California Students Face Cliff of Their Own

We can argue over whether it is a fiscal cliff or slope, but the real challenge for America in the coming decades is improving the mediocre results of public education. The facts show that we are in a precarious position as a nation and as the largest state—11 percent of America’s children are enrolled in California schools.

According to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education, California ranks 32nd in high school graduation rates, with only 76 percent of our high school students graduating. More disturbing is that Latinos and African-Americans make up 58 percent of the state’s K-12 students—51 percent Latino and 7 percent African-American—yet these students have a 66.5 percent graduation rate from California high schools. The subgroup that fairs the worst in the report is students who are English Language Learners, with just 51 percent graduating.

The SCCOE Board has approved quality charter schools with the intent of improving student opportunities for success. I say this as a board member who was very skeptical about charter schools when first elected in 2008. Through the last four years of data gathering, visits and other insights, I now believe that quality charter schools freed from collective bargaining and tenure, employing non-bargained effective evaluation systems that use student data, giving performance pay/bonuses and providing a longer school day are best positioned to meet the needs of low-performing students.

I know all my Board colleagues hope this is the case, especially since we have approved more charter schools than any other county in this state. The preliminary anecdotal findings are encouraging. Now, for the Board to continue its work to be leaders of local school reform, we must have more quantifiable data. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University is an analyst the SCCOE Board should consider including in local data gathering.

In a report released last week, providing the first in-depth examination of results from charter schools in New Jersey, CREDO found that students enrolled in urban charter schools learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. The report specifically cites charter schools in Newark, New Jersey, whose students gain an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional public school counterparts.

Because of the fierce urgency for change, I am disappointed the SCCOE Board did not approve the Discovery II parent involvement, positive discipline charter school in San Jose Unified. I hope the Board reconsiders keeping the status quo, which many districts and unions still desire. The status quo will not get us where we need to be. I am convinced that in this valley of innovation and wealth, 95 percent of all students should graduate from high school and at least 90 percent should be college and career ready.

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. Dear Joseph,

    None of us are perfect in our personal or professional lives, but those of us in public life should strive to replicable standards when we perform our duties on behalf of the public.

    If your version of changing the “status quo” is to blur lines between applicant and agency, you have progressed in that effort.

    Last night, January 23, 2013, at the Santa Clara County Board of Education, you stated publicly that your relatives had owned the parcel on which the Board was voting.  You had not previously disclosed this information in a Board setting.

    You expressed concern about whether you should vote on the item, or, potentially, recuse yourself.  But you did not ask the Board’s attorney for advice during the meeting.  Rather, you asked the applicant for the applicant’s opinion.  Then, affirmed by the applicant’s input and encouragement for you to participate, you cast your vote in favor of the applicant’s request.

    Your approach is incomprehensible to those of us who served as Planning Commissioners or in other municipal roles.  Can you imagine a Planning Commissioner or a City Councilmember asking a land use applicant during a public meeting for advice on the decision-maker’s own conflict of interest?

    Part of your vote last night included your certification of a document that said no information was available about the past history of the land.  I presume you actually read the document you voted to certify.  Perhaps not.

    If the threatened lawsuits proceed, depositions likely will be included.  Perhaps the plaintiffs will ask about your diligence in having read what you voted to certify, as well as your understanding of the many toxicology questions that surfaced prior to and during the meeting.

    I understand your desire to be part of some type of change – any change.  You express frustration with levels of student proficiency you perceive in many local public schools.  But your public actions related to conflict of interest should rise to some level of honor and sophistication.

    Your two years as chair provided little attention to specifics of pedagogical replicability, including what schools should be awarded, how data should be highlighted, or sincere discussion about college and career readiness.  In my opinion, lots of promises with scant follow-up and few data-founded deliverables.

    As you move back to the role of “Member,” I invite you to consider that to change “status quo” takes effort to focus on details.  One should not easily declare civil disobedience concurrently with one’s oath to uphold the law.  To be college and career ready requires proficiency in math, literacy and a wide range of sciences.  Such readiness also depends on logic, diligence and replicable public role ethics.

    Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, Santa Clara Unified School District
    408-390-4748 *  [email protected]

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