“It’s hard to improve public education—that’s clear,” Warren Buffet says. “If you’re picking stocks, you wouldn’t pick this one.” Even Bill and Melinda Gates must question whether their $5 billion multi-year investment in public school reform has been worth it.
Yet, I am convinced that Santa Clara County public schools can become the steadily rising “blue chip” that raises the academic success for each child while closing the troubling racial achievement gap. Many points of light are converging to brighten the educational landscape in the county, even in the midst of California’s perilous disinvestment in public education.
The Gates Collaborative Compacts between districts and charter school operators that were at the center of good work being done at the Santa Clara County Office of Education has been at a standstill due to summer schedules. With the school year beginning and all hands on deck we are once again at the starting blocks to resume this critical work.
Out of the five districts and charters that began the work in the spring with PACT parents and Executive Director, Matt Hammer as witnesses, today it is uncertain how many are still committed to the goal with Board, Superintendent and teacher union support. Only two districts went to Dallas on the Gates Foundation money in June.
Even though invited by the Gates Foundation the San Jose Unified, Franklin-McKinley, and Alum Rock school districts did not send representatives to the convocation in Texas. Over 80,000 students are enrolled in the charters and five districts that are representing this groundbreaking collaborative work; hopefully all five will have their chips on the table at the next meeting TBD. The Gates deadline has been extended from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1.
East Side Union and the SCCOE had representatives in Dallas to listen to the encouraging results by the nine U.S. cities previously funded by Gates. The charter school community was represented in Texas by the San Jose Charter School Consortium. This Gates initiative is designed to enhance the work on behalf of students and teachers in both the traditional public school and charter school sectors. Our region will be very fortunate to be in the second round of Gates funding, if effective compacts are submitted and signed…a major point of light.
The most successful companies on the planet (Apple, FaceBook, Netflix, Adobe, EBay, and Google) have their headquarters in Santa Clara County, and this array of corporate giants is one more source of potential illumination. It seems logical to conclude that the area’s public schools mirror their successes. After all it is our public schools that should supply the talented workforce these companies need to sustain their growth and leadership for years to come.
Silicon Valley public education has entered one of the most critical periods for which to lay a foundation for future results for many years to come. In a new book soon to be released, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, Steven Brill has a featured essay in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. In the article Brill concludes that it will take the infrastructure of the entire public school system and its charters to “fix” our schools. And the teacher unions must play an essential and vital role. In fact, Brill suggests Mayor Bloomberg should appoint Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as New York’s schools chancellor.
“She knows exactly where and how to fix the union contract so it rewards performance and enhances professionalism,” Brill writes. “She knows her shelf life is rapidly expiring on her standard rope-a-dope dodge…to change lockstep teacher compensation and overprotective tenure rules…”
This brings me to Stephen McMahon, President of the San Jose Teachers Association, representing over 1,700 teachers in San Jose Unified, the county’s largest public school district. Mr. McMahon is a game-changer for this county and we are very fortunate to have his courage and thinking in our midst.
Mr. McMahon was at the table with Superintendent Mathews (SJUSD) at a meeting I facilitated on the Gates Collaborative Compacts in May He recently asked to meet with me again to discuss Rocketship Education and their charters. He has come to the last two SCCOE Board meetings to address the Board about some of his views.
Here is what President McMahon said in a statement to the SCCOE Board, “I have deep rooted values and beliefs that led me to become a professional educator…I have been energized by what I have learned and the conversations I have had about Rocketship. There is no disputing that Rocketship is getting it done. The work done with students, the commitment of teachers and staff, the development of leaders, so much of what Rocketship is doing resonates with why I am in public education in the first place. I am working diligently as a leader with my members and with my district on the same track—trying to change public education for the better. It is sound, valuable, and necessary work.” Stephen McMahon is a beacon of light.
At last week’s meeting Stephen exhorted the SCCOE Board to lead the way in instilling a like spirit of partnership countywide. He said, “Be bold. Set the right course.” Perhaps we should consider appointing the SJTA President as our next superintendent if we are to be courageous about what is really needed to fix our schools.
Needless to say I am becoming more encouraged by the potential future we have the ability to create. The SCC traditional public and charter school sectors could be the next good personal investment. There is nothing more important than the education of each and every child living in the Valley of Hearts Delight.