There are several critical “gaps” in the education of our children. One is the gap of how our high school students compare to high school students in cities like Helsinki and Shanghai on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Let’s call this gap the “Global Achievement Gap.” It is related to how students perform on comparable international assessments to real world problems in reading, math and science.
Another gap is referred to as the “Childhood Opportunity Gap,” which is defined as the difference between life chances afforded to children from high poverty neighborhoods and schools compared to the life chances afforded to children in wealthier neighborhoods and schools. Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula for schools is intended to partially address the opportunity gaps, the way I see it. At least it is an appropriate beginning.
The gap that the county Office of Education has emphasized the last four years has been the “Racial Achievement Gap.” A regional initiative titled SJ2020 was launched in 2009 to eliminate of the educational achievement gap between different races in by the year 2020 in San Jose. A year later the initiative was renamed SJSV2020 in order to include all of Santa Clara County.
Immediately after its kickoff, I wrote here, “It will take our entire village working tirelessly for 10 years to eliminate the achievement gap. It is a moral imperative.” I received more than 142 comments for that column, many hostile about bringing race into the equation.
The county superintendent at the time, Dr. Charles Weis, said the racial achievement gap is the number one civil rights issue of our time. I hope we are closer to our goal, but How can we tell? Without the use of annual data by district, city and county—disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender—it is difficult to assess how we have done as a region to further the initiative’s goal. And who has done the most and why?
In fact, some districts have not signed on to the pact. Sometimes I wonder whether there is intentional obfuscation of the data to downplay the severity of the problem by school and district. The racial achievement gap is related to the social, economic and emotional health of our city and region. This gap must be erased for our region to prosper.
County Board of Education President Grace Mah, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, Director of Special Projects Don Bolce and I will be presenting a workshop Saturday at the National School Board’s Conference in San Diego, along with CEO/President of Rocketship Education Preston Smith. The title of the workshop: A Regional Initiative to Eliminate the Achievement Gap by 2020.
After a brief PowerPoint presentation to set the foundation for the initiative, the panel will attempt to answer four questions for the audience. Each panelist will offer candid insight on why the needle has not moved significantly in the 3.5 years, or the last 40 years for that matter. With the demographics of our region changing, we cannot wait any longer to move the needle forward. It is my hope that this workshop will advance the cause.
Two questions that will be posed to us:
• What have been the biggest obstacles to overcome?
• What are the two most essential steps to take in 2013-14 to move toward the realization of our goal?
The Board of Education has approved 16 charter schools, and 19 more Rocketship Charters will begin instruction in the next 5-7 years. The goal of some members of the Board was to approve Rocketship Schools with the intent of moving the needle on eliminating the racial achievement gap goal. The preliminary findings and data from Rocketship Schools have been positive.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.