Charter Schools vs. Status Quo

More and more I believe that public education is in grave peril. My seat on the County Board Of Education gives me a perch to view the educational world like no other. I so badly want to feel hope that we can work together to turn the system around so all students can thrive with the skills and knowledge needed for success in the 21st century. However, I am running out of hope and I am not sure enough leaders are paying attention to the game-changing drama for which we are immersed.

I met with a congressional aide last week and was asked what I think needs to happen to change the status quo of public schools. Of course, there is my long answer and my shorter one. I decided to go with my short answer.  Here is a paraphrase of what I said: there is really no way to change the status quo without bold and courageous leadership at all levels of the school system and government. Elected leaders need to focus on doing what is right and not worry about their reelection. Easy for me to say, but they must be willing to lose support from segments of the educational community to do the right thing on behalf of the children. Our children deserve the voices of strong unwavering and bold leadership on their behalf.

Just look at how the initiative to end the achievement gap in San Jose with Mayor Reed and County Superintendent Weis, called SJ2020, appears to be floundering. Too many superintendents and high-level school leaders are very close to retirement age wishing to go into the next step in life without creating the necessary wave of change needed to upset the status quo.

I get it. Many will receive an excellent pension 60-90% of the current salary (I receive one too) and do not want to go into the next stage of life defeated. The difference today from just 5 years ago is traditional public education is no longer a monopoly. The rules of the educational system we have played by for the last four decades have changed forever. 

Last Wednesday evening Summit Public Schools brought to the County Board of Education an appeal of their petition denial by the East Side Union High School District on Sept. 16. Summit Public School: Tahoma, if approved on appeal by our Board would house 400 high school students mostly from East Side Union. Their small and personalized culture with a longer school day, untracked curriculum, college-going expectations for all is what many parents want to see. Interesting that ESUHSD Board will have an A-G requirement (minimum requirements for acceptance to UC and CSU) for all students on their agenda in a coming meeting. It should be a unanimous vote from my perspective, but that will change the status quo.

I get it.  It is hard to vote for major systemic change with a system that is under-funded and under-resourced. If we approve Summit Public School: Tahoma and 300 students enroll from ESUHSD the district will lose over $2 million in revenue, not a good thing for the students or teachers in ESUHSD. Yet, this is not a criterian that can be used by the County Board to deny authorization. 

Nationally charter schools are increasing student achievement at a similar rate to the traditional public school system yet many school choice advocates see them as a panacea. I do not. 

What is true is many Santa Clara County Charters are celebrating unique successes. The SCCOE Board much maligned in the media for its infighting has been a major leader in authorizing several very successful charters making a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of Latino and low income children, K-12, in Santa Clara County. Some of these charter schools authorized by the SCCOE are ACE, Rocketship, and Downtown College Prep (DCP) to name a few. These Charters are educating the children who need help the most to their collective credit.  They are all exceeding expectations and are ranked highly in state and county testing assessment measures. Are successful charters helping us change the status quo of traditional public schools? I will know so when tenure and seniority laws are rewritten, pay for performance is agreed to at the collective bargaining table, and there is agreement that longer school days and years are essential for all children.

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 and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.

15 Comments

  1. I was greatly disappointed in the ESUSHD board of directors (Patricia Martinez-Roach & Lan Nguyen) who voted against the Tahoma Summit Charter School.  Disappointed, but like you, I get it.  I urge the County Board of Education to pass the charter for Tahoma. 

    You mention that it would result in a loss of nearly $2 million dollars to ESUHSD but that should not be a reason to deny the charter.  I disagree.  Not for the reasoning to approve or deny the charter but that it would cost the ESUHSD $2 million dollars.  The funding schools receive is per pupil for the pupil’s education.  If the 300 students move to a Summit (or any other Charter school) that is money earmarked for their education.  If those students leaving are no longer benefiting from an education that ESUHSD provides then they have lost nothing.  They no longer have to provide the education service for those students.  Please lets not fall into the trap of entitlement that so many public institutions that are funded by taxpayer monies fall in to. 

    As a parent I am paying my fair share of taxes.  I applaud you for being willing to consider education choice as a value for families in Santa Clara County. I will be in the audience on Nov 17 to speak to the Board urging they all approve the Summit Charter.  I have no recourse at this time against Ms Martinez-Roach but I surely did not cast my vote for Trustee Lan Nguyen for re-election to the ESUHSD board.  If he cannot and will not stand with families, parents and students who demand and deserve all the options for success in education then I will not support him representing us on the board.

  2. Your characterization of San Jose 2020 as “floundering” is correct, but blaming that collapse on retiring superintendents is misplaced.

    San Jose 2020 was never a genuine approach to tackling a real set of problems.  It was simply a PR stunt to paper over the existing federally-mandated deadline of 2014 to bring students to grade-level proficiency.  That’s been the goal since 2002.  All San Jose 2020 did was try to kick the goal down the road a few more years and ignore the real goal of 2014.

    As an example, in the Berryessa district, 39% of all students are still performing under grade-level proficiency.  That’s 3,100 students under-performing in just one elementary & middle school district. By the way, the students come from all categories of students. 

    Public schools need to focus right now on 2014 and live up to the goal of grade-level proficiency for students if they are to prove to voters and taxpayers that the institution of public education will survive under siege, as it is, by charter schools, home schools, online schools, church-sponsored schools, and private schools.

    The only way for public schools to survive this crisis is to demonstrate that they have the capacity to enable students to perform at grade-level proficiency.  Papering over problems with PR stunts like San Jose 2020 never solves them.

    • > San Jose 2020 was never a genuine approach to tackling a real set of problems.  It was simply a PR stunt to paper over the existing federally-mandated deadline of 2014 to bring students to grade-level proficiency.  That’s been the goal since 2002.  All San Jose 2020 did was try to kick the goal down the road a few more years and ignore the real goal of 2014.

      All those progressive educators must be getting tired feet by now.

      They have been kicking the can of education failure down the road for a hundred and fifty years.

      Maybe if we gave them more money and more time they’ll finally get it right.

  3. > It is hard to vote for major systemic change with a system that is under-funded and under-resourced. If we approve Summit Public School: Tahoma and 300 students enroll from ESUHSD the district will lose over $2 million in revenue, not a good thing for the students or teachers in ESUHSD.

    In other words, Joseph, the Tahoma charter school is a “revenue hostage” to the public school monopoly.

    Or, to borrow a phrase from our President, the ESUHSD bureacracy has its “foot on the neck” of the Tahoma school.

    > I will know so when tenure and seniority laws are rewritten, pay for performance is agreed to at the collective bargaining table, . . . .

    The will of the people is not a bargaining chip for any negotiation with a closed, exclusive, special interest group.

    The “progessive” model of education is really based on nineteenth century industial theories on how to run factories most effeciently.  “Progessive educators” look at children as “units of production”, schools as “factories”, and are focused on nineteenth century measures of success: economies of scale, high volume, low cost per unit, production of uniform, consistent, and interchangeable parts.

    Any SERIOUS reform of education CANNOT HAPPEN without smashing the nineteenth century, centralized, hierarchical, bureacractic, technocratic, “progressive” model of education.

    Any “reform effort” short of this is merely rearranging deck chairs.

    If you REALLY, REALLY wanted to be a part of meaningful change to our current education mess, you would throw down your progressive educator gun, take off your progressive educator uniform, escape to the hills and join up with the education revolutionaries.

  4. > Elected leaders need to focus on doing what is right and not worry about their reelection. Easy for me to say, but they must be willing to lose support from segments of the educational community to do the right thing on behalf of the children. Our children deserve the voices of strong unwavering and bold leadership on their behalf.

    Uh oh!  What’s this?

    Is Joe DiSalvo showing signs of disillusionment with “segments of the educational community” and threatening to actually “do the right thing on behalf of the children”?

    Has he “defected in place”?

    Has he been in contact with the education resistence, talking to them with his 007 shoe phone or leaving code messages in chewing gum stuck to the bottom of park benches?

    Is his life in danger?  Do we need to send in the Navy SEALS and smuggle him out to the rescue submarine off the coast?

  5. If achievment rates are similar is that taking into account that the size of the student body relative the schools being compared? If so then there really is no difference in the two systems besides class sizes.  I see why you don’t think they are a “panacea” (I had to look that one up.)

    I’ve read a lot of your postings Joseph and have become very interested in education as a young father and new teacher in Thailand.  The culture around education here is far different then in the states, and I think if you want to achieve systemic changes that will have a far reaching positive consequences the plan that is put into place needs to be a 25-30 year plan that includes an attitude adjustment and cultural shift towards students and parents attitudes towards teachers and their education. 

    The system here is far from perfect but I am amazed every day at the abilities of the teachers and the students in this country, and when I see how much resources U.S. teachers have by comparison I am baffled as to how we are so far behind in our scores. And quite frankly ashamed of some of the behavior and attitudes of the teachers in the current status quo. 

    It is easy to blame teachers and school boards for all our failings in the education system, but culturally parents and students need to be held accountable as well.  Here the students are expected to stand up when the teacher enters the classroom and greet them,  students are expected to move out of the teachers way when they are walking through the corridors, not out of superiority, out of respect for the person who is enabling them to have a better future.  It’s not without failsafes either.  Students complain when teachers are not teaching, parents call the school, administrators take action, and changes are made.  Thailand is behind in education and I won’t get into the political reasons here but culturally this is a common theme throughout Asia. 

    If their is no real difference between the charter school and public schools achievement then the real question is how to raise the bar for the status quo.

    • > If their is no real difference between the charter school and public schools achievement then the real question is how to raise the bar for the status quo.

      Very interesting.

      The public educrat class has always explained away the superior performance of private schools as a consequence of “cream skimming”.

      If there is no real difference in the performance of charter schools and public schools, then either:

      A. Charter schools are NOT “cream skimming” from the public schools, or

      B. If they are “cream skimming”, then “cream skimming” is NOT an explanation for the superior performance of private schools.

      So, if charter schools are not “cream skimming”, and there is no difference in the performance between charter schools and public schools, what’s the point of public schools?  Why not put all public resources into charter schools?

      • Bullseye.  Why not?  That question is wide open for impolite conversation.  But I digress. I have lesson plans to create at this hour but I’ll be back.

        • Why public schools???

          As long as I can remember, the public educrat class has always ducked the question of why the government needs to operate schools and why the public school system has to be a monopoly.

          “Public education” was sold on the theory of “universal education”; that is, a universally high level of education was essential for an informed, self-governing society.

          But “universal education” can be achieved WITHOUT the government’s needing to operate schools, not to mention a government monopoly on schools.  In fact, the whole idea of a government monopoly on education is anathema to the idea of a free society, just as a government monopoly of the press would be.

          Education is nothing more than “news” heard for the first time.

          For those who have some grasp of history, the need for a government monopoly of government operated schools was justified as much as anything by anti-Catholic bigotry.

          “Free public eduction” was a way to “undersell” the education provided by Catholic parochial schools, and the inexorable laws of the market made it impossible for Catholics to offer low cost education that would compete with “free” and lavishly funded education offered by the government.

          So, the fact of the matter is, that public schools are the surviving legacy of an ugly era of anti-Catholic bigoty.

        • After some thought I decided that maybe it was slightly left of a bullseye.  Eventually you have to take a position though and risk being impolite.  Charter schools recieve public funding but are not subjected to the same rules.  If the achievement rates are similar then they are not exceptional, they simply provide an environment where perhaps a more needy student would recieve the attention they otherwise would not get and slip through the cracks. Reducing classroom sizes would be of a huge benefit to any teacher.  However Charter schools have not proven to be exceptional, they have proven to only be able to keep our statistical records of achievement from dropping lower.  I don’t believe the answer is throwing more money at them.

              There has to be accountability, and standards.  Excellence has to be the order of the day, not simply passing grades, or keeping pace with achievement levels of larger institutions.  In fact upon closer examination, I’m disenchanted with the idea of Charter schools.  Your money your public funds are being used for… Average performance.
             
              What would be really interesting would be to see some detailed data showing the decline of achievement levels in public school students over the 20 year period Charter schools have been in California when they have been introduced into a school districts.

              If the Student Body is 3000 students and funds are being redirected to a charter school that serves a student body approximately 300 what is the collateral damage to that larger population of students that are attending traditional public schools?  How many are not achieving better then average because of a lack of funding?  How many more are not reaching the “average” status quo?  I’m not asking in rhetoric, I really want to know. 
          I’d reckon just on my laymans perceptions that charter schools are actually causing more harm then benefit to the population at large.

              The charter schools seem just as broken as the public schools.  They should be doing more, they have the resources and they don’t have such a large student body.  They are just another part of the status quo.

              The question still remains, how do you raise the status quo?  I like the idea of charter schools and they probably have there place with respect to reducing classroom size and specialization.  I say allow for tuition at public schools.  Allow schools to set their own tuition rates and have the records public.  State funding would remain the same, unions would remain viable for negotiating base pay rates salary increases and benefits.  Teachers and administrators would be able to negotiate higher salaries beyond their union contracted amounts.

            State standardized testing as a system to audit so called top performing schools. Is a tool that could be used to combat corruption inside the system e.g. false or padded grades, passing a failing student etc. 
              Do away with residential restrictions for students.  If a top performing school can attract a student from another district, county, even state and the parents are willing to shoulder the cost, that is their decision.  The government should not tell the people where they can and cannot send their children for education and needs to remain competitive with the private sector education.

          However in the interest of checks and balances a k-12 system without tuition would still need to remain in place.  These could effectively be the proving grounds for more adept teachers to move on to higher performing schools.  A stepping stone if you will.

  6. Joseph,
    I was just told that School Board Members get benefits. Is that true? What kind of pay/benefits do they receive and WHY? Who funds this?

    • Christian,

      The SCCOE Board receives medical, dental and vision for member only. If a member wishes to take them there is an out of pocket expense. This amount of out of pocket expense is predicated on whether a member elects to enroll in an HMO or PPO. I have elected not to take medical coverage.

      The funds to pay for these are budgeted out of the SCCOE annual budget. Each Board member receives a monthly stipend of approximately $590.

      • Thanks for the info Joseph. I serve on a Board that requires a ton of time and I do it as a volunteer. The School Board seems to have become a political stepping-stone to government office and has lost the mission/purpose of helping children and improving the educational system.

        I think this should be a volunteer not paid or benefited position. It is a part time job for God’s sake! If you take these stipends and benefits a way, then may be you could hire a teacher, or keep a vital program that is being shelved. WOW! No wonder our schools are in deep doo doo…

  7. I have a friend who is an assistant principal at a middle school in ESJ, and an aquaintance who works with underperforming schools in Colorado. I asked them what their ideas are for improving the performance of education systems: some of the ideas are as follows:

    1. Streamline the system by eliminating middle managment and freeing up money to go directly to schools. It has been suggested that it is superfluous to have superintendents for school districts when money could be transferred directly from the state to individual schools on the basis of attendance.
    2. Identify underperforming schools and identify a bonus structure for teachers at schools who elevate class performance and bonuses if they maintain that level of performance.
    3. Eliminate tenure. This would make it easier to remove/discipline teachers who are underperfoming and create more incentive for teachers to give their best to their students.

    They have many other great ideas, but really, the bottom line is that the public education system needs to experience a sea change in order to better educate students and keep the nation’s education system competitive with those of other develeoped nations.

    • > They have many other great ideas, but really, the bottom line is that the public education system needs to experience a sea change in order to better educate students and keep the nation’s education system competitive with those of other develeoped nations.

      We’ve heard as much from Joe DiSalvo.

      He’s all for change.  Just don’t move HIS deck chair, eliminate HIS SCCOE job, or monkey with HIS pension.