Education Needs Accountability, New Ideas

The tragic departure of Steve Jobs from his CEO position at Apple last week has prompted me to ask if he would please weigh in on how California should evaluate the effectiveness of their public schools. I think the direction we take today will answer the question of whether public schools can ever produce more thinkers and problem solvers like Mr. Jobs in the future.

SB547 would replace the current accountability system for public schools with a new one called the Education Quality Index (EQI). The new Senate Bill, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, has just passed the state Senate and is now being debated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a strong supporter of the new legislation, says the new index will be broader than its predecessor and include metrics for graduation rates and college and career readiness. A new Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee will produce a component for elementary schools that has yet to be determined.

Since 1999, accountability to the public for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the public education system has been ramping up. This is primarily a good thing—to expect schools to perform on some agreed upon metrics. Before the late 1990’s we only had a non-quantifiable guessing game about which schools did well in comparison to others.

The state currently uses the numerical system of 200-1000 to base how well at least 95 percent students in a public school do on the correct answers to the California Standards Test (CSTs) given each spring. The system of school accountability we rely on today is weak at best, but much better than what we had prior to 12 years ago. Defining effective schools today based on the academic progress of students takes in a very narrow band of skills and content—a very frustrating model to most educators.

With phrases like the Academic Performance Index (API) in California and Adequate Yearly Progress in the federal system of accountability, we have measured the quality of schools based on how well students do with “bubble” testing. At the expense of science, history-social science, performing arts, physical education, and career technical education, we measure a school’s academic worth primarily in just two content areas: mathematics and English-Language Arts.

Most of my colleagues in K-12 education have been hoping for a breakthrough at the federal level in rewriting the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, formerly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Even though President Obama campaigned in 2007-08 on a significant rewrite of the flawed law, only some small progress has been made.

Now U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan will be issuing state-by-state waivers to states in line with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top reform agenda. Since there are federal sanctions for not making the Adequate Yearly Progress goal, upwards of eight out of 10 schools will be Program Improvement (PI) Schools. This new tough accountability is based on the accelerating percentage of students that must reach grade-level proficiency in math and language arts in the federal model of Adequate Yearly Progress.

The waiver process is a means to exempt schools in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Cupertino, which will become PI schools by next year or the year after—not a good thing for property values. I was unable to find out information whether California is in line for a possible federal waiver or not.

I would like to put my name in to the mix to become a member of the new Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee, but I would gladly give my seat up to individuals like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr or Art de Geus, CEO of Synopsis.

I thank Mr. Jobs, who has made the quality of my life and my family’s life better by his brilliance and perseverance. He became the iconoclast for technological tools for the average person. Our schools today are producing too many individuals who think similarly and do not think divergently.  The new schools accountability model (EQI) being created in our legislature can keep California at the forefront of innovation and creativity.

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. How about the Basics including P.E.  I still think 2+2=4 4×2=8 16 divided by 2=8. A E I O U are still vowels.  Seems like the basics have stayed the same for a 100 years.  The only thing that has changed is public cost and new “Programs”  The failure is the lure for money and special projects to “IMPROVE” our ed. system. = Failure

  2. Jobs thought so highly of public education that he put his kids through private school. Putting Zuckerberg on that committee is laughable. Social networking is not a means develop independent thought only a means to spread group thought. As General Patton once said: “If everyone is thinking the same, then no one is thinking”.

  3. Good heavens, Joe.
    Don’t you think that Steve Jobs has more on his mind these days than the need to “weigh in” on some blogger’s post about a bill in Sacramento?

  4. So you are advocating successful businessmen Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who
    all dropped out of college because they saw great opportunities working than sitting in classroom advising you and schools on what needs to be fixed

    They will tell you most of school is waste of time and money to prepare anyone for work and kills creativeness, critical thinking, needed work skills while promotes rote learning and memorization of worthless information

    Billions are wasted each year on worthless classes,  college courses and meaningless degrees that educators insist have value while most student leave college thousands in debt and most have few to no work skills   College / high school students then have to work for 2-3 years at low paid wages to develop work skills

  5. With the Education System already overburden with accountability . Why do we need more? NCLB and Race to the Top are all gimmicks . Every elected President has his own education model . Bill Clinton if any one remembers played the saxophone to Save the Music school program. Here is what Bill Clinton said way beck in 1999:
    “I proposed a large package of education reforms, arguing that we should change the way we spend the more than $15 billion a year of education aid to ‘support what works and stop supporting what doesn’t work,’ by requiring states to end social promotion, turn around failing schools or shut them down. I again asked Congress to provide funds to build or modernize 5000 schools and to approve a six-fold increase in the number of college scholarships for students who commit to teaching in under-served areas. “

    So do we have anything new since Bill Clinton left the oval office?


  6. Jobs wasn’t the one that pushed the apples for school program in the 80’s, that was all Woz.

    In 1986, Wozniak lent his name to the Stephen G. Wozniak Achievement Awards (referred to as Wozzie Awards), which he presented to six Bay Area high school and college students for their innovative use of computers in the fields of business, art and music.

    I can’t find any citation for it, but I remember watching an interview on computer currents with Woz, who insisted they do the apples for schools, though Jobs wasn’t too happy with the idea.

    Also note, Jobs wasn’t an innovator, he wasn’t an engineer.  He’s a salesman, pure and simple. Show me where the Philanthropy towards schools is listed on his wiki article.

    It’s simply not there.

    I will give Jobs credit for insisting on making Apple products aesthetically pleasing again, I will give him credit for changing the music industry (as someone who routinely deals with music licensing, I can vouch that selling any label on “downloads” will be met with, “How do you quantify a sale if it isn’t physical?”)

    Here’s another quote, with citation.

    Despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. He is not a member of the Giving Pledge, the organization founded by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade the nation’s wealthiest families to pledge to give away at least half their fortunes. (He declined to participate, according to people briefed on the matter.) Nor is there a hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it.

    Pretty good timing bro, 2-3 days after his resignation you post an article with his picture…

    I’ll give this article a “C”.  You did well on your grammar and spelling, but you forgot to include a bibliography with citations.

  7. For those struggling to keep up with the swift changes in public education, the key to understanding is that the legal edifice designed to close the achievement gaps is being rapidly dismantled. 

    The original federal law was ESEA (the Elementary & Secondary Education Act) of 1965.  This was a President Johnson initiative.

    In 2002, the act was revised as NCLB (No Child Left Behind) guided into existence by President Bush and Senator Kennedy.  It was designed to end the “soft bigotry” that led to different demographic rates of educational success.  It created the category called AYP which was a national scale established to evaluate school site and school district successful improvement rates.

    On August 8, 2011, the US Secretary of Education offered waivers under NCLB to every state to remove the schools therein from the impact of the robust testing regime required as a way of measuring site and district improvement.  Just a few days ago, our elected State Superintendent filed a formal request with Washington, D.C., for that waiver.

    On a state level, the state counterpart (API) to the federal AYP is being dismantled. State legislation seeks to end API, and create something called EQI which lacks a fully formed methodology for all grades.

    Once the federal waiver is granted to California from NCLB’s AYP, and once the state destroys API, you can kiss goodbye to all sincere efforts to measure the closure of the achievement gaps notwithstanding many claims (some to appear on San Jose Inside) that this is not so.

  8. Here we go again. Yet another bill to “fix” education, without a clear idea about what we want the end result to look. No one involved in education can articulate a clear goal for the $$$ we spend each year on K-12; and I’ve asked lots of individuals. Currently, given the focus on testing, our goals appear to be aimed at producing a generation of students who excel at cramming for tests, remembering random facts, and filling in bubbles. Perhaps this is our goal, in which case we’re doing a stunning job of achieving it. Unfortunately, achieving it doesn’t seem that valuable to the students or the community.

    What we really need is a team to clearly identify what we want out of education – a SMART goal – then we can argue on the best way to achieve that goal. The team can include the individuals Joe mentions above, plus forward thinkers from the teaching, political and parent communities. I’d even be willing to serve…

    Joe – how about taking the lead and pulling this team together?

  9. > What we really need is a team to clearly identify what we want out of education – a SMART goal – then we can argue on the best way to achieve that goal. The team can include the individuals Joe mentions above, plus forward thinkers from the teaching, political and parent communities. I’d even be willing to serve…

    > Joe – how about taking the lead and pulling this team together?

    So, you and Joe, with a few other politicians and public education careerists form a team to define a SMART goal—a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY SMART goal—for what we want out of education.

    Who’s going to listen?

    Why are they going to listen?

    Has anyone ever listened to you before about anything?

    Why don’t we just let parents decide what they want out of education, and empower them to fire the schools, educators, and politicians who don’t deliver?

  10. Remember the violent and disgusting demonstrations over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker doing away with the collective bargaining for teacher’s unions?  The results are in.  Some school districts went from a $400,000 deficit to a $1,500,000 surplus as a result.  Why?
    It seems that the insurance company that provided all the “so-called” benefits to the teachers, was an insurance company owned and operated by the teacher’s union.  Since they were guaranteed to get the insurance business from the teachers and the State had to pay for it, and not the teachers, they were increasing the annual costs every single year to become the most expensive insurance company in the state.  Then the insurance company was donating millions and millions of dollars to their favorite democrat politicians, who when they got elected, guaranteed to keep funding the unions outrageous costs.  In other words, the insurance company was a “pass through” for Wisconsin taxpayer money directly to the democrat politicians.
    Nice racket, and this is the racket that is going on in every single State that allows collective bargaining.  No wonder the States are taking it away. Now that the State of Wisconsin is free to put the insurance contract out for bid, and lo and behold, they have saved so much money it has turned deficits into surplus amounts.  As a result, none of the teachers had to be laid off, everyone got a raise, etc., etc., and the taxpayers of Wisconsin don’t have to pay more taxes to fund the union’s political ambitions.
    Here is the article:

  11. “The tragic departure of Steve Jobs from his CEO position at Apple last week has prompted me to ask if he would please weigh in on how California should evaluate the effectiveness of their public schools.”

    Ask and ye shall receive…

    “Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.”

    But then Jobs is saying nothing that we all didn’t know already.

    If ever there was a worthy “Occupy” target – it’s the teachers union.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *