Class Warfare and the Gates Foundation

“It’s hard to improve public education—that’s clear,” Warren Buffet says. “If you’re picking stocks, you wouldn’t pick this one.” Even Bill and Melinda Gates must question whether their $5 billion multi-year investment in public school reform has been worth it.

Yet, I am convinced that Santa Clara County public schools can become the steadily rising “blue chip” that raises the academic success for each child while closing the troubling racial achievement gap. Many points of light are converging to brighten the educational landscape in the county, even in the midst of California’s perilous disinvestment in public education.

The Gates Collaborative Compacts between districts and charter school operators that were at the center of good work being done at the Santa Clara County Office of Education has been at a standstill due to summer schedules. With the school year beginning and all hands on deck we are once again at the starting blocks to resume this critical work. 

Out of the five districts and charters that began the work in the spring with PACT parents and Executive Director, Matt Hammer as witnesses, today it is uncertain how many are still committed to the goal with Board, Superintendent and teacher union support. Only two districts went to Dallas on the Gates Foundation money in June.

Even though invited by the Gates Foundation the San Jose Unified, Franklin-McKinley, and Alum Rock school districts did not send representatives to the convocation in Texas. Over 80,000 students are enrolled in the charters and five districts that are representing this groundbreaking collaborative work; hopefully all five will have their chips on the table at the next meeting TBD. The Gates deadline has been extended from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1.

East Side Union and the SCCOE had representatives in Dallas to listen to the encouraging results by the nine U.S. cities previously funded by Gates. The charter school community was represented in Texas by the San Jose Charter School Consortium. This Gates initiative is designed to enhance the work on behalf of students and teachers in both the traditional public school and charter school sectors. Our region will be very fortunate to be in the second round of Gates funding, if effective compacts are submitted and signed…a major point of light.

The most successful companies on the planet (Apple, FaceBook, Netflix, Adobe, EBay, and Google) have their headquarters in Santa Clara County, and this array of corporate giants is one more source of potential illumination. It seems logical to conclude that the area’s public schools mirror their successes. After all it is our public schools that should supply the talented workforce these companies need to sustain their growth and leadership for years to come.

Silicon Valley public education has entered one of the most critical periods for which to lay a foundation for future results for many years to come. In a new book soon to be released, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, Steven Brill has a featured essay in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  In the article Brill concludes that it will take the infrastructure of the entire public school system and its charters to “fix” our schools. And the teacher unions must play an essential and vital role. In fact, Brill suggests Mayor Bloomberg should appoint Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as New York’s schools chancellor.

“She knows exactly where and how to fix the union contract so it rewards performance and enhances professionalism,” Brill writes. “She knows her shelf life is rapidly expiring on her standard rope-a-dope dodge…to change lockstep teacher compensation and overprotective tenure rules…”

This brings me to Stephen McMahon, President of the San Jose Teachers Association, representing over 1,700 teachers in San Jose Unified, the county’s largest public school district. Mr. McMahon is a game-changer for this county and we are very fortunate to have his courage and thinking in our midst.

Mr. McMahon was at the table with Superintendent Mathews (SJUSD) at a meeting I facilitated on the Gates Collaborative Compacts in May He recently asked to meet with me again to discuss Rocketship Education and their charters. He has come to the last two SCCOE Board meetings to address the Board about some of his views.

Here is what President McMahon said in a statement to the SCCOE Board, “I have deep rooted values and beliefs that led me to become a professional educator…I have been energized by what I have learned and the conversations I have had about Rocketship. There is no disputing that Rocketship is getting it done. The work done with students, the commitment of teachers and staff, the development of leaders, so much of what Rocketship is doing resonates with why I am in public education in the first place. I am working diligently as a leader with my members and with my district on the same track—trying to change public education for the better. It is sound, valuable, and necessary work.” Stephen McMahon is a beacon of light.

At last week’s meeting Stephen exhorted the SCCOE Board to lead the way in instilling a like spirit of partnership countywide. He said, “Be bold. Set the right course.” Perhaps we should consider appointing the SJTA President as our next superintendent if we are to be courageous about what is really needed to fix our schools.

Needless to say I am becoming more encouraged by the potential future we have the ability to create. The SCC traditional public and charter school sectors could be the next good personal investment. There is nothing more important than the education of each and every child living in the Valley of Hearts Delight.

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.


      • Glad to know we were there.

        Not to hijack your article here, but how much have you been looking into Khan academy stuff?

        Reason I ask is because it seems like an inordinate amount of discussion here is biased against the ESU, mostly because students are poor and English is a second language.

        Just an idea… Maybe the SCCOE could have its advanced students produce language videos for Khan (as extra curricular/credit).  This in turn *might* help the underperforming scores for kids in those situations, as well as give advanced students a more altruistic, community goal.

        I’m glad you come here and take our feedback.  It’s greatly appreciated.

    • >>Only two districts went to Dallas on the Gates Foundation money in June.

      More proof that educrats are just not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

      If they were UN global warming bureaucrats, they would have used other people’s money to have their club meeting in Copenhagen or Bali.

  1. The resignation of Joe DiSalvo would be a good first step.  This namby pamby, blithering fool, now wants to throw the County Superintendent out, and put a union president in, due to some other deal.

    DiSalvo=biggest threat to the education of our youth today.

    • I think the bigger threat might be from the tenured teachers in the teacher unions unwilling to adapt to new models of learning.

      They won’t learn anything new themselves, and you can’t fire em.

  2. “Yet, I am convinced that Santa Clara County public schools can become the steadily rising “blue chip” that raises the academic success for each child while closing the troubling racial achievement gap.”

    Since you used the word “closing” in a manner indicating to terminate, might you for once have the courage to share with us the reasoning behind your conviction that the “troubling racial achievement gap” can be closed? I’ve challenged you to do this previously, yet, despite that yours is the position held by the whole of the education profession (a position to which billions of tax dollars is being committed), you have never opted to respond.

    Darwinian evolution, as taught in the school system you serve, reveals difference—in appearance, behavior, and ability, to be the norm. This particular finding is consistent with human history and how the majority of people live their everyday lives (difference is so obvious to school children that they construct their social lives around it). Difference is everywhere; it’s typically measurable, consistent, predictable, and, outside of government, recognized as permanent. Yet, so disingenuous is the average public education administrator that rare will one validate a statement as simple and indisputable as: half of all high school students are below average in intelligence and not suitable for university. 

    Tell me, Mr. DiSalvo, must I wait for the cost of your profession’s holy mission to reach the trillions of tax dollars to get an answer, or is this simply a case in which another government entity has chosen to operate like the Vatican, issuing a dictate and commanding its minions to accept it on faith and, most importantly, continue to fill the collection plate?

    • BS,

      There are a growing number of traditional public schools and charter schools that employ instructional models that close the racial achievement gap. Anderson in Moreland, Bracher in Santa Clara Unified, Rocketship and Kipp in San Jose are accomplishing the important goal through smart data work, longer school day, use of technology, commitment by faculty, exceptional leadership and old fashion hard work.

      What you say is impossible to do is being done and the work is replicable.

      • Sir

        As a minority parent, I deeply resent your use of the term ” racial achievement gap.”

        Who are you, a white educator to talk about education in terms of race?

        You claim this mantle of progressive leadership, but you focus like all of your country club friends on race this or that.

        ps, you boast about bracher, but your friends on your blog are currently bring looked at for bullying employees are bracher.

  3. > And the teacher unions must play an essential and vital role. In fact, Brill suggests Mayor Bloomberg should appoint Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as New York’s schools chancellor.

    Who was it who said: “The public education system serves the interests of adults, not the children.”?

    I rest my case.

  4. Gates says, “We’re funding scholarships to give college-ready, highly motivated students the opportunity to attend the college of their choice.”  But only “African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students” may even apply for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.

    None of the diverse poor white American students is even allowed to apply.  Do we want a racist foundation operating in Santa Clara County?

    (For more information, go to “The Gates Millennium Scholars” on your search engine.)

    • > None of the diverse poor white American students is even allowed to apply.  Do we want a racist foundation operating in Santa Clara County?

      Sounds to me like the Gates Foundation may be on the same page as Joe DiSalvo’s students: they’re both just trying to do something about the “problem” of “white culture/values” in the schools.

      • > I guess it kinda makes up for years and years of suppression. Now you know how it feels.

        Oh, right.

        Revenge racism.

        That’s the good kind of racism.  Correct?

        • I’m not surprised that you would twist it. Your mind is always so small. “Revenge racism” is not part of the equation. No racism is EVER good, so that was just a stupid, idiotic thing to say. That is YOUR term. Simply stated, the poster is experiencing what others got to experience during years upon years of suppression and mal treatment. I guess he/she forgot about that.

        • >  Simply stated, the poster is experiencing what others got to experience during years upon years of suppression and mal treatment.

          Simply stated, the poster (“Well…”) is wallowing in revenge racism.

          “Well…” is NOT objecting to racism directed at the White Minority Community but is welcoming it as “deserved”.

          An intelligent person can only conclude that “Well…” thinks that racism directed at the White Minority Community is the good kind of racism.

          If “Well…” objected to racism directed at the White Minority Commnity it would be easy enough for him to say so.  Instead, he chooses to practice it rather than denounce it.

    • Well’s comment illustrates the mind set of the DiSalvo set.  The exact nature of Well’s comment isn’t what is important, what is important is Well’s embrace of racism.

      His intellect is basically jammed by the Anti-White Narrative as taught in may high schools, colleges, and on the pages of the Mercury News.  Without analysis, without thought, and without consequences, he slaps at the diverse white American peoples.  Yes, he’s a hater.

      • If you only knew. I AM white. I’m a hater, you say? How do you know that? Please tell me. My grandparents were some of my most racist people. I saw and heard it all, so I know full well of the suppression. Thank goodness I had wonderful, NEUTRAL parents, who raised me to detest racism and who raised me as an equal part of society. Oh yes, I use to get an earful and an eyeful and when questioning my parents, I was taught what was right. I find it distasteful that WMC is now calling out racism, when he/she KNOWS for a fact that it was once the other way around, even moreso. I was raised not to see color, so for you to call me a hater just goes a little further to show your ignorance.

        • Since white oppressed other races at various times and places in history, the pendulum should swing to the other side right?  Now racism should be leveled against the former oppressors?  This seems to be the philosophy behind so much of our policies these days, well that and white guilty by people who had nothing to do with the former behavior.

  5. Mr. DiSalvo,

    Speaking of class warfare, what about the disparity of school funding in our own county? According to Ed-Data, Palo Alto Unified spends $14,076 per student while Gilroy Unified spends $7,953.  What are you and your colleagues on the board doing to address this situation?

    • SteveO,

      I totally agree. This issue of student equity in our own county is a travesty. We must do better. No easy answers locally, unless we all share the solution at the ballot box. All districts as in your Gilroy example should be at the Palo Alto per student expenditures. I will do whatever I can to address this issue of funding and program inequity.

      Our school funding models are broken throughout America. Congressman Honda has provided the leadership to address the equity issues with a Commission whose recommendations are to be proposed to Congress in December. I attended when the Commission was convened in SJ and helped facilitate a table discussion on the issue,

      I wrote about these issues in an SJI post in March. My post is archived here.

      • Mr. DiSalvo,

        Thank you for responding.  I heard the phrase “leveling up” many times from Joe Simitian’s office when he opposed Gray Davis’ proposal to use excess funds from basic aid districts such as Palo Alto Unified to help districts like Gilroy Unified.  After nearly a decade with no progress at “leveling up”, it appears the gap between rich and poor districts is growing even wider.

  6. Actually the valley is still providing students to fulfill the demands of Silicon Valley. These students attend either private schools or their parents have made the necessary economic sacrifice to move to school districts with high achieving schools. You can throw 15,000 per student at some schools in Santa Clara County and it will not improve test scores. It comes down to changing the culture and societal attitudes of those parents whose children perform poorly. That will not happen. So rather than worry about the underachievers and dropouts, make the effort to increase the performance of those students who want to achieve but are stuck in crummy schools. Give them the scholarships and transportation to attend schools that will give them the path to success. In the meantime, turn other schools into trade schools or allow students to legally drop out at 15. The world still needs ditch diggers.

  7. Hearing , reading all the complaints about education . I have seen that California system is more overbearing than the Federal Standard , and to compare it with other states that spend more ,Money from rich philanthropists like Gates are trying to buy the system , rather than to fix it .
    The Real Answers are hear .

    Here is a quotation from “The Heritage Foundation.”
    article : Why National Standards Won’t Fix American Education: Misalignment of Power and Incentives.

    “On the one hand, such a critique of the status quo is well founded. Parental empowerment is essential and currently lacking. The monopoly that is the public education system must be more accountable to parents and taxpayers. Too many students leave high school without basic knowledge or skills. American education should be more competitive, particularly given the amount of money that taxpayers invest.”

    Read the Rest at :

    • “The Real Answers are hear .”

      Why do you put a space between the end of all your sentences and the period?  The same question applies to commas in your sentences.  One time could be a typo, but every time shows something is wrong.

      Perhaps the Unknown Educator could use an education.

      • Moment of correction , sorry . The word ‘here’ should be in place of ‘hear’.  My Typo. The problem when you write a ‘comment’ using the “reply to this comment.” It will not auto correct your margins . I enjoy the fact that it irritates persons who comment enough that they would reply to my comments when the vast majority of the reply ‘s are angry with Mr. Di Salvo and the county office of education .

        Sorry for this comment , but I’ll vent :

        I believe that most commentators are teachers , and professionals , and obviously many of them make mistakes on paper . There is also so many that demonized the educational system because the education system has been taken over feminizing tendencies, liberal agendas . Please forgive me if I use the word “feminizing” , but the national educational system in the United States is run and controlled by women of power for the most past since , or after the 1970’s , have reshaped the system to where it is now . I compare it with the obvious mistakes of our national government run by Boxer and Pelosi for example . I won’t vote for Michele Bachmann , yes I guess you say that I don’t want a woman in charge , but I know that there have been a great many women in charge who have done well , but our nation has a bunch of ‘girls’ in charge who remind me of Snookie . That kinda “feminizing”  has crept right into the educational system in America . There are fewer men who are teachers in the k-12 arena than there were 40 years ago . Sure ‘times a changing’ as we all hear . The root of how to fix the system might be going back to days to when the educational system had ‘real men in charge’ , and yes we had ‘real women’ who taught by the book ,bell and candle .

        Happy irritations all………..

  8. Were the academic achievement gap something other than a reflection of innate differences in ability there would be no need for “smart data work, longer school day, use of technology, commitment by faculty, exceptional leadership and old fashion hard work” at any particular school or within any particular district; that is, unless school administrators are today manufacturing the gap—a charge that hasn’t been made. To believe otherwise is to accept that the race or gender of a given student so influences a school’s faculty or a district’s curriculum as to nullify or neutralize that student’s natural talent—a truly preposterous notion.

    For decades, activists purportedly representing the interests of poor students played the race card with every shuffle of the deck. Its first patsies were those individual teachers and counselors who were said to have for decades discouraged and derailed the educational aspirations of any student who wasn’t white. Every “victim” seemed to have a sad story to share with a sympathetic reporter about a bastard educator who’d kept him down. What no one ever mentioned was that the disruptive efforts of these very racist educators never seemed to have worked on Asians. Notwithstanding evidence to the contrary, the ranks of teachers and counselors were adjudged to be racist and their ranks forcefully retrained and integrated (with a considerable loss in talent)—made to look more like the student body. And to this black and Hispanic students responded by (what else?) doing as dismally as ever.

    The next shuffle focused on the funding disparities between districts, blaming poor performance on the fact that many top-performing school districts encompass wealthier communities. Besides the obvious—that wealthier communities are populated by parents passing along genes especially well-suited for educational systems serving the host environment, this argument conveniently ignores the great many students (most belonging to the wrong race) from some of the so-called “worst schools” who perform very well when compared with students statewide, on their SAT’s, and qualify for good colleges. Somehow certain students are able to learn in schools that have been branded hardly capable of teaching. Remarkable!

    Today every card in the deck is a race card, rendering every facet of our educational system ripe for suspicion, examination, blame. Today the only game in town requires that a pair of fives be allowed to beat a set of queens, a busted straight take the pot, and every traditional winning hand be considered evidence of cheating. There had damn well better be as many Mexicans walking away from the table winners as there are whites and Asians, even if it requires cheating.

    Put Joseph DiSalvo in charge of a dog training facility and the operating budget would soon skyrocket to cover the cost of the “smart data work, longer school day, use of technology, commitment by faculty, exceptional leadership and old fashion hard work” for his program to transform poodles into police dogs and train bulldogs to run the track with greyhounds. The program would never succeed, of course, but as DiSalvo himself would tell you, every failure would be a failure of training and budget, never concept or pupil.

  9. DiSalvo the educator?


    He is a politician feeding off the funds meant to teach kids.

    SCCOE goes after Magnolia Schools, with Anna Song!s husband,Chris Stampolis sending emails to do the county board’s dirty work.

    While at Santa Clara Unified, Ina Bendis gets an office for herself at a vacant school site.  No private office to tutor kids, a private office for a board member.


      DiSalvo is a “progressive”.

      The fundamental defining characteristic of all lefitists (and this as the rare case where “all” applies) is that they are “sophists” in the classical meaning of the word.  “Sophist” is simply an ancient Greek term which, for all practical purposes, describes people that we today refer to “leftists”.

      The sophists were a school of philisophers who made mastery and teaching of “rhetoric” the center of their reality.  In their words, they strove to become expert in “making the weaker argument seem like the stronger.”

      Their reasoning basically boils down to: “if you don’t know the truth, winning the debate at least seems like the truth and is a darn good substitute.”

      So, the essence of the leftist reality is to simply “win the debate” by any means necessary, fair or foul, above board or sneaky.

      So, when Joe DiSalvo “ignore’s all criticism” and declines to respond to compelling counter arguments, he is just doing the “progressive” thing:  if you can’t win an argument, change the subject, pretend you didn’t hear, mumble that “the experts” all think the opposite, just don’t lose the debate.

      You will NEVER, EVER hear a progressive say: “That’s a good argument, I didn’t think of that, you’ve changed my mind.”

      “Losing a debate” is not in the progressive’s DNA.

  10. I’m a little late to the party, but can’t resist commenting on “revenge racism.” Such an interesting phrase!
    I’m Black (I don’t use African-American; it’s not specific enough), and went to jr high and high schools in San Jose during the 50s and 60s.

    I contend that revenge racism is not possible.
    As evidence over the centuries has shown, racism in America revolves around systemic, systematic, institutional, economic and organizational practices that keep whites in power and others (especially Blacks) out of power.

    (Yes, we have a Black President. And, he’s President of ALL the citizens. It’s not in his job description to eliminate racism, and I don’t think anyone seriously believes his election means racism has suddenly disappeared. Remember: the Executive branch of government is only charged with implementing the laws established by the Legislative branch.)
    But I digress. Minority groups cannot practice revenge racism. There’s no structure in place to do so. Minority groups might express frustration towards individuals or isolated groups of whites because of the discrimination they’ve endured, but that’s not racism because they have no influence over the day-to-day quality of life for whites.

    Keep in mind that racism has been defined as:
    Any attitude, action or institutional structure which systematically treats an individual or group of individuals differently because of their race. The most common form of racism in North America is in the form discrimination against African-Americans. …


    The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). ……


    The use of race to establish and justify a social hierarchy and system of power that privileges, preferences or advances certain individuals or groups of people usually at the expense of others. Racism is perpetuated through both interpersonal and institutional practices.

    Racism’s roots, especially as they relate to whites and descendants of slaves, are deep and complex. They express themselves in education, employment, housing, social relationships, you name it. But, a bright spot is that as the number of interracial couples increases, in a few generations we might not be able to identify ethnic groups. And, with immigration seeming to increase, we’ll probably start seeing shifts in power unlike anything we’ve known—think Cupertino, for example.

    If you’re interested in more, the following information from white scholars and other professionals provides a candid look at the privilege of being white:

    Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic of the University of Colorado comment on the acclaimed book, Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror, which they edited:

    If you haven’t already seen it, this PBS video is worth checking out:

    And here are 50 examples of white privilege:

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