The State of Education

Very rarely does our region get mentioned for innovation outside of the high technology sector. Pres. Obama should take note on what is going on behind the scenes in Silicon Valley, in public education and charter schools, and mention it tonight in his State of the Union Speech.

These are very exciting times in public education. Almost everything that I once stood for as a President of a local CTA union in 1980-82 has been challenged by new norms nearly everywhere in America but here.  I want our public schools in this county to be at the center of the coming perfect storm. The local CTA affiliates must be at the table to collaborate on their role in creating calm seas. I want to predict that this capital of entrepreneurship and innovation will be a national leader in public education.

So far San Jose/Silicon Valley lags significantly behind other regions of the U.S. on education reform. Yet there are certainly many great stories of success in the midst of huge obstacles in pockets all over this valley. I have written consistently about the incredible accomplishments of schools like Anderson in Moreland, Bracher in Santa Clara Unified, Downtown College Prep, ACE and Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Charter in downtown San Jose.

A few blocks from Rocketship with a similar population of learners is Gardner Elementary in San Jose Unified. Rocketship Mateo is in the top 5 percent and Gardner Elementary is in the bottom 5 percent of county schools relative to student achievement results. The No Child Left Behind Act did nothing for mitigating this checkerboard of poor, average and good schools.  In fact it did more harm than good.

Is San Jose/Silicon Valley on the verge of becoming the first major region in the country to eliminate the racial achievement gap? In his speech tonight, will President Obama call on a strong bipartisan effort with collaboration, from National Education Association the and American Federation of Teachers to meet the Department of Education’s Reform Plan of 2010?

The US Department of Education’s Blueprint for Reform states that “a world-class education is a moral imperative—the key to securing a more equal, fair and just society…” Commenting here on SJI, John Galt last was right on target. He wrote: “Schools are about teaching. Teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching. Teach the kids…” The federal government agrees. The Blueprint says:

“Our goal must be to have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school. We know that from the moment students enter school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents—it is the teacher standing at the front of the classroom.”

Rocketship Education, co-founded by John Danner and Preston Smith, is in the initial stages of expanding throughout the country and Silicon Valley with their hybrid model of instruction. It is possible in the next few months the Santa Clara County Office of Education will be asked to approve 15-20 more Rocketship Charters in San Jose/Silicon Valley. This could send winds gusting at 125 miles per hour through school district board rooms.

Rocketship Education was founded in 2006 as a national network to eliminate the elementary-age achievement gap in high poverty communities. Since 2006 their focus has been San Jose. The Santa Clara County Office of Education authorized their first charter school on appeal from San Jose Unified School District that denied their initial application.

Rocketship’s vision is to create a future in which thousands of low-income elementary school children have graduated from four-year colleges. In addition, their goal is to inspire these new graduates to come back to their former neighborhoods to help eliminate the achievement gap, perhaps even by becoming teachers.

President Obama must address the national teacher recruitment issue in tonight’s speech, especially in the fields of math and science.  If you are in the top one-third of your college cohort class, you agree to go into teaching in a K-12 school district and you are recruited to teach in a high need school district then you can get your college loans absolved if you teach for five years.

Teachers perform one of the most important jobs in this country. We must increase the level of respect we have for our teachers and the President can help us begin by the words he uses to inspire us tonight.

As president of the SCCOE I pledge to continue to lead us to talk with a collaborative/cooperative spirit. I will work to put together forums where we bring in reform leaders like Randi Weingarten (President AFT),  Michelle Rhee (StudentsFirst), Arnie Duncan (Secretary of Education) to help us kick-start our local conversation.

The perfect storm is brewing right off our coast. Union leaders, superintendents, board members and community leaders must step it up if we are going to be able to thrive after the storm hits. Our children deserve nothing less.

 

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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.

33 Comments

  1. I think the majority of SJI’s readers recognize that the most important factor governing success in education is parental involvement.  Actively engage the parents and achievement will increase accordingly.  Allow the parents to treat their children’s learning process with ambivalence, and their children will be failures.  If parents cannot find the time or the inclination to treat education seriously, then they should not be parents.

    • I agree. Without parental support children will have a hard time succeeding in their academic careers and parents play a huge role in their learning process.

  2. > The local CTA affiliates must be at the table to collaborate on their role in creating calm seas.

    A member of the San Jose police officer’s union described the relationship between the union and the city as “adversarial”.

    Is the relationship between the CTA and the public education system “adversarial”?

    How, in an adversarial relationship, is there ever going to be collaboration between union and state?

    In the frame of reference of the CTA, who all qualifies as “adversaries”?

    Legislators?
    School boards?
    Administrators?
    Parents?
    Children?

    If children get more of the pie, unions get less. Right?

  3. ” So far San Jose/Silicon Valley lags significantly behind other regions of the U.S. on education reform. ”

    As a concerned San Jose parent with young pre- school child, San Jose schools seem to be way below to below average with very few equal to or above average compared to other Silicon Valley cities

    Why is ” Rocketship with a similar population of learners is Gardner Elementary in San Jose Unified. Rocketship Mateo is in the top 5 percent and Gardner Elementary is in the bottom 5 percent of county schools relative to student achievement results.” ?

    What are the 3-5 primary reasons that cause low public school performance like Gardner other than low funding ?

    How will public schools address

    1) lack of public school parent involvement that is required at Rocketship ?

    2) lack of English fluency ?

    3) public school teacher performance and motivation with CTA mostly opposed to measurements, testing and for many years unwilling to suggest any workable public school alternatives within current budget contract and legal constraints

    4) how will public schools demonstrate to voters that giving public schools more money can improve school performance at Gardner like schools which have failed for many years when many voters believe more school taxes is throwing good money after bad   Even the good San Jose schools are below average compared to other cities

    5) San Jose has 19 school districts and many are not Unified so student can go from K-12 grade in same district where voters can see accountability for school and teacher performance rather having child one year in good / bad school and then a bad / good school next year

    The only solution for concerned parents in poor performing schools areas like Gardner and many below average San Jose schools is charter and private schools unless they are fortunate to live near few San Jose great performing schools so child can go from k-!2 without being forced to go to many poor or below average performing San Jose public schools

  4. As someone who is just getting acquainted with different schools and their performances in the county, I find it fascinating that two schools, most likely with similar SEC and student base, could have such disparate performance levels.(“Rocketship Mateo is in the top 5 percent and Gardner Elementary is in the bottom 5 percent of county schools relative to student achievement results”). This highlights the imperative need for great leadership, whether at the classroom level or administrative level. I am looking forward to learning more about how good schools become that way.

  5. I believe that given that the drastic difference between Rocketship Mateo and Gardner, that the problem mostly lies with how affective the teachers are and nothing to do with the SEC. The notion of “highly qualified” teachers does not take in to consideration the no tangible things which makes up a great teacher. The issue at hand for teaching is that a high qualified teacher can not be defined by a set of rules rather by a set of guidelines which explains what makes up a great teacher such as: having compassion, patience, someone who makes the subject fun and interest, teaches the students why something is important and explains everything to them. Those are some of the things which we should be looking for to make a great teacher or a “highly qualified” teacher.

    • I agree with Tony.  When reading the quote, “Our goal must be to have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school,” I could not help but wonder who sets the criteria for what “great” means.  Thinking back to previous classes and the media, there are many different views of what a “great teacher” should be like.  The government is so concerned with test scores that the “great” teachers are those who are able to teach to the test.  However, throughout my education and going through the credential program, “great” seemed to be the ones who could connect with the students as an individual, and found ways to make learning and school fun and enjoyable. 
      I hope that after President Obama’s message in the Sate of the Union address people begin to see the importance of teachers, and what a major impact their role in society is.

  6. When I read a “great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school”, I can’t help but ask myself how do you define great. I feel what might be great for one class or school may not be for another. To say this is the criteria for great and that it fits across the board is ridiculous. Part of the problem in education is we try to place all students under one giant umbrella. In the end we set up a system that excludes those who don’t fit under the umbrella or expect them to try harder. There are many methods of teaching out there that appear to be working for various populations. It’s not just about great teachers in every classroom. It’s the same reason you don’t want 5 Michael Jordan’s on a single basketball team.

  7. Even to some one who knows little about what makes a great school and motivated students having great Teachers are only part of solution in complex education system, many community, financial and parent influences

    Joe, where is comprehensive discussion that community badly needs have on all the education issues not just ” more money ” and “great teachers” ?

  8. We need to ask the President “just where do your children go to school ?” Is Mr. Obama sending his children to a charter school or public school? If you guess the answer is neither . The President does not have any of his children in any public school , he has sent both his daughters to a private school in Chicago.
    Some have said that the reason is that security and privacy concerns for the children are the choice , but it rather far from the subject, if think about it’s your tax payer money sending the Obama children to a upstart private school.
    Yes . How then is Mr. Obama measuring standards based education ? His ideal image is like that of his predecessor Mr. Bush .

    This reflects in my view the sate of education . Pubic education is always viewed in a stereotypical manner as a failure . ( which I don’t believe )
    If our leaders won’t send their children to a public school what does it reflect ?

  9. I have had the opportunity to work in schools all over the Santa Clara County from Palo Alto down to Gilroy and have seen the differences in the cities. There have been schools I hope I never have to go back to and others I can not wait to return to. I believe that the staff at a school definitely makes a difference in the achievements of the individual child and of the school as a whole. It takes good teachers, administration, and community commitment. I believe that the needs very from one city to the next. It is time to look at those individual needs rather then assume that what has been working for one school and with one group of children will work for those in a completely different environment. “The perfect storm is brewing right off our coast. Union leaders, superintendents, board members and community leaders must step it up if we are going to be able to thrive after the storm hits. Our children deserve nothing less,” sums up my thoughts.

    • >  Union leaders, superintendents, board members and community leaders must step it up if we are going to be able to thrive after the storm hits.

      Union leaders.
      Superintendents.
      Board members.

      Plus, don’t forget:

      Teachers.
      Parents.

      Here’s an important principle from Management 101:

      “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

      There are WAY, WAY too many people with their fingers in the decision making pie.  This is a recipe for failure.

      If you want education to even have a glimmer of a chance of success, there needs to be ONE decision maker: the customer.

      And the customer’s decision is: “I buy your product, or I don’t buy your product.”

      Too many decision makers leads to “compromise”, and “compromise” is a BAD thing, not a GOOD thing.

      “Compromise” is simply agreement on the part of all participants that the solution is equally bad for everyone.

  10. I think it is difficult to even place your finger on where this problem begins- yes, we need the highest quality of teachers in classrooms, but without the community, state, and nation providing adequate materials, resources, and support, these teachers can only do so much.  Without the necessary materials and textbooks in classrooms, the teacher’s “greatness” is limited.  On the other end, parents play a very important role in the success of their children, and in lower income neighborhoods where parents are working 2 or 3 jobs, it’s nearly impossible to give their children the support they truly need.  I think before we can place our finger on the answer, we need to figure out exactly where the problem begins.

  11. I agree with DiSalvo in that we do need to ensure that we have “good” teachers in every classroom, but I also think that the achievement gap has a great deal to do with parental involvement.  Parents and teachers must have clear communication between each other in order to show the students the support needed to succeed.

  12. I agree with all the comments surrounding the issue of “great” teachers but I think what needs to be highlighted more is that teachers are not valued in most communities the way they should be. President Obama’s speech definitely brought attention to how valuable teaching is but I believe that the storm is just beginning, as well, and look forward to see what it will look like in the future.

  13. Schools have never solely been about “teaching.” They are about learning everything from the subjects and concepts outlined in the standards to how to listen to other peoples ideas and how to stand in line. Teachers teach these things but the education of our children and learning should not stop when they exit the school gates at 3pm. I believe that the community is just as important as teachers are in supporting our children in education. It is everyones responsibility to foster childrens interest in school whether it be by sharing fond memories about school or by engaging students in conversation about what they have learned in school.

    • > It is everyones responsibility to . . .

      Any proposation that is based on the premise that “it is everyone’s responsibility” is, for all practical purposes, equivalent to saying “it is NO ONE’s responsibility.”

  14. As described with the visual of “a perfect storm” as a country, we are at an impasse with our educational system.  Ever since the media frenzy in the 80’s declaring our schools to be failing (even though they weren’t), the government, media, and thus the sheep of the public, have decided that schools are too soft on our children.  Yet, there has been a dramatic LACK of change in our test results.  Our country is changing, the make up of our population is shifting, and yet those in power are still trying to tell us that in order to improve things, they have to stay the way they are, or become a more intense version of what we have (see: testing, see also: gratuitous).  It is time for people to understand that the educational system in this country has always been on a pendulum, shifting from strict to lax and back, with values and strategies shifting as well.  Currently, the pendulum has swung in the direction of strict, teacher-centric classrooms.  This approach, at least in its execution, is not working.  Regardless of your definition of “great” in relation to educators and staff, it is time for a change.  There needs to be more focus on the public schools that are working, and a system to implement these schools’ policies and practices in as many public schools as possible.

  15. It is time for people to understand that the educational system in this country has always been on a pendulum, shifting from strict to lax and back, with values and strategies shifting as well.  Currently, the pendulum has swung in the direction of strict, teacher-centric classrooms.  This approach, at least in its execution, is not working.  Regardless of your definition of “great” in relation to educators and staff, it is time for a change.  There needs to be more focus on the public schools that are working, and a system to implement these schools’ policies and practices in as many public schools as possible.

  16. I think it would be wonderful if Silicon Valley could be “the first major region in the country to eliminate the racial achievement gap in our country.”  What it requires is an opening our hearts and minds to new ideas and ways of educating, and not being afraid to go against what is mainstream.

    I worked for one of the Rocketship Education schools as a literacy tutor for 6 months.  What I saw at Rocketship Si Se Puede was an extremely dedicated staff of educators who were motivated by a deep care and respect for their students. In addition to that, the staff was highly motivated by by the belief that the mostly Hispanic group of students could and would succeed in learning. 

    One of the aspects about Rocketship that impressed me was the goal they have to give each student 2 years worth of instruction in each 1 year they attend the school.  This is a lofty, but necessary goal in order to close the achievement gap in these students and bring them up to grade level by the time they reach 5th grade. 

    My experience there helped me to think outside the box and to question my own willingness to challenge myself as I become an educator.

  17. I definitely agree that teachers perform one of the most important jobs in this country yet they do not get the recognition or respect that they deserve. As President Obama stated in the 2011 State of the Union address, “Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.” I still have trouble understanding why teachers receive the short end of the stick all the time, when in reality, they are making huge differences in children who will someday run this country. They are teaching, shaping, and molding these children to be successful adults someday. Children are the future and they wouldn’t get anywhere if it weren’t for their teachers. How can we have faith that these children can take over our country someday if we don’t trust and respect the work teachers have done for them throughout their entire lives? For every professional that exists in our country – doctors, lawyers, engineers, authors, actors, etc. – there are teachers behind their success. Teachers are incredibly important and no one would be who they are today without their teachers.

    • > I still have trouble understanding why teachers receive the short end of the stick all the time . . . .

      The reason why you have trouble understanding it is likely because it isn’t true.

      Your faulty understanding is simply the cumulative consequence of being exposed to self-serving NEA and CTA propaganda 24 hours a day.

      • Just to clarify, my so-called “faulty understanding” is based on the simple fact that the educational system is under-funded, resulting in educator salaries that are not equivalent with the impact on our future. That is all I meant by teachers getting the “short end of the stick”.

  18. I definitely agree that teachers are underappreciated in our American society. While money should not be an issue, it inevitably becomes a deciding factor when people weigh the decision of whether or not to pursue teaching. Coming from an Asian background, I have heard of many parents discouraging their children from pursuing teaching because of the lack of money and stability. Many do not realize what an important role teachers can play in children’s lives and how invaluable that is.

    I believe that change will occur, but it will be an uphill battle that will require holistic involvement from all sides. It won’t happen overnight, but all we can do is take it one step at a time.

  19. Every single adult can name a memorable elementary school teacher either one that influenced you greatly, made you excited to come to school, or unfortunately made you want to stay home from school. Think of that teacher right now. Can you name him or her? Do you still smile or feel that sting? Teachers are one of the most influential people in a child’s life. They play an integral role in shaping and raising a child.
    It is true we need great teachers and great principals in our schools but how can we do this? I see so many driven and promising young people who want to be teachers but are turned off because of the teacher lay offs nationwide. When credential candidates graduate they must compete with laid-off teachers who have had experience. Who would you hire? It is my hope that the strive to make a difference in a child’s life will remain prominent in future teachers’ hearts.

  20. After reading this blog, I totally agree that the students’ success rely on the teacher. Teacher have an enourmous responsibility in studets’ life. They must ensure they are targeting the needs of all students. I agree with the person who mention that as teachers we need parental involvement. I have experienced working with students who come from a low SES whose parents do not have time to get involved in their childrens education and coming from a family whose parents were not able to be involved i could totally understand where those students are coming from. The action that teachers should do is try to provide as much support possible and established effective relationships in where the student sees you as a teacher, friend,and someone that they could trust in. I think this is what would increase the success produced by the students.

  21. Near the end of the blog the author stated the following, “As president of the SCCOE I pledge to continue to lead us to talk with a collaborative/cooperative spirit”. Yes, indeed we need people like yourself that will be willing to step up and fight. One thing that has always been a concern to me, and will always be a concern to everyone else until things change, is the idea of standardized testing. We all know that standardized tests are all about the money, but can we please stop being greedy and actually try to create REAL tests and assessments that will accurately and FAIRLY, assess the students, schools, and educational system? Is this maybe something that you can fight for as president of the SCCOE?

    Thank you for caring!

  22. I found this blog full of interesting information.  Although I am embarrased to admit it, after reading this, I feel like I am not up to par on my knowledge of the educational system in the Bay Area.  The idea behind Rocketship Education, where they educate children from lower SES’ and prepare them to go to four-year colleges, in hopes that they will someday return to teach in some of the same schools that helped them, sounds like an excellent plan.  I am glad that in the near future they plan on expaning the plan and adding more charter schools to the Bay Area.  I hope that this goes through and that more children are helped by it.  It was nice to actually read something positive about California’s educational system.

  23. I have a senior at WGHS and am shocked and appalled that the entire school is out of paper and have no plans of replacing it.  I am horrified that I was not notified.  I will be donating paper this week and I am sure other’s in this community would be equally as happy to donate to help meet the schools shortfalls of the most basic supplies.

  24. The importance of teachers cannot be undermined, but unfortuantley all teachers do not have the same tools to produce a successful group of students.  It is easy for parents of high income areas to appreciate their children’s teachers.  These same parents donate money, supplies and volunteer in schools. Students in low income areas arrive at school without pencils, crayons, textbooks are missing, and thre are no parent volunteers.  These schools often have long term substitutes and no teacher is responsible for teaching these children.

    I believe teachers need to work as a team with parents to help children achieve high standards.  Children need to feel responsible for high academic achievement and this responsibility should come from the school and the parents.  Holding high standards of success in a classroom engages students in the academic process.  Students should not be bored in school and should not feel devalued because of the low standards of the school.  Equalizing the standards of all public shools should be a priority for the government.  All teachers should be given the proper tools to teach and provide a rigorous curriculum that challenges all students. Teachers that work in low income school districts should be compensated for the challenges they face daily.  Government should reward teachers for their work and provide funding for schools that will enable success. Education makes all the difference in a child’s future and the future of our society.

  25. One of the most important factors in a person wanting to become a teacher is how they have viewed their own teachers and the teaching profession in general.  Many of us who are and will become teachers are quite aware of this and desire to emulate what we have admired in other teachers.  We hold a deep-seated respect for those that came before us.  It is not enough to recruit new educators.  What is needed are teachers who are willing… no, are hungry to tackle the difficulties faced at those schools that need the most help.  I see much fear in new teachers concerning the possibility of obtaining a job at a school with high needs.  This may be due to a lack of preparation given on the part of universities or a basic mentality of desiring a somewhat easier job.  Whichever is the case, the more prepared teachers are, the more they help their students, the more of a difference they make in the lives of the families that they encounter, the more respect they will receive, and the more respected the profession will become.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel being a teacher is respected by many already but in the last few decades that respect has deteriorated due to policy and lack of preparedness.  Let’s see what we who are and will be teaching can achieve when we become teachers voracious for the challenges that await us.

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