not just in regards to schools.

    Our nation is trillions of dollars in debt and we have shipped our best jobs to other countries. We have turned ourselves into a 3rd world country by doing so. The majority of jobs that are left in our country are dead end, low paying jobs. As a society we resent those that still have decent jobs with decent benefits and we are like crabs in a barrel, trying to pull them down with the rest of us.

    Our politicians now want to raise taxes on us at a time when we can least afford it, to pay off the money spent on years of social projects. Our business leaders send our jobs to other countries whenever possible so they can pay as little as possible for labor. Our parents expect our school system to raise their children. Small mom and pop business, the backbone of our way of life, has been swallowed up by the Walmart’s.

    I really don’t know if this is something we can come back from.

  5. Joe says, “This summer will be a long and hot one for too many children without access to free and appropriate summer school. In fact, the school lunch is sometimes the only full meal a child eats.”

    This is a shocking assertion and requires some evidence.  Not feeding your own children anything at all at home is definitely child abuse, and would be a serious legal, and appropriate, ground for removing a child from a home.

    What evidence does Joe have for this claim?  I doubt he has any supporting evidence whatsoever.

    • > Not feeding your own children anything at all at home is definitely child abuse, and would be a serious legal, and appropriate, ground for removing a child from a home.

      > What evidence does Joe have for this claim?

      If Joe has evidence of specific instances where this is occurring and is NOT reporting this to the authorities, he is complicit.

      Clamp him in irons!

      (I would hope that the law enforcers would send out a press release in advance of the arrest so that we can have reporters on scene to get videos of Joe’s perp walk.)

    • No Child Unfed,

      Here is what I know factually:

      There are over 2500 infants and toddlers served by Head Start in Santa Clara and San Benito Counties. The federal qualifying annual income is $22,050 for a family of 4. After rent, utilities, transportation and clothing costs etc. the food budget is miniscule. In my post I was talking about a whole meal.

      Anecdotally, it is understood by most school administrators and teachers that 35% or more students come to school without breakfast, so their lunch is their first meal and often times their only FULL meal of the day.  Many children go home and eat a snack after school and their parent (s) is working two jobs to pay the bills and won’t come home until 8 or 9, so dinner is never served. Too often a bag of chips or cookies become the dinner meal. No child abuse to report, just too many families working very hard to make ends meet.

      NCU (I wish I knew your real name as you do mine), instead of throwing out insults to me why don’t you learn first hand by volunteering in one of our low SES schools in the richest region in the country. I think you would be surprised by the reality and facts on the ground. Our children deserve a longer school year and day with nutritious meals provided by the public school.

      Joseph Di Salvo

      • Joseph,
        I agree with you 100%. I know first hand that school lunches ARE many times the only meal a child gets. The ignorance you are seeing in these posts doesn’t surprise me at all. Remember the old saying about “Don’t shoot the messenger?” Well they’re shooting at you Joseph!
        If you have never been poor, which obviously these two haven’t/aren’t, how can you expect them to understand the truth? On one hand they are 100% correct. A child should NEVER go without food or necessities. Yes, if a child is being neglected or going hungry the parent needs to be reported so Social Services can help them out.
        On the other hand, I know first hand that our government makes it very difficult for low income working folks to get help with things like food stamps, health care ect. I know a dozen parents who work two and three jobs to pay JUST THE RENT! Food is a luxury to them, hence the need to buy fast food from the $1.00 menu. (A small but vital fact I fear escaped our know it all County Board of Supervisors! That small toy may be the only toy that child gets! But I digress.)
        When they’ve gone and applied for Aid, they are turned down because they earn too much! Can you believe that? It is a never-ending circle of frustration for people. I just don’t get it and never will.

        So try to see this for what it really is rather than feeling personally attacked. It is people being horrified at the abuse of children needing someone in authority like you to take it out on. Funny thing is, all of you are on the same side you just don’t know it…;-) Thank you all for caring about the well being of our children.

      • > Our children deserve a longer school year and day with nutritious meals provided by the public school.

        First of all, they are NOT your children.  They have parents.

        Parents are responsible for providing for their children: food, shelter, clothing, culture, values.

        The children of San Jose’s families deserve far better than unappetizing, fattening, carb-laden-foods and a longer school year in an education system that YOU have already described as being in crisis, and as being not one bit improved from that described in the damning “A Nation at Risk” report of three decades ago.

        People who cannot competently run an effective educational system should NOT be given responibility for running a government feed-lot for children, or for delivering back-door social welfare services.

        The success of a “social safety net” is measured by how few people need it.  The “public school” system should be figuring out how to do less and making people more independent, not making them more dependent.

        The public school as one-stop-social-services-dispenser is an absolutely uneconomic, unsustainable social institution.  It is a trap and a prison for it’s “clients”.

        • Progressive Pantload,
          In some respects you are right. People shouldn’t be procreating if they can’t afford to feed, house, and clothe their children. You are also correct that it is the responsibility of parents to teach, guide, and prepare their children for the realities, and responsibilities they will face in the real world. I agree too that our educational system needs to be re-vamped and things need to change.

          Having said that, I strongly disagree when you say, “First of all, they are NOT your children.” It takes a village to raise a child. These youths are our tomorrows and their success in the world and their physical well being is a responsibility that falls on all of us. If we fail in that regard, we will ultimately pay the price with jobless adults who turn to drugs, alcohol, crime, and homelessness to survive.  That is not something I want to see in my lifetime. Do you?

        • > “It takes a village to raise a child.”

          I’m sorry.  This is incorrect.

          It takes PARENTS to raise a child.

          The “takes a village” claptrap is just something that some ignorant collectivist aborigines in Africa believed, and socialists around the world glommed on to it because it was obscure, novel, and could be interpreted as rationalizing their beliefs.

          We here in the civilized world have long ago decided not to base our society on primitive aborigineal tribalism.

          I’m sorry.  I don’t style my hair with cow dung.  I don’t drink blood out of living livestock.  I don’t think tsetse flies are a reasonable substitute for bling.  And I’m not going to delegate the raising of my children to the village witch doctor.

        • Progressive Pantload,

          Please define “civilized” for me because your comment is far from being “civilized.” My hope for you is that if your child is ever in trouble and needs assistance and you aren’t around, that he or she doesn’t reach out to someone like you in his or her time of need.

        • > Please define “civilized” for me because your comment is far from being “civilized.”

          OK.

          “civilized”:  taking responsibility for raising your own children, housing them, feeding them, clothing them, educating them, and teaching them values founded on the Golden Rule.

          “uncivilized”: turning your children over to a cow-dung smeared village witch doctor and telling him its his job to raise your kids.

          I’m worried about your kids.  Do I need to turn you in to Child Protective Services?

        • > So when parents fail, we just abandon the children to the trash bin.  Nice and civilized.

          So, when the state fails, we take the children away from the clutches of the state and turn them over to their parents.  And then we abandon the government’s schools to the trash bin.

          If you think that parents are the social equivalent of “trash bins”, I would encourage you to get the Democrat Party and their candidates to incorporate that proposition into their party platform and campaign rhetoric. 

          I predict that that will make you happy and self-validated, and the Democrats lose elections.

        • In the interest of civility and enlightenment, you might want to educate yourself a bit because your information on the old saying is not quite accurate:

          http://www.thefreedictionary.com/civilization

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Takes_a_Village

          “I’m worried about your kids.  Do I need to turn you in to Child Protective Services?”

          I’m sad to say that I wasn’t blessed with children. You are lucky you were. Now do them a favor and find the importance of humanity and spirituality so they’d don’t grow up with your beliefs.

        • Nasty said, “So when parents fail, we just abandon the children to the trash bin.” Believe it or not that is probably exactly what this poster means. As long it doesn’t affect this person personally, they could care less. Sadly, there are more uncaring, cold hearted people in the world like this than I care to think of~

          Thank you for being civilized and humane!

        • DON’T YOU STUPID ICE PEOPLE KNOW ANYTHING?!

          We don’t smear outselves with cow dung.  That would be ridiculous and unsanitary.  We use it only as hair dressing.

          For criminy sakes!  Watch PBS or look at the fricken color glossy pictures in National Geographic.

          And for the record, our wonderful African villages raise wonderful children who grow up to be wonderful statesmen and scholars:  Patrice Lumumba, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Winnie Mandela, Barack Obama (Senior, not Junior.  Everybody knows that Junior was found under a cabbage leaf in Hawaii.  BWAHAAHAAHAA!)

          We’re getting tired of your uppity, condescending attitude towards Africa.  Why don’t you just keep your stupid foreign aid and your stupid AIDS programs.  Africa has a wonderful economy.  We have plenty or elephant ivory, and plenty of rhinocerous horns to sell to China, and they have LOTS of American dollars to pay us.

  6. “The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

    U.S. Supreme Court
    Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)

    “[T]he custody, care and nurture of the child [should] reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.”

    U.S. Supreme Court
    Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944).

      • Just Sayin,

        “No one is arguing that parents should not take care of their children. But, what happens when they don’t?”

        Very true. What happens is they end up in government programs like foster care. Many of them end up abused or getting into drugs, gangs, ECT. SOME of them luck out and get the nurturing and care they need. Either way it is a no win all the way around.

        I think people should have to get training and take classes before they can procreate. Like credit card issuers they should be required to show proof they can foot the bill for the children they bring into the world. Too many young girls are having children when they are just kids themselves. And too many young boys and men are walking around un-neutered and taking ZERO responsibility for the multiple children they’re bringing into the world.

        Unlike in my day, before dinosaurs, the media pushes sex on young kids and these youth don’t understand the full consequences of unprotected sex. They get pregnant and fall back on the never-ending road of Welfare. It really angers and sickens me how many children suffer because people just don’t use their heads for anything other then a hat rack. Everyone is in the moment, and it’s all about me, until reality bites him or her in the rear. Unfortunately it is the children that suffer not them.

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