Historically, civil rights issues have been a struggle. Yet solvable they are. My epiphany after last week’s unexpected tsunami of racist comments on SJI in response to my post was, sadly, that we have not come as far as I thought we had as an enlightened community. However, the bright rays of hope that we can still succeed in the goal of eliminating the achievement gap were built into the altruistic beliefs spoken by the students who are engaged in their quest to become teachers for the children in San Jose.
This is just one of the “teachable moments” I have chosen to emphasize here this week. Teachers are the key solution set to the problem we have identified. The credential program at San Jose State University is producing some of the best young educators I have had the privilege to teach. In economic year downturns, the university cannot cut the momentum the program has to prepare the best and brightest for our local classrooms. In fact, SJ2020 should look at ways to ensure the SJSU pre-service training excellence. Nothing less will do.
President John F. Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” As I said last week, our children, all of our children, legal residents or not, must be treated as this city’s treasures. Our planet is an infinitesimally small dot on a huge tapestry of galaxies that comprise our universe. The children of this small planet must be cared for as treasures wherever they reside. That is the world I want to live in and the mission I will continue to strive to accomplish as long as I have the privilege to teach, lead and write.
We are but one species, Homo Sapien Sapien, or Wise, Wise Man, and wise we must be in order to eliminate the achievement gap.
In San Jose we have one of the wealthiest places on the planet in which to grow, live and thrive. We can intelligently and courageously plan to see that all children in San Jose progress to become proficient on California’s content standards. I agree with those posters who said our most gifted children among us must achieve at their highest levels too.
Teachable moment number two: While working to eliminate the gap we must seek and implement instructional methods that challenge our most gifted students in all academic subjects as well.
My last week’s post was not intended to create a “war” on race on San Jose Inside, rather it was to laud the goal we have established as a government and educational community: to end the achievement gap in 10 years. As a 58- year resident of this great city I am very proud of the goal and wanted to applaud the leadership in setting the course. The goal should not be controversial from my perspective, yet I see that it is. This will make our work more difficult, but all civil rights issues are. Together we shall overcome here, too.
I know there will always be critics to any bold initiative. Sometimes as in Brown vs. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court needed to show us the way to a more enlightened path that ultimately benefits us all. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Kozol points out in his 2005 book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, we are re-segregating our schools to the detriment of children and the goal of closing the achievement gap. No, I am not advocating forced busing, there are many more creative ways today to address the segregation of our schools and not force anyone to do anything that they wish not to do.
Another teachable moment here for all SJ2020 leaders who signed the compact at the launch: We must be aware that the cards are stacked against us to meet our objective when money is not equally distributed among districts for students. The difference between the dollars per pupil in Palo Alto Unified vs. Franklin-McKinley Elementary is $6,000-$7,000 per year. Kozol points out this disparity for many of the largest cities in the nation based on 2002-03 school year:
Contrasting Two Districts in Chicago
Highland Park and Deerfield High School District
Black and Hispanic Population: 10 percent
White and Other: 90 percent
Low income: 8 percent
$17,291 per student per year
Chicago Unified School District
Black and Hispanic: 87 percent
White and Other: 13 percent
Low income: 85 percent
$8,482 per student per year
Contrasting Two Districts in Boston
Lincoln School District (K-8)
Black and Hispanic:19 percent
White and Other: 81 percent
Low Income: 11 percent
$12,775 per student per year
Chelsea School District
Black and Hispanic: 79 percent
White and Other: 21 percent
Low income: 80 percent
$8,291 per student per year
I know money is not everything; however, I ask, are we providing equal opportunities for learning for all children in San Jose with the disparity in per pupil expenditures that exist today? Do all San Jose’s children have access to quality music, visual and performing arts programs?
It would be a good first step for the leaders of SJ2020 to put up the numbers and demographics for the districts in San Jose as Kozol did for Chicago and Boston. It would also be instructive to compare co-curricular programs and electives offered for each San Jose district. I would also like to see this for all school districts in Santa Clara County for it is public information that should help guide our discussions.
Here is what I know as a life-long educator. We can eliminate the achievement gap. The will, expertise, and knowledge is here. There are many schools public, charter, and private that are doing so against all odds with the poorest of children. I have written about many of them this last year in my blog. As a last “teachable moment” here is my top ten list of what I know must be done for us to achieve our mission:
• Create the highest quality preschool programs for all 3 and 4 year olds in San Jose.
• Hire teachers who believe all students can learn, just not in the same way on the same day.
• Employ teachers who have consistent high expectations for all students in every classroom at their zone of proximal development.
• Provide a rigorous and relevant curriculum for each and every student.
• Pay extra for the best teachers to teach in the lowest performing schools.
• Utilize quality assessment data to drive instructional planning.
• Keep children with their teachers for multiple years in order to forge strong relationships.
• Increase the school day and school year by at least 10 percent.
• Get all San Jose districts up to the level of funding per pupil of Palo Alto Unified’s Basic Aid District so the all district can hire the best teachers.
• Ensure that all parents are involved in the education of their children.