Top 2 Priorities to Fix a Broken Public Education System

Houston, we have a problem. Public education is facing its own Apollo 13 moment. If fundamental issues are not addressed an inevitable catastrophic ending will occur.

Throughout the campaign season for local, state and federal offices, candidates have have fettered an opportunity to debate the calamitous issues we face in public education. The two biggest issues:

  1. Access to high quality early education for every child 3 and 4 year old.
  2. Increasing the stature of the teaching profession and encouraging top college graduates to become teachers.

Nicholas Kristof, journalist for the New York Times, wrote in his column Sunday: "The best escalator to opportunity in America is education" Unfortunately, he concluded, the escalator is broken. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), he reports, the US was ranked second in the world for the number of college degrees as of 2000. Today we are fifth and the line is trending down. South Korea is first.

Another data point in Kristof's column is the fact that 70 percent of 3 year olds across

OECD countries are enrolled in education programs. Only 38 percent are enrolled in the US. And yet we are still first in GDP at $16.8 trillion, making us the richest country in the world.

"Fixing the education system is the civil rights challenge of our era,” Kristof wrote. Where have you heard that before?

Investment in high quality early education programs is an issue we should be discussing at every turn. We have the monetary resources but not the will to make it happen. Mayors in San Antonio and New York City have shown that with strong leadership, universal access for all 4 year olds is reality.

Quality early learning has become U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's number one priority. He was in Silicon Valley last week meeting with regional business and education leaders on the subject. There is a $7 return on investment for every $1 dollar spent on high quality early education.

The last few weeks I have been hearing rumblings about the impending teacher shortage, especially in Silicon Valley, due to fewer candidates going into the profession and the high cost of local housing. For the first time local superintendents are worried about not having enough quality candidates with multiple subject credentials to offer contracts to next year. For years it has been difficult for some local districts to attract enough high quality special education, math and science teachers. But now it is affecting regular elementary classroom teachers.

A report to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in 2012 found that enrollments in teacher preparation programs are in precipitous decline. In 2011-12, 26,446 students enrolled in teacher preparation programs. The previous year there were 34,838, a 24 percent reduction. A decade earlier there were 77,700 students enrolled; a 66 percent reduction.

Teachers are the real escalator of society. Every candidate seeking elective office, from school board to governor, should be discussing the teaching shortage issue with possible solutions.

Teaching should be one of the most valued professions, yet working conditions and morale are low. The stature that the profession deserves is missing in America. If we can successfully promote Apple, Tesla, Twitter, Google and the like in Silicon Valley, we can certainly find ways to promote the profession of teaching. We must not lose sight that our teachers deserve to live in the communities they serve.

Working conditions must be improved, pay for performance should become a reality and credential programs need to be streamlined. And it is essential that the stature of one of

America's most important occupations be significantly raised.

We should use our collective ingenuity in Silicon Valley to ensure quality early learning and increase the supply pipeline for teaching candidates. Accomplishing these two goals can fix the "broken escalator" for opportunity in Silicon Valley and America.

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 think we all know what needs to happen before anything else happens… So, where’s Waldo?

    In the case, Vergara vs. California, a Los Angeles trial judge declared the state’s laws on teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal unconstitutional because they affect students’ fundamental right to equality of education. The ——-> teachers unions California Teachers Association <—— called the decision "deeply flawed" and said it would "make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching."

  2. A teacher shortage? What did we expect after years of teacher-bashing and union-busting? Teachers, police, firefighters…. shortages in what were once considered noble professions put all of us at risk!

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