SJ2020 Confronts the Achievement Gap

It has been 644 days since America elected its first African-American President and race issues continue to plague our nation in ways that indicate a trend line of grave concern. The racial achievement gap is one of the most pressing issues of our time. SJ2020 is working on a strategic plan to eliminate the achievement gap in the next 10 years in San Jose and Silicon Valley.

Our efforts took a hit last week when the project did not make the U.S. list for funding in the Investing In Innovation competition. Teach for America and KIPP Foundation, a network of charter schools, won $50 million each in federal funding.

On Aug. 5, I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation with guest host Tony Cox. One of his three panelists for a discussion on how our discussions on race have changed since Pres. Obama’s election was David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and Harvard University’s professor of public service. The two other panelists were Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Hearld columnist, and Maria Hinojosa, author and host of NPR’s Latino USA. The whole archived show can be listened to on or at David Gergen’s Voice.

Cox said since President Obama’s election, “America is redefining itself racially … a process fraught with as much peril as hope.” In candidate Obama’s famous speech on race, he said it is “an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now…a part of our union we have yet to perfect.” In the institution of education we continue to tinker around the edges of the problem with competitive incentives like Race to the Top or the $600 million in Investing in Innovation.

What was fascinating about the NPR discussion was Gergen’s sincere understanding of the importance of overcoming the gaps in learning and health that exist between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. I found his passion on this issue refreshing and warranted.

“I think the issues of race are more uncomfortable to talk about today than when Barack Obama was running for president,” Gergen said. “I think most Americans understand we have made enormous progress in black and white relations since Martin Luther King was protesting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…the gaps that remain are so vast in achievement and schools, income levels, obesity rates…there is a growing recognition that we have so many of these gaps to overcome in this country that unless we do that our nation is imperiled.”

“I believe very strongly that we have too many people in this country that see it as us versus them. We have got to see that we are all in this together. It is extremely important for all of us to close these achievement gaps to work very hard on the education of minorities in this country.”

Time magazine’s Aug. 2 cover story addressed a major causal factor of the racial achievement gap. David Von Drehle’s article was headlined: “The Case Against Summer Vacation: It’s an outdated legacy of the farm economy. Adults still romanticize it. But those months out of school do the most damage to the kid that can least afford it.”

Yes, summer vacations exacerbate the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots. According to Time’s research, by 9th grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for nearly two-thirds of the achievement gap. Malcomb Gladwell also addresses this issue in his best-selling book Outliers.

Therefore, another topic on SJ2020’s agenda must be for our village to find creative ways to make summertime a meaningful learning time for all children, not just children whose families have the means to provide enriching experiences when the school bells are silent. This is especially urgent in times when government monetary resources are non-existent.

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. It is difficult for me to beleive that a significant number of kids can forget how to read, write, add, or subtract over the course of a summer.  But if their brains are that easily addled, there’s a lot more going on than just a summer break.

    Are there any published results of studies you can point me to, Joe, that verify this assertion that summer makes kids forget what they learned?

    • JMO,

      Good question. yes, read Chapter 9 in Outliers and see YouTube video titled Two Steps Forward. there are a number of other sources if you wish.


  2. > This is especially urgent in times when government monetary resources are non-existent.

    This is nuts!!

    The Obamagogue has spent a TRILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS MORE than federal tax revenues.  He has spent EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS on “stimulus”.

    Nancy Pelosi is, at this moment, spending another TWENTY PLUS BILLION DOLLARS on teachers.

    Where is this money going? 

    How come it’s not having any effect on anything?

    Is it just going into the Swiss bank accounts of George Soros and David Stern and Democrat insiders?

    Why doesn’t Time Magazine do studies on this?

  3. People that consistently harp on race issues, achievement gaps, etc., are typically the ones who support policies and politics that purposely divide us into groups.  Achievement gaps have little to do with skin color, and a lot to do with culture.

    These people go out of their way to celebrate various cultures, while the one culture that should be celebrated and understood the most is being dismantled.  The one culture that literally changed the world, the one that raised the living standards of humanity more than any other in human history is being stripped from the education system and from future generations.

    Change the culture of those who are underachieving and you will close the gaps.

  4. > It has been 644 days since America elected its first African-American President and race issues continue to plague our nation in ways that indicate a trend line of grave concern.

    Has it been that long?

    Why, it seems like just yesterday that Democrats were blaming the economic mess on George Bush.

    Wait!  It WAS just yesterday.

    I think it would have been the honest and ethical thing to do for President Obama have told the voters that it would take at least 645 days before his programs would improve things.

  5. “I think the issues of race are more uncomfortable to talk about today than when Barack Obama was running for president”

    Well whose fault would that be?

    Obama’s attorney general calls the US a “nation of cowards” on issues of race.

    Obama says the Cambridge cops “acted stupidly” in the arrest of a black professor – without knowing any of the facts.

    In a blatant attempt to provoke and bait Obamacare protestors,  congressional black caucus members waded through crowds with cameras rolling – when they were unable to capture anything of note, they do what good leftists always do, they fabricated stories of racial taunts and epithets.

    Justice dept. attempts to shut down investigation into New Black Panther party voter intimidation case.

    This country has moved on and wants to move on. There is no longer institutional racism in this country. 

    There is only the race hustlers and leftist agitators looking to polarize and divide and incite and exploit.

    Obama our supposed “post racial” President is nothing but a shinier version of Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson.

  6. Well, you’re all racist. I jest, of course, but I was called racist on this website by suggesting that part of our debt problem is due to entitlements to illegal immigrants. We can’t have it both ways, etitlements and open borders.

    I came from a blue-collar family and was the first to go to college. But in a debate, it was assumed that I was a member of the priveledged class because I am a white female. I also managed to become a mechanical engineer without going to summer school. My children also manage to keep up without summer school as well.

    Unfortunately, our country is far more divided than it ever has been, possibly due to lack of good leadership.