San Jose Not Immune from Teacher Strike

What does the Chicago teacher strike and standoff with the city’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, portend for the future of public education? Could a teachers’ strike be in San Jose’s future? Let’s examine the facts as they relate to this struggle for improving public schools.

In the last half century, spending in U.S. public education has gone up nearly 400 percent per pupil. But this increase in public expenditures has not provided the expected student gains. The devastating achievement gap continues relatively unabated, challenging our country, state and city’s economic future.

One major factor to this public policy dilemma is the rate of childhood poverty in Chicago and America’s big cities. The poverty rate is increasing and this year is projected to reach 15.7 percent, nearing the worst mark since 1965—the beginning of the “War on Poverty.” In 2009, nearly 20 percent of San Jose’s children under 5 years old lived below the poverty level. In Chicago, 80 percent of the school-aged children live in poverty.

As an educator, I fervently believe when schools are overwhelmed with the conditions of poverty—poor and inadequate nutrition, weak health, fragile housing conditions, and violence—the achievement results become enormously difficult to achieve. Yet we also know that schools with invested teachers, high levels of parent/community involvement, strong leadership and longer school days can surmount most of the poverty factor.

In order to answer the questions posed earlier, I have selected three medium to large districts out of the 19 school districts in San Jose to highlight their 2012 STAR CST results for 8th grade students.

The 2012 STAR student test results for San Jose Unified (enrollment 32,500) the largest K-12 school district in San Jose:
English-Language Arts: 40 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
General math: 86 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
Algebra 1: 67 percent do not meet grade level proficiency

The 2012 STAR test results for Franklin-McKinley SD (enrollment 10,202):
English-Language Arts: 49 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
General Math: 81 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
Algebra 1: 46 percent do not meet grade level proficiency

The 2012 STAR test results for Alum Rock SD (enrollment 13, 372):
English-Language Arts: 49 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
General Math: 82 percent do not meet grade level proficiency
Algebra 1: 48 percent do not meet grade level proficiency

In Chicago, 53.4 percent of students in 2011-12 did not meet Illinois’ Learning Standards grade level proficiency. It is unfair to continually blame the lack of achievement results solely on the backs of teachers. No doubt the schools in Chicago and the three highlighted districts in San Jose are dealing with high degrees of poverty in many of their schools. And in California, we have disinvested in public education by $20 billion dollars in the last five years as childhood poverty rates increase.

Based on the data points above, one can conclude that academic achievement results in poor areas of San Jose and Chicago are similar. The growth trend of charter schools in both cities has been similar. There are 52,000 students enrolled in Charter Schools in Chicago, or 15percent of the public school population. When the growth of charter schools in San Jose includes all the approved Rocketships, and the new ones currently being submitted, at least 15 percent of San Jose’s students will be enrolled in publicly funded charters by 2016.

The conditions that led to the Chicago’s teacher strike included the growth of charter schools, concerns of low student test score data, the use of test scores to partially evaluate teachers, performance pay, teachers who choose to become alternatively certified as in Teach For America programs, and the role of teacher tenure laws. Not all of those conditions are occurring here in San Jose. Yet.

Here are San Jose’s conditions: Rocketship’s faculty is made up of 80 percent alternatively credentialed Teach For America teachers: student test scores will ultimately be used by school district boards bold enough to challenge the status quo on teacher evaluations; a proposition will be on the state ballot to change tenure laws; charter schools in San Jose do not have tenure law restraints; and charter schools are growing and demonstrating results. The strike in Chicago is tragic for students, but can be an example to other cities with public education crises.

The more time we spend collaborating and cooperating together now, as is happening in Boston, where the unions just agreed to a contract that includes teacher evaluations based on a student test score formula, the better for everyone’s future. Pointing fingers will never solve the problem.

My plea to local teacher union leaders, my school board colleagues, superintendents and parents is this: Let’s get ahead of the curve now, before it is too late. Let’s study what worked in Boston and other big cities in America. Strikes are never a good thing for children or the adults that work in our schools.

Joseph Di Salvo is president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees.

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.

One Comment

  1. If you read the story in the Merc about the former Superintendent of your organization, you must know that doing dumb things like paying big bucks for these “game changing” executives contributes to the problems you are talking about.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_21575993/countys-former-top-schools-chief-wants-unload-underwater

    Let’s hope you did a better job picking the current guy, De Le Torre.  You don’t want to get stuck with his $1 million purchase either.

    Also, please don’t try to hash this out in closed session.  Unless you want to look like you’re being less than transparent and accountable.