Op-Ed: Let Santa Clara County’s Academic Olympic Games Begin

Gather round my fellow citizens to hear the amazing tale of your faithful servant in his quest reminiscent of the great Greek King, Odysseus. As you recall, the story begins with my many consultations with students, parents, and community members across this great nation. We sought to answer the question: What do our children want from their schools? The children eloquently communicated that the they wanted their teachers to listen to them, to respect them, and to give them some voice in their learning. They also wanted their teachers to be experts in their content knowledge and teaching skills in order to prepare them for their future college and career aspirations.

Many of you reported to me that you were baffled by the way in which school districts reported student performance on state tests that are designed to measure the degree to which our children are on track to be college and career ready. The data presented to you within the LCAPs—which stands for Local Control and Accountability Plans—were minimal, cherry picked, and aligned with a state accountability gambit of spreading the scale score points around.

You also reported that the LCAPs themselves enveloped you in the fog of education with eclectic and bureaucratic solutions to address poorly defined student needs.

Thus, upon hearing your pleas for relief, I girded my loins and travelled to Mount Sacramento to do battle with the 32-headed Hydra of Santa Clara County school districts’ data. The battle that ensued was ferocious and engaged all of my computational and physical skills to overcome this voracious beast. I even had to consult the oracle of Python in order to develop a computer code that would visualize the data for each school district in ways that were truly open, transparent and interpretable.

The magnificent beauty and radiance of these data displays can be found at a website called The SIP Big Picture.

Some of you have reported to me that you have visited the site and have been enthralled by the elegance of these one-page displays and how they have helped you truly understand and interpret not only the overall performance of your school district by grade and by year but also the performance of a plethora of subgroups over time. I am overjoyed with your responses. Yet some have reported to me that after viewing the displays for a short time, they have become afflicted by the pernicious MERO effect (My Eyes Role Over). You beseech me: What are we to do? Fear not as I have consulted the Muse Madonna who exhorts us all to have Fun!

In the spirit of fun, I have resurrected the idea of the Academic Olympics in conjunction with the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea this month. I reorganized the data so that you can now view Academic Olympic events on my website. The first event that has been recently posted is the 11th grade overall math performance on the state math tests. Each event will have a compulsory component: the overall percentage of students who meet or exceed state math standards in 2017. The second component is the free style event that will be the three-year improvement in performance on the state math test.

Congratulations to the Fremont Union High School District who achieved a 77 percent meets-or-exceeds percentage for the 2017 state math test and won a gold medal for overall math performance. Congratulations also to the Gilroy Unified School District who won a gold medal for demonstrating an 8 percentage-point three-year improvement on the state math test from 24 percent of 11th grade students meeting or exceeding standards in 2015 to 32 percent in 2017.

Please go to the website where you can see if your school district received a medal for this event. You can also view the rankings of all of the school districts in the South Bay in case your jurisdiction did not win a medal. Have some fun! I will continue to add events daily in conjunction with the real Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang so return to the site often!

As you might imagine, the state, the county, and the school districts are averse to the idea of a competition. The sources of power would prefer that you continue to remain within the fog of education feeding upon the minuscule morsels of selected data that they provide to you. We must break out of these artificial bureaucratic chains of restraint and demand a full accounting of student performance. In fact, we should also demand a full accounting of the professional practices of teachers, principals, and district administrators from a system view and not just a special case view.

Being of advanced age, I could use some support in my ongoing quest to visualize data to meet your voracious needs. Please use the comments section on the website to let me know if I should pursue the many headed charter school hydra for Santa Clara County or if I should pursue student performance in English language arts. I am also available to support you in representing the student results through the Academic Olympics or the actual data visualizations to your parent groups or even to your school board.

Also, please let me know if you could spare a few drachmas to help me continue my quest as I occasionally need the sustenance of a gyro from Nick the Greek’s in San Jose to pursue the quest.

In conclusion, let us not become lost in the darkness of poorly conceived accountability, but let us instead light our Olympic torches and together ignite the Olympic flame of openness and transparency to the success of all of our students in achieving their college and career dreams.


  1. Yeah, the The SIP Big Picture is great! It’s helpful to see how my child’s school district performs compared to other school districts in the area. Thanks!

  2. Los Gatos Union School District in Santa Clara County garners the gold with 50% of 5th Grade Hispanic Students Meeting or Exceeding Standards in Math. Soo sad that the best we can do in SCC for our Hispanic students is 50% – Check out the action at http://sipbigpicture.com

  3. Were I not already aware of the educational establishment’s gratuitous rejection of its findings, the demographic data on the SIP website might cause me to suspect the students have been following a script based on “The Bell Curve.”

  4. Hello Frustrated FinFan,

    Check out the Brawley Union High School District and you will see some pretty impressive double digit 3-year gains for 11th grade Hispanic Students. This is one district making a difference for the Hispanic subgroup.

    SCC is not doing much in terms of improving performance of children of color, ELs, or Students with Disability but that is still a function of professional practices not the students. There are school districts like Brawley Union High School District that get results for these subgroups so it is not the students but the professionals providing instruction.

    • DR BILL:

      > SCC is not doing much in terms of improving performance of children of color, ELs, or Students with Disability but that is still a function of professional practices not the students.

      What is your take on the court ordered busing mandate that was imposed on San Jose Unified School District a number of years back.

      1. Was the court mandate justified?
      2. What tangible results were achieved by the program?

      It seems that the the busing program was a clear case of education bureaucrats and courts blaming students for educational failures.

      The social theory underlying the school busing program seems to be that surrounding an underachieving “economically disadvantaged” black student with “economically advantaged” Asian students improves the education of the black student.

      How did the court think this was supposed to work?

      But your data suggests that “economically disadvantaged” Asian students are higher achievers than “economically disadvantaged” black students. Hence, race is a determinative variable.

      Isn’t the premise of this theory fundamentally racist?

  5. Those students who experience very high quality curriculum and instructional practice will excel. So as you sow, so shall you reap. More experienced teachers are generally found in more economically advantaged schools and district administrators do not have the courage to go up against Teacher’s Union to ensure a fair distribution of quality teachers across the system. So given this conundrum, students and parents will have to submit to bussing in order to get their students in front of more qualified teachers in economically advantaged schools with higher quality teachers. So busing is a remedy imposed because the adults in the system can’t or won’t do the right thing for children. Many Asian and White parents recognize the poor quality of teaching in their system whether economically advantaged or disadvantaged. These parents ensure that their students are not going to be left behind by paying extra for individual or small group tutors for their children. Asian parents and many white parents who are economically challenged will band together to pay for a tutor to teach small groups. They are not going to let their children fall behind with poorly qualified teachers.

    Additionally because district administrators and principals are unable to get quality teachers into economically deprived schools, they also will resort to hiring Teach for America neophytes with one months training to teach the poorer children as it is better than the quality currently in the classrooms. And of course this is a very mixed bag. It takes Teach for America Teachers at least one year to get up to speed and then a second year teaching better and then off to law school. When I was in Oakland, I found one Teach for America “teacher” in the corner crying while students ran wild. However, parents might get lucky and get a good Teach for America candidate in their child’s classroom but it is a risky proposition for their children – better get a tutor or two!

    • > They are not going to let their children fall behind with poorly qualified teachers.

      Poorly qualified teachers?

      Every teacher that teaches in California public schools has an official “teaching credential” awarded by the state of California.

      You’re not suggesting that an official State of California teaching credential is BS?

      Are you blaming students for failing to learn from a credentialed California teacher?

  6. Hello SJ,

    Thanks for the tongue in cheek!

    California ranks below 31 other public-school systems and earns just a D-plus in ensuring teacher quality, according to a new report aimed at spurring states to improve teacher preparation. The Washington, D.C. based National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook evaluated and graded state policies on teacher preparation, evaluation, compensation and other factors that contribute to successful teaching. Since its last survey in 2015, the nonprofit, non-partisan council found that California and most states stagnated in their progress.

    Low expectations for teachers results in low performance by students. So as you sow, so shall you reap. It is a fundamental law. Our children are awesome. They are not getting the teachers and administrators and Board Members that they need and deserve.

    The education system would run like a finely tuned clock if it weren’t for the kids! It is way beyond time to transform the education system in California and the nation. That is why I think that a helpful dose of competition (testosterone) might be great incentive for an education system that is characterized by massive effeminization and lethargy. Lost in a fog of education babble talk.

  7. DR BILL:

    > That is why I think that a helpful dose of competition (testosterone) might be great incentive for an education system that is characterized by massive effeminization and lethargy.

    Define “massive dose of competition”. You seemed to suggest earlier that school vouchers were, somehow, too much.

    Also, if California ranks 32nd or worse in “teacher quality”, and students are “not getting the teachers . . . that they need and deserve”, it sounds like the teacher credentialing system is BS.

    Can we say “the California teacher credentialing system is BS”?

  8. I define competition as the ability to get results for students. I am running the academic olympics as an opportunity to compete to see who is the best at supporting student achievement and readiness for college and career. I am working up the energy either to begin a competition within the Charters or move on to English Language Arts. What do you think? It would be good if Districts held these competitions with their schools and also the schools should hold them with their teachers as well. Why not? Competition is good. It sharpens everyone’s skills, holds folks accountable, and adds a measure of joie de vivre to our lives! If it makes District administrators upset – so what! Move on if you can’t compete and win or at least get better!

    The Teacher Credentialing system is a joke. Got Pulse? Teaching has not as yet reached the level of profession. It could not even be characterized as a quality trade school. Colleges of Education accept the lowest qualified candidates and then do not prepare them for the real work that they have to do within schools. Nor do they apply much rigor. It is so easy to pass a little basics test to get credentialed. There is no real residency program as we would expect as it is done in medicine. Add to this the tenure system where teachers get tenured based on time in front of the students and you have the recipe for the mess that we have in education. Nobody wants to put too much rigor into teacher preparation as the status and pay within the profession is so low so they have to make it easy to attract enough candidates.

    Of course there are benefits with tons of vacation, tenure, short hours, great health care and retirement benefits. Getting to work with kids is also a huge benefit for most teachers as well.

    • > Add to this the tenure system where teachers get tenured based on time in front of the students and you have the recipe for the mess that we have in education.

      If education is a “mess” as you suggest, then what is the value of competition within the bounds of the failing, dysfunctional “sandbox” that is public education?

      So, “competition” merely proves that one student is the least mal-educated student in a confined population of mal-educated students.

  9. Competition will at least bring openness and transparency to the children, parents, and community members about student performance. We will need to be cognizant that much of the improvement we are seeing could be the effects of tutoring or support at home. Right now school districts get to hide behind the skirts of Mother State as she crafts a misleading color-coded academic indicator dashboard gambit that presents student academic performance in ways that actually milead and mask problems in student performance and provide a false sense of achievement.

    In addition to a competition on the student outcomes level, we need to provide a competition on professional practices level. For example, I could envision a competition in which practitioners compete for medals aligned with a practice such as the use of formative assessment with focused descriptive feedback. As practitioners compete for medals in the measured implementation of high quality practice, the game will definitely change and we will begin to see system-wide change in both professional practice and student outcomes.

    Right now, schools and districts can use special case to represent professional practice which is very misleading because it does not tell the system story. We need system metrics that gauge the implementation and quality of key professional practices at the system level. When we start competing at this level, we will begin to move from the fog of spottily implemented quality practices and strategies to the system-wide implementation of practices that truly make a difference for student learning. We are a long way from that vision though. But we have to start somewhere!

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