Reestablishing the Dream for Equality

Racial equality in our schools and communities is elusive, but a work in progress. The achievement gap is real and it has not budged significantly for the half century since Dr. King delivered his famous speech. On Sunday, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be dedicated to the American people in Washington D. C.

The dedication event takes place 48 years to the day of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This famous speech was written and delivered with the goal of ending racial inequality. For this goal to be realized, schools must become the beacon of racial equality. We have come so far, but we as a people who have dreamed big, must go much farther toward the goal to end racial injustice in our schools and communities—a major goal of my career and campaign for school board.

The etymology and meaning of the phrase “racial achievement gap” is a very complex social issue that is contentious by its very nature. This past weekend I was engaged in a discussion with other elected officials about the need to perhaps soften the tone of the issue by using opportunity gap or achievement gap over racial achievement gap. All are proper terms in my view, however, as a society we must keenly understand the issues on how race intersects with success in and out of school for African American and Latino youth.

Last week, I had lunch with my former administrative colleagues from when I was principal at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto. One of my former assistant principal colleagues said that I put a target on my chest for the words I use on SJI to describe my thoughts and positions on education. He stated that if I was concerned about being elected again in November 2012, I should soften my voice.

As a former English teacher, he was explaining ways to say the same thing but not using words that inflame the passions of conservative bloggers. Perhaps he is right, but I told him I choose not to moderate my words in order to get more votes.

I was very fortunate to win this elected seat to Area No. 4 on the Santa Clara County Board. My elected position on the SCCOE Board of Education affords me an opportunity to have a voice and a vote about issues that improve the quality of the educational system for all students. Through this column and electronic newsletters, I try to keep my constituents informed about my positions. Other than on SJI, I mostly receive positive feedback.

MLK in his famous 1963 speech said, “I have a dream that my four little children one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” My goal is to be respectfully and appropriately “loud” about an educational community where equity and equality are not sacrosanct for each and every child.

The facts are stark and our work to “Build the Dream” must be re-energized. This new national monument to MLK is a great opportunity for us to do just that.

There are a disproportionate number of African Americans in special education programs in schools in Santa Clara County, California and the nation. According to a report to Congress a decade ago, African Americans make up 14.8 percent of the general population, but 20.2 percent of those students were in special education classes.

We must look at placing a proportional number of African American and Latino youth in Gifted and Talented Education programs, honors and AP classes when they qualify based on education code or local policy. Today, in too many of our schools and districts, the numbers for African American and Latino youth are not close to proportional.

A higher percentage of the most effective teachers work in districts with fewer African American and Latino youth. Through good, intentional work we can address this issue head-on.

In California, while making up only 6 percent of the general population ,African Americans make up 29 percent of the total prison population. And African Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 5,525 per 100,000 population, while 1,146 Latinos are incarcerated per 100,000 in total population. This is in contrast 671 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites, and 43 for Asians per 100,000 population.

Schools must look at the percentage of suspensions and expulsions and the race and ethnicity of those suspended and expelled as a ratio to the general population. We must look at helping school systems like Rocketship Education bring their informed work and model to help seed instructional programs that eliminate the achievement gap in school districts where the racial achievement gap is high and unchanged over time.

As we in Santa Clara County continue to work toward MLK’s dream, let’s rededicate ourselves to the work in schools. The goals of SJ 2020 must become a reality. As we do the work, we must heed MLK’s words from 1956: “Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

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. “This is in contrast [to] 671 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites, and 43 for Asians per 100,000 population.”

    Who are these “non-Hispanic whites”?  I don’t know anyone who uses that label to describe themselves.  Do they have votes on issues like parcel taxes that you will need?

    If you are relying on US Census labeling, you would also use “non-Hispanic Asians” and “non-Hispanic blacks,” but you don’t so it looks like a new term to strip us of our diversity, our nationality, and our right to name ourselves.  Thanks.

  2. Joseph,

    Don’t blame the problems on the schools or society at large.  When MLK said, “I have a dream that my four little children…,” it was because he actually gave a sh*t about his kids.

    I think you know full well that the major cause of these problems is parents who are irresponsible.  That includes having children out of wedlock; fathers who simply abandon their children; self-absorbed parents who choose a life of drugs, alcohol, crime, and instant sexual gratification; immigrants who, by choice or laziness, never learn English yet dump their children, who speak not a word of it, on the schools, etc.

    It really has nothing to do with race and everything to do with a secure and nurturing family life.  Generation after generation of folks look for the government to step in and raise their children.  The schools are NOT surrogate parents, in spite of what you may say.

    You and countless other liberals have some sort of guilt complex, expecting government at all levels to do things which parents will not.  Get over it, these people need to take responsibility for their lives and their actions.

  3. “I Have A Dream” that schools will stop asking for more taxes and fix problems – That dream isn’t likely to come true anytime soomn when tearchers are more interested in their benefits, pension and welfare than children

    Voting out of office any School Board candidate that is endorsed by California Teacher’s association is a good start to fixing schools

  4. You made me cry, Joe, about this memorial.  Your best blog ever, and you do fullfill the dream of Dr. King.  I just talked to a person in Santa Clara who began a tirade about the football stadium and she said the head of the anti stadium effort, a guy named Bailey, told her to go to neighbors in back of the stadium and tell them “Oakland gangs are coming here.”

    Racism never leaves us, Joe, but you and Dr, King are of a class of people, that dedicate your lives for peace and tolerance, when I think of tolerance, I think of your efforts in education, and when I think of ignorance and hate, I think of this guy Bailey telling people to now use racism against the stadium.

    How can we make more of people like you, and less of the haters like this guy?

  5. I did get a copy of an email allegedly fellow Bailey has been sending out all over Santa Clara.  By the way, I think Santa Clara’s most well known blogger is a complete fool and a loon. I voted against the stadium However, Joe and others write about tolerance, so this applies as they are great citizens who, like Dr. King, believes in peace and love

    this email I have seen has been sent to people in Santa Clara

    “emphasize in your letters to the media that raider fans come from Oakland.”

    “stadium boosters are on the council, but are being questioned about being too intolerant, emphasizing crime and Oakland fans will make them and the other boosters scared over the stadium deal.”

    Joe, it is true as it was with busing, why do people use racism as a rallying cry?

  6. A msn like Bailey has used the issue of violence to get opposition to the stadium.  HE TOLD MEMBERS OF HIS GROUP TO USE THE WORD OAKLAND, OAKLAND OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN EMAILS.  Mr. Howe is a clever and smart person.  He knows this code fir blacks, blacks and blacks.  At public meetings in Santa Clara, Bailey demonstrates a lack if respect particularly to blacks and American Induans.  It is documented in complaints,  You are among my favorite posters because you have sincerity and wit.  You are right to be skeptical at playing the victim games.  But what King stood for was tolerance and dignity.  Tolerance and love.  I am sure you are well respected at work and home because you are smart.  But we are talking about a real fact if life that there is a public figure who actively insults minority groups, and he is doing while claiming to be an activist,  to be honest, I think many white people get disrespected and kumped and that is wrong.  Many of them are different and do not plsy the victim ad nauseum, and they, like you, should be praised for doing good work.  But the bigot of any color like this Bailey makes King irrelevant.  They cine in all groups, black or white, and they hate for hatred sake.  Until people like you get the respect they deserve and until we give respect for not playing the victim, we will not be fulfilling King’s memorial.  People like you know how to care for families and their community, pigs are the other hand, only know how to hate and do not, play fair.

    • I’ve re-read your post a number of times and cannot understand how you link me with this Bailey fellow, your statement about Oakland, a public figure who actively insults minority groups, etc., etc.  Are you confusing me with someone else, are you praising me or denigrating me, I simply cannot make any sense out of your posting.

  7. Walter Williams- “The sorry and tragic state of black education is not going to be turned around until there’s a change in what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior by young people. The bulk of that change has to come from within the black community.”

    “More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwedded mothers, who are often themselves born to unwedded mothers. Today’s level of female-headed households is new in black history. Until the 1950s, almost 80 percent of black children lived in two-parent households, as opposed to today’s 35 percent.”

    Thomas Sowell on the recent riots- “Today’s politically correct intelligentsia will tell you that the reason for this alienation and lashing out is that there are great disparities and inequities that need to be addressed.

    But such barbarism was not nearly as widespread two generations ago, in the middle of the 20th century. Were there no disparities or inequities then? Actually there were more.

    What is different today is that there has been—for decades—a steady drumbeat of media and political hype about differences in income, education and other outcomes, blaming these differences on oppression against those with fewer achievements or lesser prosperity.

    Moreover, there has been a growing tolerance of lawlessness and a growing intolerance toward the idea that people who are lagging need to take steps to raise themselves up, instead of trying to pull others down.”

    “Multiculturalism enshrines the sins and grievances approach—and paints the poor into a corner, where they can nurse their resentments, instead of advancing their skills and their prospects. The beneficiaries are politicians and race hustlers.”

  8. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – MLK

    Character*— the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.

    Feature*—a prominent or conspicuous part or characteristic.

    Trait*—a distinguishing characteristic or quality, especially of one’s personal nature.

    In the World According to Joseph DiSalvo, what MLK meant by the term “content of their character” was “color of their skin.” Do not judge black children negatively by the color of their skin, judge them positively by it. Sadly, Mr. DiSalvo is not alone, because wherever it is that people of color distinguish themselves by their poor performance—be it in education, business, or civility, our educators, journalists, and political leaders will dismiss and/or assail any and all traditional means of distinguishing sound character from poor, good qualities from bad, desirable traits from destructive. Only in America can rioters break, burn, and loot with dignity.

    Tell me, Mr. DiSalvo, is a report card a measure of skin color or character? What about an SAT score, attendance record, or conduct assessment? Isn’t your answer to those questions wholly dependent on skin color? If the marks are poor, and the students black or Hispanic, then you and the rest of the apologists will immediately scream that it is actually their skin color being measured (by a racist system). The only time you will agree that the marks are a reflection of the content of character is when the marks are good (has anyone ever heard an educator attribute the success of a black student to anything but the content of character?).

    Truth be told, the stated goal of the campaign against the irreducible gap is to get blacks and Hispanic kids to perform as well on the very tests and measures that you today condemn as being inaccurate and unfair. The only measuring system today’s professional educators endorse is the one they’ve got on the drawing board; the next incarnation of the test that has proved so elusive—one in which people of all races and creeds score equally. Accuracy and fairness, traditional elements structured into tests, have been hijacked by those who structure results.

    Here’s a report card on how well the egalitarian campaign is going. Read it and weep.


    *as defined in Webster’s Unabridged

  9. While racism still abounds in our nation MLK dream may have had it’s own partial fulfillment in Obama’s election. The Next question , are African -American’s happy if you ask any of them ? . Nope . There exists about 40 % unemployment among them, higher than the national 9 % that the media has reported on .

    Changing the term “Racial Achievement Gap” to “Achievement Gap” is like playing scrabble with the words . Some have said how do close the “Gap” between whites and other so called minorities?

    Here’s how the Race issue plays in education . The percentages I give are all for illustration only .

    Asian 100 % ( meets standards )
    White 50-40 % ( above or below average )
    Latino 30%-20 % (below average )
    African-American 20% 10 % (below average )

    The ” Non- Hispanic whites”  are not doing so well either when you look at comparing United States with some highly developed country like China and Japan.

    If the next step is to change all that and close the “gap” why not treat every race and child by giving them the best in education , send them the most effective teachers to work in districts with higher percentages of minorities .

  10. I want to commend my board colleague for not worrying about the next election as most pols do and continuing to speak his mind in his advocacy for educational opportunity and equity for ALL children.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of ‘out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope..’. 

    Educationally speaking, we continue to look for, be in search of those ‘stones of hope’ and we must be unceasing in this work.  The status quo – anchors of do nothing and more of the same that isn’t working – is unacceptable.  To this end, the Santa Clara County Board of Education is in complete support of reform-minded local districts as well as non-traditional public schools, also known as charter schools. 

    To a member, we are champions for excellent schools.  With that said, a huge ‘stone of hope’ in our county is Rocketship Schools.  We have 40,000 underserved students in Santa Clara County and I view Rocketship as part of the solution along with other effective charter schools and reform-minded local districts.

    What I am really sick of are the champions of the ‘status quo’ continuing to harp about Rocketship (and other alternatives) rather than laser focusing on what they aren’t and haven’t been doing for generations. 

    Yes, out of the mountain of despair (status quo), a stone of hope. 

    Keep hope alive!

  11. Break the unions and good things happen.

    “Three companies have made offers to replace the union-affiliated Wisconsin Education Association Trust as health insurance provider for Oshkosh schools.

    The district could realize millions of dollars in immediate savings by seeking a new provider. Appleton schools stuck with WEA Trust but saved $3.1 million by stirring up competition. The Kimberly school district dropped WEA Trust and saved $821,000.”

  12. “Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as “acting white.” Although he noted that other factors also play a role, and doesn’t deny that there may be antiblack sentiment in the district, he concluded that discrimination alone could not explain the gap.”

    “The black parents feel it is their role to move to Shaker Heights, pay the higher taxes so their kids could graduate from Shaker, and that’s where their role stops,” Ogbu says during an interview at his home in the Oakland hills. “They believe the school system should take care of the rest. They didn’t supervise their children that much. They didn’t make sure their children did their homework. That’s not how other ethnic groups think.”

    Newsflash for you Joe – the gap is not in our stars but in ourselves. 

    This country is nothing but a cornucopia of opportunity and anyone that works hard can make it.  Period.

  13. Mr. DiSilva, regarding your comment:

    “Through this column and electronic newsletters, I try to keep my constituents informed about my positions. Other than on SJI, I mostly receive positive feedback.”

    I think this forum has been healthy for you as well as for us comboxers.  We all tend to live among a self-selective group of people and so have limited personal exposure to opposing points of view.  Yet, in your position as an elected official, you know from school bond votes that your interlocutors at SJI represent the 30-60% of the electorate that votes against school bonds.  This forum has given you an insight into why we do vote the way we do.  It also allows the average guy like me, who cannot possibly attend SCCOE functions because of the obligations of work and family, an opportunity to present my views.

    Thank you for your participation at SJI.

    Sincerely, BC

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