Goals for the Future of Public Education

This week I will turn in my candidate papers and $3,500 to the Registrar of Voters for a ballot statement for my Trustee Area No. 4 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. It has been a privilege to serve the education community, its students and teachers as a board member these past four years. San Jose Inside has allowed me a forum to present and discuss the leading educational issues of our valley. There is much good work to do in the next four years, and I would like to be a voice at the political and policy table.

If I am fortunate to have the majority or plurality of those 130,000 registered voters in TA4—San Jose Unified School District, part of Oak Grove and East Side Union High School District—who vote, my next four years will focus on three complex issues:

1. Continue to work on creating the best educational experiences for students enrolled in our direct service programs: Alternative Education, Special Education, Regional Occupational Programs/Career Technical Education, Head Start and Migrant Education. This involves giving new Superintendent Dr. Xavier De La Torre, his cabinet, and teachers all the resources and support needed to reach this very attainable goal.

2. Ensure there is a fruitful discussion on the need for performance pay for the best teachers. Recruit and retain the best teachers for Silicon Valley to eliminate the achievement gap by 2020. In a new report by The New Teacher Project in New York, high rates of teacher attrition—especially those who are the top teachers—is a major drain on the quality of instruction in America’s classrooms.

3. Further the dialogue on how teacher unions in Silicon Valley can work with management to recast the definition of tenure. There is no room in our classrooms for teachers who stay in the profession when their work is less than par. Both sides would agree with this assertion, yet there are still far too many examples. Both sides are to blame. I believe student achievement needs to be more broadly defined than solely scores on achievement tests. Tenure as we know it must change.

Teaching as a profession, in my view, is the most important career for ensuring the security and advancement of the US in the 21st century. We have a crisis brewing when one examines the data in light of our changing demographics. We need exemplary teachers, or at the very least average teachers, in every classroom in America. By retaining the “irreplaceables,” 20 percent of the total as the study defines, we raise the boat for all teachers and students as a consequence. Our nation rises with their success.

The National Education Association largely seconded the reports findings but had some reservations about its recommendations.

Some recommendations we can work on here in Silicon Valley are:

• Pay the best teachers more, into six figures early in their careers.
• Dismiss teachers who, after remediation efforts, still cannot teach with value-added data. Tenure must be redefined for this to happen.
• Principals must become stronger in their ability to link retention with teacher quality.

In one article examined in preparation for this column, NEA said, correctly I believe, that the report should have made a stronger connection between teacher preparation and retention. The stronger the university preparation program, the higher the retention of those teachers in the best teacher preparation programs.

Something union leaders should consider is that charter schools in Silicon Valley do not have tenure as part of their structure at this time. Charter schools are funded with public dollars. Many Silicon Valley charters pay for performance and many have strong retention goals. The SCCOE Board has approved up to 29 Rocketship charter schools and other high performing charter schools like DCP, Summit, Discovery, ACE, Magnolia and more. 

I will vote for high quality charter schools that contribute to meeting the goal of eliminating the achievement gap by 2020. Doing more of the same is not an option.

The time is ripe for discussing thoughtful and prudent changes to a system of public education that has yet to reach its full potential.

Joseph DiSalvo is the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education. He was born and raised in San Jose.

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.


  1. Mr. DiSalvo,

    I have always respected your dedication and insight into local education.

    I do believe there is a better approach to reaching the goal of excellent teachers.

    Performance pay suggests that marginal teachers know how to be effective teachers, and choose not to be. Nor can we fire our way to great teachers. The reason is we don’t produce enough great teachers to begin with.

    Our county needs to grow great teachers if we want them.

    We do this by providing effective training to start, which our county has a major role in overseeing. We don’t let unprepared new doctors do surgery. The results would be deadly.  Yet, we tolerate the notion that new teachers can learn on their students their first few years. Those results are “deadly” as well.

    The county can continue its goal of excellent teachers by supporting on-going , site-based, teacher-driven teacher development. Most teachers will tell you that on-going teacher development isn’t happening either.

    Effective teacher training can drastically change performance of all teachers and make moot the need for tenure reform. If our goal is for every child to have a high quality teacher, we should train all of them well and prepare to pay all of them more.

    I say this not in defense of unions. I say this because the top performing school systems around the world show us these policies are what works. Both Finland and Singapore focus on making sure teachers are trained properly to start, and then trained throughout their career. Both of those nations leverage their strongest teachers to share their talents outside the classroom as teacher leaders.

    There is a fervor that those nations have for honoring teachers that we Americans seem to reserve for attacking teachers. I believe the county board can be a leader in changing that.

    I encourage the county board to look at the work coming out of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), links below.

    Chris Chiang
    a history teacher in Santa Clara County

    How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers (Report)
    Report on Teacher Development (Report)

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