Judgment Day for Education is Here

I am writing this column as a pragmatic alarmist. This phrase is oxymoronic, but an accurate portrayal of how I feel at the end of my first term on the Santa Clara County Office of Education school board.

It is Election Day 2012. Four years ago, 60 friends and supporters watched the returns with me at my election night party. We celebrated the national results along with my election to the county Board of Education. Little did I know that the Board would be at the eye of the political storm brewing over charter school expansions.

One prominent national education leader recently told me that the traditional public school system has a life expectancy of no more than five years. To co-exist alongside publicly funded charter schools, expanding at breakneck speed, the tradition system must reform itself with world-class achievement results.

The optimism for change within the traditional public school system since I took my oath of office has waned. The system has not even been able to reform an agrarian-based calendar created over 100 years ago. This is a tragic fact, even though we have research to indicate the summer recess of 10 weeks has a negative effect on students from a lower socio-economic background.

These last four years I have attempted to warn the educational leaders that unless we see dramatic improvements in overall achievement results: STEM, the achievement gap, increase college readiness rates among high school graduates, and teachers unions come to the table to reform tenure/evaluation systems, charter schools will continue to take over the educational landscape.

The person who sits in the Oval Office the next four years must deal with the national house of cards we are building for America’s public education system. We can no longer afford to disinvest in our children’s education. In California, we have cut more than $20 billion a year in funding for K-12 education and the funding for our public university system has been decimated.

If Proposition 30 fails at the state level, we are contributing to the implosion of the house of cards. At the federal level, the President is required to issue a sequestration order by January 2, 2013, which has a direct, deleterious effect on our economy and public school funding, including Head Start for our most vulnerable youth.

Most of us would say public education is an issue that should be funded at the local level. However, for our national defense we have developed the most lethal and powerful military on this planet. We spend $700 billion dollars a year on our military and weapon systems. Sixty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, while trying to warn against a growing military-industrial complex, said: “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: A modern brick school in more than 30 cities.”

Certainly, education of our children can be considered our best national security issue. Investment in systems that get quality results and their replication is the key, whether traditional or charter.

I had the privilege of giving brief remarks at the Rocketship Alma Academy Charter school opening last month. On the stage with me were Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, John Danner, Rocketship founder, and New Orleans Chief Strategy Office Neerav Kingsland, a Yale Law School graduate. The vice mayor lauded the Rocketship Charter School model and its successes in San Jose. Mr. Kingsland talked about the importance of relinquishing school control to educators and the choice on where children can attend school to parents.

Mr. Kingsland stated that nearly 80 percent of New Orleans public schools are now charter schools. He calls the transformation of the New Orleans educational system to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation.

Earlier this year he wrote an open letter to urban superintendents in a blog post on Education Week. “I will advocate that you return power to parents and educators through creation of charter school districts, which are the most politically acceptable mechanisms for empowering educators. … Superintendents, together, you hold incredible power over tens of millions of children. As it stands now, many of these children will receive an abysmal primary and secondary education. This is not your fault. You inherited the system in which you operate. But, together … you can change this. And in doing so, you could transform our country.”

My vote is for President Obama. I believe he is best equipped to help us navigate the treacherous waters of public education’s perfect storm. One thing is for certain: In order to keep this wobbling house of cards erect in the middle of the storm, we must pass Prop. 30 and make certain continued cuts in funding are avoided at all costs.

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.


  1. Charter schools allow parents that care about education to get their needs met without moving to Cupertino.  They are successful simply because the folks that place their kids in charter schools care about education.

    As for education funding, it was despicable how Prop. 38 was portrayed by the Democratic Party.  It was characterized as a tax increase for working families.  Politicians want to use support for education to pass tax increases, but they don’t want to be forced to actually spend the money that those tax increases generate on education.  That’s why Prop. 30 is likely to fail.  Despite all the smoke and mirrors, people really don’t trust government to do the right thing.  It’s a sad day when this life-long Democrat feels that way, but I do.

  2. The state of non-charter schools is largely abysmal because many parents simply don’t give a sh*t.  They pop out children they can’t afford and often send them to school without the children speaking or understanding English. 

    Those same parents will rarely be found volunteering in the classroom or participating in school functions because they too don’t speak English and apparently have no desire to learn it.

    It’s my understanding that charter schools require that parents volunteer and participate in their children’s education and, in fact, establish a minimum number of hours per year for each parent.  Hours are very flexible and include weekend opportunities.  Even so, that requirement pretty well weeds out the parents who simply won’t invest the time, hence those children attend non-charter schools.

  3. How are we supposed to offer school during the summer when the state has cut back school budgets so severely that many school districts have furlough days – so less than 180 days in the school year already?

    How are we supposed to improve public schools when there is such a fight against having school board members who want to improve academics?  When the unions back candidates who will vote yes on whatever the administration wants? When the administration backs candidates who are rubberstampers? When administrators prefer to not publicly show proficiency data and then don’t show it because they have board members who don’t demand to have the public made aware of what really needs improving?  When there’s so much pretending that everything is fine when it really isn’t?

    Charters get tax dollars without public oversight (don’t tell me the county board of ed. is doing a good job of oversight.)

  4. DiSalvo,
    Well the idiots of California have spoken and it seems they’re of like mind with you. The parasites have officially become a majority in our once great country and they won fair and square. You’ve got your money now and I know that you, just like our President, are eager to waste it. I’d just ask that you please exercise a tiny bit of restraint in your spending- only one luxury condo per new teacher please.

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