The Education Terror Threat is Real

Last month I wrote a column for San Jose Inside titled, ‘Silicon Valley Must Lead the Nation In Improving Public Education.” My intent was to ignite a conflagration of concern over the results our public schools get from Latino, African American and Pacific Islander children.

So many times we are singled out as the region driving the improvement in the state and country’s economic rebound. But with our region’s changing demographics—nearly 40 percent of school age children are Latino in San Jose—the results we get today indicate a pending crisis of epic proportions. Nearly 50 percent of the city’s 3rd graders do not read at grade level. Reading at grade level by 3rd grade is a strong predictor of school and career success.

My thoughts expressed in the column coincided with the May 29 release of the Innovate Public Schools report, Broken Promises. The report shed light on those schools and districts getting poor results for the valley’s Latino children, and others that are getting encouraging data. Alum Rock School District, charter schools like Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, and Las Animas and Aprea Elementary Schools in Gilroy Unified were singled out as schools bucking the trend. These school districts and schools report better than average to excellent Academic Performance Index (API) results for Latino students.

Last month I asked: How many more years will Silicon Valley put up with broken promises made to our children, before it is too late for us to recover from the lack of political will? The clock is ticking.

In the now retired color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, which went from green (low threat) to red (severe threat), we were given a rudimentary hint as to how the government assessed terrorist threats in America. On April 2011, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano removed the color scheme from America’s psyche.

Our current National Terror Advisory System focuses on specific threats in a geographical area. Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) said in 2011 that the “color-coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared.” The local education student results data indicate we all should be scared. At the same time, we should also be attempting to replicate what we know works, whether the system of results are charter school or district school produced. In other words: We should prepare to improve results.

In June, I quoted from a seminal report titled, “A Nation At Risk,” an assessment of our public education system 30 years ago: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

We were warned 30 years ago that the threat was real, yet we are here today with the same mediocre performance. I am more scared about the educational threats to our survival than I am about the potential for a large scale terror attack in this city.

I said it then and I repeat it today: All citizens, elected officials and community leaders should be arming themselves to fight this battle, so each and every child has the requisite skills to succeed in college and career.

One way to start the recovery is to ensure universal access to pre-kindergarten learning experiences birth to age 5. This investment will save $4-18 dollars to society for every dollar we invest.

The next mayor of San Jose must build on the groundbreaking work Mayor Chuck Reed has done with SJ 2020. San Jose needs a mayor who champions education now more than ever, one who uses the bully pulpit for results. We are only 11 months away from casting June 2014 ballots in the San Jose mayoral primary. Our announced candidates must have a bold and courageous voice when it comes to results for our public education system. Our economic and social development depend on it.

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. If you want to improve education the first step is to outlaw political donations by teachers unions.  It is impossible to have an honest negotiation with the community when the union is shoveling money into the campaign funds of the people it is sitting across the table from.

    I have no problem with individual teachers donating to whomever they please or the unions running ads on specific issues.  I do have a problem with teachers unions supporting candidates and giving money to candidates or parties.  That is a direct conflict of interest.  How in good conscience can a politician negotiate with a union that is pumping money directly into their own campaign or indirectly via their party? 

    We can not have education reform until we reform the corrupting influence of the unions campaign donations.

  2. By far the largest problem with public education is lack of funding, followed closely by political pandering.  Although “reform” is a buzzword over the last few years, Unions and their donations matter quite little in the big scheme.  Teachers have always made under the median salaries and still do.

    For the most part, construction and developers contribute just as much (or more) to politicians.  Yes, *thousands* of teachers contribute less than just a few corporations.  You can literally see (and graph) the relationship between the rich politicians and the rich developers- yet the pitchforks are raised against teachers?  What’s wrong with you people?!?

    • More recently, Charter schools (and other well funded associated advocacy groups/PACs) also started to pump significant amount of money in particular in school board elections…. the same school boards making decisions on charter authorization, school zoning, school funding…..

  3. Realistically, the entire education needs to be transformed. The current system in America is founded during the Industrial Revolution. With that foundation, majority of children are conditioned to be accepted that they are a failure or an achiever.

    Please enjoy this most-likely-seen 11 minute animation with the words of Ken Robinson titled “Changing Education Paradigms”

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