How Can Educators Solve the Racial Achievement Gap by 2020?

There are several critical “gaps” in the education of our children. One is the gap of how our high school students compare to high school students in cities like Helsinki and Shanghai on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Let’s call this gap the “Global Achievement Gap.” It is related to how students perform on comparable international assessments to real world problems in reading, math and science.

Another gap is referred to as the “Childhood Opportunity Gap,” which is defined as the difference between life chances afforded to children from high poverty neighborhoods and schools compared to the life chances afforded to children in wealthier neighborhoods and schools. Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula for schools is intended to partially address the opportunity gaps, the way I see it. At least it is an appropriate beginning.

The gap that the county Office of Education has emphasized the last four years has been the “Racial Achievement Gap.” A regional initiative titled SJ2020 was launched in 2009 to eliminate of the educational achievement gap between different races in by the year 2020 in San Jose. A year later the initiative was renamed SJSV2020 in order to include all of Santa Clara County.

Immediately after its kickoff, I wrote here, “It will take our entire village working tirelessly for 10 years to eliminate the achievement gap. It is a moral imperative.” I received more than 142 comments for that column, many hostile about bringing race into the equation.

The county superintendent at the time, Dr. Charles Weis, said the racial achievement gap is the number one civil rights issue of our time. I hope we are closer to our goal, but How can we tell? Without the use of annual data by district, city and county—disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender—it is difficult to assess how we have done as a region to further the initiative’s goal. And who has done the most and why?

In fact, some districts have not signed on to the pact. Sometimes I wonder whether there is intentional obfuscation of the data to downplay the severity of the problem by school and district. The racial achievement gap is related to the social, economic and emotional health of our city and region. This gap must be erased for our region to prosper.

County Board of Education President Grace Mah, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, Director of Special Projects Don Bolce and I will be presenting a workshop Saturday at the National School Board’s Conference in San Diego, along with CEO/President of Rocketship Education Preston Smith. The title of the workshop: A Regional Initiative to Eliminate the Achievement Gap by 2020.

After a brief PowerPoint presentation to set the foundation for the initiative, the panel will attempt to answer four questions for the audience. Each panelist will offer candid insight on why the needle has not moved significantly in the 3.5 years, or the last 40 years for that matter. With the demographics of our region changing, we cannot wait any longer to move the needle forward. It is my hope that this workshop will advance the cause.

Two questions that will be posed to us:

• What have been the biggest obstacles to overcome?
• What are the two most essential steps to take in 2013-14 to move toward the realization of our goal?

The Board of Education has approved 16 charter schools, and 19 more Rocketship Charters will begin instruction in the next 5-7 years. The goal of some members of the Board was to approve Rocketship Schools with the intent of moving the needle on eliminating the racial achievement gap goal. The preliminary findings and data from Rocketship Schools have been positive.

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.


  1. I don’t think you’re going to be able to close the gap. I honestly believe the best you’re going to be able to do is to open up enough charter schools so that families that care about education can place their children in schools that won’t hold them back.

  2. Sadly, I think we all know that the racial achievement gap isn’t going away.  Its almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion on that topic, because it invariably degenerates into one participant accusing his perceived nemesis of “racism.”  So we basically can’t discuss it.  But very few intellectually serious people have any real doubts about the essentially permanent nature of the racial achievement gap.  I would be surprised if the author of this piece has many sincere doubts on that score.  In order to be successful in American politics/government/journalism, one has to tell a lot of lies to people one assumes to be idiots, in order to keep on the right side of the gauntlet of myriad tabus.

    And this, in a nutshell, is why Sacramento and Washington (and San Jose, albeit to a lesser extent) can’t solve ANY of the problems we face as a society, and haven’t been able to do so in at least 25 years.  And why all those problems will thus keep accumulating until our little nation-state finally collapses, presumably due to the IRS not being able to collect enough revenue in order to service the interest payments on the national debt.  And then the USA will go the way of the USSR and Yugoslavia. 

    Which increasingly appears to be the best outcome.

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