Hopes for the Future of Public Education in Silicon Valley

As I write my penultimate column, I reflect on the most critical issues confronting our region’s future progress and economic vitality. There is little doubt that the quality of public education is number one.

It is essential that we design a system where all students have the requisite skills to thrive as a participant in a re-emerging middle class. This does not necessarily mean four-year bachelor’s degrees for all.

In all of my previous 298 columns, the one that elicited the most comments dealt with SJ 2020 and the racial achievement gap. I advocated for a full-court press to eliminate the racial achievement gap in 10 years. The issue became the rallying point for many Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) initiatives supported by the Board of Education, including the December 2011 approval of 20 countywide Rocketship charter schools.

In the post I wrote: “The initiatives must be audacious and as John Porter, Superintendent of Franklin-McKinley SD (recently retired) said, we must place children first, as though they are national treasures—or in this case City of San Jose treasures. Porter implied that those countries that have improved their educational system in the last few decades did so only when the lens through which children were viewed changed.”

At the SCCOE board meeting last week, a slide on Item 10D showed that in 2013-14 the county 4-year Cohort-Graduation rate for Whites and Asians was 93.15 percent; for Hispanics and African Americans it was 73.75 percent. This data should be alarming to all community, corporate and political leaders. San Jose has made a small dent in the racial achievement gap since 2009, but we need to do much more and with alacrity and wisdom.

Another dilemma that needs attention is the precipitous decline of college graduates who choose teaching as a profession. We are approaching a real quality teacher supply shortage. There are 66 percent fewer college graduates entering post-graduate teacher credentialing programs in the decade 2002-2012.

I have argued in these digital pages to improve working conditions in schools for teachers: i.e. longer school years so the pay is increased by the number of days a teacher works. If we extend the work year from 180 to 200 days, pay increases by 11 percent. Salaries that significantly increase should also bring new tenure requirements, such as when a seven-year teacher evaluation period is completed. This would be akin to a partner in a law firm being picked by his or her colleagues, leading to a salary increase.

Teachers who work at least seven years in public education and have superior common core results should also have their students loans paid off. We should also bring back sabbatical leaves that focus on action research for classroom teachers.

We also need to focus on principal leadership, including instructional results and teacher assessment, and not just give the mission lip service. Superintendents and cabinet leaders must give principals multiple-year contracts commensurate with the quality of their evaluations—based on student data.

One of the most important foundational blocks for a region to thrive is to invest in early childhood education programs for 3 and 4 year olds. Developmental brain research makes it clear that children engaged in the early years before kindergarten gain the requisite skills for school success. The research strongly indicates that this investment in early learning will return 400-700 percent more in societal improvements.

Lastly, as a region we must put down the sword and find ways to use limited public funds to meet the objectives of a thriving region. Questions that remain for other community leaders to write about in the upcoming years:

  • Can we do better than 31 districts serving the county’s 265,000 students?
  • How do we get the best teachers in the highest student need districts?
  • Will traditional public and publicly funded charter schools work cooperatively on behalf of student results?
  • Do we have the courage today to do what is needed before it is too late?
  • Is it possible to create pathways for students to learn one world language and coding as a third language?

Even though I have at times received a thrashing from commenters for my education advocacy, I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to write evocatively and passionately about a subject I have immersed myself in these last 40 years.

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. Great column, Joe! I particularly echo your clarion calls for significant attention to attracting more qualified individuals to the teaching profession, emphasizing principal development and expanding access to early childhood education. All relevant and urgent goals.

  2. The lack of oversight, accountability and leadership that the Board Joe sits on has provided at the Santa Clara County Office of Education makes pretty much anything he says or prints a bunch of empty words. Thanks for playing Joe now go collect the pension your Education Mayor supports denying you.

    • Exactly, Meyer. Government ‘.edu’ IS THE PROBLEM.

      When education was provided in a little one room school house on the prairie, it served its purpose. But now the only real priorities are: more and more teacher pay, automatic promotion to the next grade level regardless of any incidental learning (a warm seat provides all the income), union politics, school District entrenched bureaucracy, etc., etc. Educating the kids is so far down the list it doesn’t even appear.

      I’ve seen it all; I write this as the husband of a 30-year middle school Principal, who could not get a ‘teacher’ fired — even after he repeatedly HIT children (!!!), constantly told them to “Shut the f___ up,” and yelled “F___ you!” in front of the whole class! His union kept him in his $106,000 a year job.

      The gov’t .edu industry puts kids and their education dead last. It cannot be fixed. The only cure is to get the government OUT of education.

      • Repeatedly hit children (how old were the children?) and he didn’t get fired? Did the district hire the world’s worst attorney? Didn’t the parents of the kids who were hit report this to the police? Didn’t they sue the teacher and the district? Surely there is more to the story than what you have provided, Smokey.

        • JMO,

          They were middle school children. My wife was the middle school Principal. She could not get this teacher fired for three years. I think I remember the district having an attorney on staff. But staff attorneys do what they’re told, no?

          Eventually some credentialing board got involved, and found there had been numerous other complaints about the same guy. In fact, the two prior Principals supported him, so I guess someone liked the guy.

          I don’t recall if the police were involved. I don’t believe they were. When she found out what was happening, my wife called every Board member personally to try and get action taken. The teachers union and the district seemed to both be on the same side, although that’s just my recollection, and they would no doubt deny it. (I should also note that this teacher made around $106,000 a year, IIRC.)

          So my wife ‘fired’ the teacher — but that means nothing, since the Board is the only body that can actually fire a teacher. What happened, I think, is that everyone expected that something would be done. The district went through the motions. But he was still fighting it 3 years later.

          I am jaded and cynical now. I used to believe that cops were honest, and that a teacher would never shout ‘F-You!’ at a student, or hit a kid. And I used to believe the Constitution meant something. And etc…

  3. Joe, why don’t you let the teachers try to close the “racial achievement gap?” That way there will be some time for you to do the job you were elected to do—watch over Gundry. You and your board suffer from a complete achievement gap in that regard.

      • Agree w/Tracy Lynn.

        I supported J.M. O’Connor when he ran for office back around 1990. (Yard signs, walked precincts, donations, etc.) I wish he had won. Maybe he would have been co-opted by the system; who knows? But he would have been far better than any of the current jamokes.

        • Thanks for the support back in ’88, Smokey, and for the kind words today. I doubt I would have been co-opted, and I am positive I would have been frustrated as h*ll by many of those on the city council at the time, and even more so by the bureaucrats; ya know, guys like DiSalvo and Gundry.

  4. Board member Disalvo, it appears that you and your team of 8 have created a complete disaster of the SCCOE. Please focus on disciplining your one and only employee before you start telling us taxpayers what to do. So disgusting!

  5. Disappointed Mr. Di Salvo never had the courage to address the inequity in school funding that exists in Silicon Valley. Why do we spend $14,506 to educate each student in Palo Alto Unified while spending only $8,753 to educate each student in Alum Rock Unified? If Mr. Di Salvo is truly serious about closing the achievement gap, he must first start with closing the funding gap.

  6. So what do you guys suggest we do about the funding issues and inequalities? Do you think we could change things? I definitely want to.

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