Charters, Obama Policy Have Dramatically Altered Landscape of Local Education

As chair of the county Board of Education the last two years, I have concluded that the delivery, organization and governance of public education has changed markedly in San Jose/Silicon Valley. Much of the disequilibrium has been generated by the federal initiative called “Race to the Top,” and the Obama administration’s embrace of school choice through the advocacy of quality charter schools.

The Board has played a meaningful role in the local controversy through its votes to authorize many countywide charters consistent with state law. Too often this sets up adversarial relationships between our local school districts. The Board spent several meetings listening to district trustees and superintendents in crafting the Countywide Charter School Guidelines.

Mercury News editorial writer Rachel Wilner asserted in an editorial, “The SCCOE is shedding its image as an obscure agency to become a major player in public education.” Wilner wrote this due to our affirmative charter school votes—especially the 20 Rocketship schools.

More and more countywide charter petitions are on the way, as evidenced by the Discover II and Summit Denali petitions introduced in the last two Board meetings. Votes to approve or deny will come in November. If approved, the schools would open for the 2013-14 school year. On one hand, the approach to increase student achievement results and graduation rates, with the requisite A-G requirements, is great for those students who win a lottery seat at the newly minted charter school.

However, uncertainty always remains whether or not this transfer from traditional public to charter is weakening the traditional public school system. (There are allegations of “skimming,” or the reduction of revenue that follows students to charter schools.) Or, is this competition for students spurring reform in public school intent on narrowing the achievement gap and increasing college readiness?

The birth of the California 1992 charter legislation, which first authorized the process for charter authorization, was intended to be a vehicle for using public dollars for innovation with less regulation. It was expected that the legislation would lead to healthy competition to increase achievement across the board. There is some evidence that local competition is working as the legislation intended, yet far too slowly and with mixed results.

I predict that in 2014 the mayoral candidates in San Jose will be thrust into a new spotlight and the campaigns will focus much more than in previous campaigns on public education. Race to the Top placed a premium on a mayor’s role in solidifying reform agendas aimed at increasing student achievement, new evaluation models of teachers, rethinking tenure, etc. New York’s Michael Bloomberg and Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel are two examples of mayors taking a lead role, but California’s school governance has traditionally gone to local school boards and their superintendents.

Mayor Reed has endorsed the countywide initiative at eliminating the achievement gap by 2020 (SJ/SV 2020). He has placed this as one of his strategic goals. This was a giant step forward and the beginning of a school governance change locally.

The latest state test results indicate we are not going to achieve the stated goal unless there is stronger and bolder leadership in the 19 San Jose district governing boards—way too many, in my opinion—in addition to the 12 other school districts in Santa Clara County. It will require a sense of urgency and an “all hands on deck” mentality.

Looking at districts that produce high school graduates for San Jose, the data for meeting college A-G readiness is poor to say the least. The data makes the argument that everyone must work together. Otherwise, our communities will suffer great harm economically and socially. Newly elected mayors will have an increasing role to play.

Below are percentages of local graduates who meet A-G college qualifications:

San Jose Unified
30.3 female
22.3 male

54.4 female
42.5 male

80.4 female
64.2 male

East Side Union High School
19.5 female
12.4 male

19.4 female
11.8 male

36.5 female
25.9 male

65.2 female
54.1 male

Joseph Di Salvo is chair of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

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.

One Comment

  1. Any honest effort to narrow the achievement gap must necessarily focus on providing additional support for those students performing below the mean in any cohort.

    Unfortunately, just because it’s called a “charter school” in Santa Clara County, approved by the current Board of Education, doesn’t mean it’s actually benefitting under-served students and closing the achievement gap.

    Charters that disproportionately enroll – either by design or by accident – advantaged and already high-achieving students work against the goal of narrowing the achievement gap. They increase educational inequity.

    Charters that under-serve students of low-SES, special needs, low parent education level and those who otherwise perform below the mean on standardized tests (API) expand the problem that charter law is supposed to reduce.

    This SCCBOE supports choice for the sake of choice alone, with insufficient focus on actual unmet need, which too often means the parents of already advantaged students are creating “schools of choice” to opt out of even high-performing district schools to ‘get away’ from other public school students they deem less desirable as classmates for their children.

    The pro-charter movement has hijacked the SCCBOE and we see its money and influence all over the SCCBOE re-election campaigning for a Grace Mah and against Anna Song.

    The SCCBOE must refocus on serving actual unmet educational needs of students and reject charter applications from those who would create boutique de facto ‘private schools’ under the guise of “choice” programs. These boutique charters deliver higher API scores by selecting ‘good’ students and excluding ‘bad’ students.

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