Conflict Creates Better Education Results?

The fierce battle for our nation’s schoolchildren is entering a new stage of conflict, and the National School Board Association (NSBA) is reforming itself to take up the fight. Diane Ravitich, a nationally renowned author and keynote speaker at the NSBA’s recent conference in San Diego, delivered a blistering attack against federal education policies and “entrepreneurs” that hurt public education.

“These people who call themselves reformers, who say our public education system is obsolete, that it’s failing, that it’s broken—they’re wrong,” Ravitch told the 9,000 school board and superintendent delegates from across America. “Our school system of public education is not broken.”

“It’s your (elected boardmembers’) responsibility to provide oversight and not hand off (schools and taxpayer dollars) to entrepreneurs,” she added. Ravitch even asked one of my Board of Education colleagues, Trustee Anna Song, to stand up and take a bow in front of the plenary session for winning reelection to the county Board last November, after being outspent 20-1 by the “entrepreneurs.”

Unfortunately, Anna was not present to receive the recognition. But it is evident that our local scene is receiving national attention. I have felt many times that the county Board is at the center of the coming educational storm.

Polarization in our political, economic, education and social systems continues to be a major challenge, one worth addressing in coming years. It has resulted in political dysfunction in the national political landscape, creating a dark cloud over the effort to improve publicly funded school results. 

The county Board has voted to approve dozens of high performing charter schools in the last several years, and the results have been promising, according to a new charter school report titled “An Overview of Approved Charter Schools.” Collaborative Solutions for Charter Authorizers and the Santa Clara County Office of Education prepared the report.

Here is one conclusion the report made:

“The data indicate that the charter schools approved by the SCCOE Board are outperforming their traditional public school counterparts.”

One can theorize that traditional public school districts, (e.g. Alum Rock Elementary School District), have increased their achievement results due to the charter school competition from Rocketship, KIPP, ACE all Charter Management Organizations. In a preliminary analysis the report indicates that there will be 13,000 students enrolled in SCCOE Board approved charter schools by 2017.

Other key findings in the overview report include:

• Eleven out of thirteen SCCOE approved charter schools are serving the student populations described in the school charter language
• Seven out of nine charter schools are outperforming the district in which they are located
• Six out of eight charter schools have more Hispanic/Latino students, and fewer Asian, Filipino and White students than the districts which they are located

I strongly believe that without the entrepreneurial dollars spent on creating high performing charters, we would not be having this conversation. The status quo must be changed for the sake of our economic and social future as a region, state and nation.

But the new education war argued by Ravitch will be costly and protracted, and current schoolchildren will likely be its victims.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member 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.

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