S.O.S.: Save Our Schools

SOS (…- - -…) is the commonly known Morse code distress symbol, not an acronym. That said, many think of “save our ship” or “save our souls when the term is used. During my tenure as a principal, school board member and SJI columnist, I have a different distress signal. If I could, I would tap out the code “Save Our Schools” every single hour of every day in all cities across Silicon Valley.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security outlines an educational crisis in its new report. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of New York City Public Schools, co-chaired the task force.

The report stipulates that many American schools do extraordinary work on increasing achievement, closing the achievement gap, and preparing students for careers and college in a competitive global environment. Many of those schools can be found right here in Silicon Valley in traditional public and charter school environments. Yet too many students, even in this wealthy valley, are not employable in this high-skilled job environment, cannot qualify for the military because they are physically unfit and/or have an inadequate educational foundation. SOS.

Some of Rice and Klein report’s findings, although not new, should cause us all alarm—25 percent of high school students fail to graduate in four years, and for Latinos and African-Americans the rate is approaching 40 percent; only 22% of U.S. high school students meet “college ready” standards in all core subjects; and only two in 10 Americans speak a language other than English. Sadly, the data for Silicon Valley students is not much different than the aforementioned statistics. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy and grow its economy,” the report states. SOS.

On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopolos, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt agreed that lagging education and training has left a skills mismatch for technology companies searching for new employees in Silicon Valley and across the country. SOS.

“Our industry is growing rapidly. We are unable to hire the technically trained people we need,” Schmidt said. “There are shortages not just in my industry, but in many technical industries … because the sum of our educational system is not producing enough.”

On Wednesday, I will attend the New Schools Venture Fund 2012 Summit in Burlingame. Two of the speakers at the Summit I’m interested in hearing are Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff for President Obama, and Roland Fryer, a 34-year-old economic professor at Harvard.

Mayor Emanuel is working to increase the school day and school year in Chicago, something all our elected leaders should be trying to do here in California and Silicon Valley, but we cannot wait for the state to get its act together. We must act independent from the state to do what is best for our Silicon Valley children. Charter schools like Rocketship have increased instructional time for all K-5 students by 20 percent over their sister traditional public schools. With the state budget crisis we have actually reduced the school year for some districts from the current 180 days. That could be reduced further after the November election. SOS.

Professor Fryer studied the success of 35 charter schools in New York and distilled the statistical data of the “star” schools down to factors that promote student achievement. The success factors include: frequent, quality feedback to teachers; lots of data on individual students to drive the teacher’s instructional practices; plenty of tutoring; increased instructional time; and very high expectations. One interesting finding showed that the amount of per pupil spending was not meaningful nor was class size. Why are we not promoting all the above strategies to meet the goal of SJ/SV 2020? SOS.

If all elected leaders and superintendents hold their teachers and principals accountable for achievement in common core standards, while implanting Fryer’s findings, we can meet Eric Schmidt’s corporate workforce needs. Our unemployment rate would decline, our crime would go down, and our quality of life would be vastly improved for our corner of the world. If we Save Our Schools, we save our children and our future.

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 dont want to get too picky here but (s-o-s ) Morse Code is actually
      (…—-…).  The (-.) represents the letter “n”.

    • Meyer,

      For some reason the post combined the first two dashes into one. Joe did have it right, our system just self-corrected it into an error.