Educate, Don’t Incarcerate

Are we crazy or what? It costs the state of California more than $225,000 to incarcerate one youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice system per year, yet we are only compensating school districts about $7,000 per year to educate a student.

On Saturday I was attending a BBQ at the home of a good friend who happens to be a high school principal. Several of the invitees were educators, too. There were district office administrators, other principals, some teachers, and a group of non-educators. As the evening moved on there were several discussions that targeted on the deficiencies and strengths of the public school system.

At one time after the main course was served I said I am writing a book on why public schools will always SUCK…many of those attending gasped at my impolitic expression. They disagreed vehemently with the assertion in the proposed title. The title is meant to get reaction and promote a discussion. That it did…

Yet, after considerable dialogue there was a consensus that the public school system is broken. We all agreed that there are some great schools doing great things instructionally for all their students. We concurred with each other that there are many fantastic teachers that work tirelessly to see all children succeed. We also were in concert about the belief that we are mired in a historically significant time for public schools and their ultimate survival.

Here are some other points of agreement with surprising unanimity from our gang of nine educators:

The Race to the Top is too top-down. The new Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposed legislation to take the place of No Child Left Behind is too much like No Child Left Behind.

Performance pay for the best teachers is a good idea as long as the process to determine the “best” is collaborative with the teachers’ union. We discussed Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s new model in Washington D.C. that was the subject of a June 14th New York Times editorial. The model is where new teachers choose a traditional salary schedule model toping out in 20 years at $106,000 or a performance-based system where teachers who are exemplary based on a rigorous evaluation system can earn $140,000 in less than 20 years.

Teacher unions need to help management with dismissal of ineffective teachers as expeditiously as possible with appropriate due process. That is the case in the new contract just negotiated in Washington D.C. Our local school boards and superintendents should study the collaborative work done in Washington D.C. and try to replicate it with union approbation here in Silicon Valley, the home of innovation.

Santa Clara County school districts need to be consolidated to eliminate redundancy of district office cost. It was unanimous with the BBQ gang of nine that we should begin this quest with Luther Burbank and Orchard School Districts within the perimeters of the electoral process. We now have 32 school districts in this county. In a previous San Jose Inside column I promoted four approximately 30,000-student school districts in San Jose instead of the current 19. San Jose Unified currently has nearly 33,000 students. This topic has been before the civil grand jury for which I was invited to testify earlier this year.

The curriculum must be rigorous and relevant, include career technical education, and art and music for all.

We all agreed that if we all get together 25 years from now for another BBQ we will still be talking about the achievement gap and how it has remained an intractable problem. However, we agreed it is more threatening to our social and economic fabric in 2035 than in 2010 due to the rapidly changing U.S. demographics. Therefore, we must get serious about its elimination. The efforts being made by SJ2020 are a hopeful sign.

One area of strong disagreement was on Charter Schools. Are Charter Schools the panacea for innovation and change for our public school system to better meet the educational needs of all children? Or are Charter Schools, another reform expanded exponentially under the Obama administration, causing significant strain to the already broken public school system?

When will we get it? To educate a child with the ability to read on grade level by 3rd grade will keep incarceration rates low. Most incarcerated youth are several years behind their peers in reading. Several studies have concluded it is 3 to 4 times more cost effective to put public money in the early years of life, prenatal to age 8, than in warehousing tens of thousands of felons for decades.

I know where I want my tax dollar to go. Children are 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.

12 Comments

  1. Joseph,

    It’s terribly unfair to compare wildly, out-of-control prison costs to those of our school system.  In case you haven’t done so already, look into Sheriff Joe of Maricopa County in Arizona.  He runs the most efficient county jail in the country, yet is not widely heralded for his successes.

  2. Joseph,

    My mother in law is always preaching the virtue of diligence.  While I find your posting relevant to the current state of education in California I am concerned about the diligence in relation to the teachers earnings, and future projections.  Without waxing know-it-all I am concerned that with such a structure twenty years from now, will such a system you’re proposing be sustainable?  Or will it end up on the recieving end of public resentment towards public employee unions, much like the opinions currently being expressed today.

    Do these figures include cost of living increases?  Overtime pay?  Bonuses?  While I am all for relieving ineffective teachers if you have an entire workforce of top-tier talent earning the maximum salary cap at an accelerated rate, will it remain sustainable?

    And what are the consequences?  Larger classes?  Earlier specialization for students more proficient in math, or sciences, arts, sports?

    I don’t know the answer, but I think in terms of effective planning we need to start thinking in terms of 100 year planning with flexibility to make adjustments and adaptations to remain competitive.  Beyond that, the resources teachers, and students will need to be able to compete are an ever increasing economic burden,  proposals like my brother Roberts to use FOSS can apply and extend to public education, freeing up valuable liquid assets and provide some relief.

    I’d like the opportunity to exchange ideas with you, if you would take the time to email me I’d appreciate it.  I’m not a proffesional educator but I’ve been dipping my feet in the teaching pool and as a product of public education I think I may have some insights that are relevant.

  3. > At one time after the main course was served I said I am writing a book on why public schools will always SUCK…

    Too late.  The book has already been written. Many, many times.

    The problem is, educators only figure this out at the end of their careers rather than realizing this up front.

    > Performance pay for the best teachers is a good idea as long as the process to determine the “best” is collaborative with the teachers’ union.

    Really, really stupid.

    So, what is the union going to say in the course of “collaborating” with the bureaucrats who issue the paychecks?

    “ALL of our teachers are top performers, and ALL deserve performance pay.”

    “And we’re going to file a grievance for ANY teacher that doesn’t get performance pay.”

    > The model is where new teachers choose a traditional salary schedule model toping out in 20 years at $106,000 or a performance-based system where teachers who are exemplary based on a rigorous evaluation system can earn $140,000 in less than 20 years.

    Absolutely INSANE!!

    Schools can be staffed with competent, motivated teachers for FAR, FAR less.  This is just fantasizing on the part of educators who believe their own propaganca about their exaggerated importance to society.

    > Our local school boards and superintendents should study the collaborative work done in Washington D.C. and try to replicate it with union approbation here in Silicon Valley, the home of innovation.

    People from all over the country are camped out in front of D.C. public schools trying to get their kids in because of the magnificent education.  Even President and Michelle Obama were forced to send their kids to the less desirable Sidwell Friends private school because even THEY couldn’t get into the DC public schools.

    Yeah, we should do what D.C. public schools do.  NOT!

    > In a previous San Jose Inside column I promoted four approximately 30,000-student school districts in San Jose instead of the current 19. San Jose Unified currently has nearly 33,000 students.

    Totally absurd.  30,000 student school districts are WAY, WAY too large.  All this does is make the bureaucratic pyramid tall enough so the guy at the top of the heap can make some decent money.

    The main problem with public education is that the system has evolved to serve the needs of the educators and unions FIRST AND FOREMOST, and the educational needs and outcomes for students is the LAST consideration.

    Four, thirty thousand student school districts simply empowers educrats.

    Two hundred and fifty locally controlled 500 student schools with an empowered principle and involved parents would deliver far, far better educational outcomes.  And probably for far less expense.

    • No school district should contain more than one (1) high school, plus the various middle & elementary schools from which its student base is derived.  And no high school should have more than 1,000 students at any given time.  High schools should NOT be like small cities for teenagers.  Beyond the various school principal, there should be a superintendent, his (small) subordinate staff, and the Board of Trustees.  None of this massive layer of administrator tax leeches garbage that we have today.

      Ah, to dream…

  4. “Are we crazy or what? It costs the state of California more than $225,000 to incarcerate one youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice system per year”  Where did you pull that number from, Joe?  A credible citation, please, Joe. The number is under $75k for adults.  How can there be that much of a difference?

    “Yet, after considerable dialogue there was a consensus that the public school system is broken.”

    So, how many combined years of experience in the education system were there belaboring the obvious, Joe?

    “Performance pay for the best teachers is a good idea as long as the process to determine the “best” is collaborative with the teachers’ union.”

    Uh, Joe, that’s the inmates running the asylum.  Much of the problem is the teachers UNION, which rewards mediocrity and stifles performance and innovation.

    “Santa Clara County school districts need to be consolidated to eliminate redundancy of district office cost.”

    Gee, for once we agree, Joe.

    “We all agreed that if we all get together 25 years from now for another BBQ we will still be talking about the achievement gap and how it has remained an intractable problem.”

    How do you get parents and kids who don’t give a shit to achieve, Joe?  No child left behind is wrong-headed.  We spend to much dinero on kids who will be left behind anyway, Joe.  No HS diploma or GED by the time you are 20, and no welfare for you…EVER.  Money motivates.

    “Children are our future.”  WHAT AN INSIGHT!!

    Drivel like yours is apparently the norm in public schools today.  No wonder they are failing.

  5. The state has a monopoly on education, the bureacracy is incipient serving only itself and not that which it was formed to do.  the walled in educational environment has created a perfect breeding ground for unionized pedigogues, accountability in the system runs up instead of down to the student whose most important role the entire day is to say “Here” so that the daily coin might be collected.
    there is nothing in the Education Code that states that “professional Educators” know anything more about what’s good for kids than their parents do.

    How can real learning take place when there is just one big wall around education – can you imagine all the kids singing, “all in all we’re just another brick in the wall – Teacher, leave thosse kids alone”

  6. “Educate, don’t incarcerate” sound nice, of course, but schools can’t educate a thug into a respectable citizen.  People pretty much are what they are.  A hard-working, responsible person may benefit greatly from education, if he or she has the interest to pursue it (and only if).  I dropped out of school when I was 13, and subsequently put in my time at local libraries, community colleges, and eventually the California State University system, because I wanted to learn (but was unwilling to be tormented daily by sadistic classmates).  Most people stick with high school until they’re 18, and basically don’t learn squat.  Even a lot of university graduates are abysmally ignorant.  We can only educate the educable (both in terms of intellectual ability, and willingness to apply that ability).  And that excludes much of the population of this state, including probably almost everyone in the state prison system.

  7. I’m really disappointed at all of this partisan bickering, so let me propose a compromise:

    Just incarcerate educators.

    Thank you very much.  It’s a gift. The ideas just keep coming.

    • Progressive Education Policy:
      First perpetuate the lie that the children of illegal aliens are not a gigantic drain on our education system.
      Then burn at the stake any heathen heretic who dares to suggest otherwise.