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.