Education Should be Top Priority in National, Local Government

At a "Ready For Hillary" event earlier this month, I suggested to Craig Smith, head of the Ready for Hillary super PAC, that former Secretary Clinton's campaign war room should be festooned with huge signs that read, '"It's the children, stupid."

Children who are effectively nourished nutritionally, educationally, socially, and emotionally from the embryonic stage to the third grade will excel in college, career and life. As a nation if we place the necessary resources in the right places for all America's children we can end poverty, mass incarceration, and grow the economy/income for all strata. That said, children are not placed at the highest level of the government pyramid. The results of that mis-prioritization are nothing short of tragic.

I just returned from the National School Boards Conference, where several thousand delegates, through enormous sway over public spending and public policy, control the fate of our nation's children.

School boards, as one workshop presenter reminded us, are the bedrock of American democracy. Too many of our educational and elected leaders are not paying attention or have ventured too far into the weeds on some issues (bus schedules, for example). It is essential for our collective future they we stop arguing over minutia and elevate the health and educational welfare of our children, from birth to career, to our highest priority for the rest of the 21st century.

Information I gleaned from my two days at the conference validate my conviction that America's children are not well and that we are all to blame.

For one thing, 70 percent of 18-year-olds today fail to qualify for the military, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. To pass the military's assessment tests, a candidate must have graduated high school. No longer is the GED an acceptable substitute. Thirty percent of 18-year-olds do not graduate high school. Twenty-eight percent of high school grads fail the military assessment test. The other 12 percent are too obese, have been incarcerated or have a history of drug use, all of which disqualify them from military service.

According to Willard Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, more than half of high school grads entering a community college and about one-fifth entering a four-year college need remedial classes to get up to speed. Daggett urged the school board members to do their own research to see for themselves. I obliged, and found out from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA that, as of 2009, less than a third of US adults in their late-twenties have a college degree—only 19 percent of African Americans, 12 percent of Hispanics (of any race) and 37 percent of whites.

Internationally, the United States rank 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures comparative scores in core subjects for 15-year-olds from 65 countries. This year, PISA will include tests in collaborative problem-solving and financial literacy.

Hopefully, once the painful transition is behind us, the new Common Core standards will bring our scores closer to the top of these international assessments.

But some complications stand in our way. The percentage of children living in poverty today is on the rise as the disparity between rich and poor continues to grow.

There also continues to be an unhealthy tension between publicly funded charter schools and the traditional public schools. But I am beginning to see a thaw at the national level. In one workshop I attended, the leaders from their respective state organizations were encouraging the 150-plus delegates in attendance to consider that now might be the time to begin to look at changing the dialogue at the dais. In other words, let's objectively discuss authorizing quality charters to become part of the district portfolio of schools to increase choices for students and parents.

"We could find a way to model a more civil discourse for the young and take some of the anger out of the fight," author and CBS news anchor Jane Pauley said in her keynote address.

That is what I hope we can do on the Santa Clara County Board of Trustees and with our 31 school districts.

My personal refrain will be, "It's the children, stupid".

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.

4 Comments

  1. “Children who are effectively nourished nutritionally, educationally, socially, and emotionally from the embryonic stage to the third grade will excel in college, career and life.” Makes sense. The problem is the significant number of kids who haven’t had all that in the years before they enter school. Then the teachers are expected to make up for that deficiency in the first and second grades. Problem is, by the time those kids enter kindergarten they are already so far behind that they have little chance at your holy grail of equal outcomes. For those kids, the problem isn’t school; it’s their home, their neighborhood, and their parents.

  2. The correlation between more education and voting for Democrats has been documented in numerous independent studies. It seems unlikely that the current Congress would be inclined to erode its base by expanding educational opportunities.

  3. There has never been a greater, more accessible array of opportunities for education. The problem is we’ve made it SO easy to get an education that, for many, it’s no longer seen as having any value. We’ve reached a point where any additional spending on education is counter productive- except to those employed by the state sponsored education industry.

  4. The drop out rate proves the adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Yet Di Salvo still clings to the notion that equal outcomes should be required. It’s like the Holy Grail, Joe–you’ll never find it. There aren’t enough Jaime Escalantes to make it happen. If you find a few, let them do their jobs; but otherwise, give it a rest Joe and concentrate on those who want to learn.