San Jose used to be a launching pad for the American Dream, according to a recent article in The Atlantic. The article cites a landmark study released in 2014 by Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley, which found that children born in the early 1980s into a low-income family in San Jose had as good a shot at prosperity as children from socially progressive countries like Denmark and Canada.
However, San Jose’s low-income families are in a rougher spot today.
In recent years, housing prices have skyrocketed, the region’s rich and poor have segregated, and middle-class jobs have disappeared. Indeed, The Atlantic adds, "the future for the region’s poor doesn’t look nearly as bright as it once did.”
We can flip this script by working together to strengthen public education in San Jose, especially in our low-income communities. I have been an educator in San Jose’s low-income communities for the past 15 years. I have seen the pathways out of poverty narrow. But I have also seen powerful exceptions. Several of my former first-graders have now graduated high school and gone on to become the first in their family to attend a four-year college. These students are a testament to the transformative power of an excellent education.
At Rocketship Education, a non-profit network of public charter schools, we have been working with community organizations, parents and educators to create an ecosystem of quality public schools that puts San Jose’s low-income children and English language learners on the path to college. Thanks to these efforts, 25 new high-performing public charter schools serving low-income communities have opened since we launched our first school in 2007.
According to a study by The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, English language learners and students in poverty in San Jose gain more than a month of additional learning in both reading and math for every year they attend a high performing charter school. Districts like Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and Franklin-McKinley School District, are also partnering with charter schools to improve student achievement and boost college readiness.
The area’s business leaders are also lending critical support. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently launched a new $100 million fund to support education locally. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have committed much of their wealth to education investments and technologies. Facebook has also donated engineers to local charter school developer Summit Public Schools to build a sophisticated “personalized learning platform” and share it with other schools here and across the country.
Collectively, we are building a powerful movement here in San Jose. By working together, learning from each other, and tapping into the innovative strength of our region, we are transforming San Jose back into the “land of opportunity” for all.
Preston Smith is the CEO & co-founder of Rocketship Education. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.