The Great Misdirection

What I hear in this audio clip from the Santa Clara County Board of Education’s Oct. 19, 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop is either an embarrassing muddle or an illuminating confession.

This Charter Schools Study Workshop was convened by the county Board to allow the SCCBOE to publicly air “the big questions” about charter schools in Santa Clara County. In addition to all seven member of the Board, County Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and members of his staff were in attendance, as were a number of district and charter administrators and Trustees. The complete 3-hour audio recording can be found here.

Here’s the setup: Previously during the meeting, Board Member Anna Song asked that all members of the County Board of Education express their views about SCCOE’s role in authorizing and overseeing charter schools. In this clip we’re treated to an empassioned response from Dr. Joseph Di Salvo, former SCCBOE President:


Either Joe Di Salvo doesn’t grok his non-sequitor or he lays bare The Great Misdirection.

California charter law is ideologically grounded in unmet student need but has morphed into a political weapon that allows activist, separatist parents to extract program concessions or outright independence from their district.

When the Charter School was invented 20 years ago—by expert educators, no less—it was meant to be a special remedy to help failing students stay in school and succeed. Today charter schools are the thrust of a privatization movement that is re-introducing racial and economic segregation to public education, and the largest study ever conducted of charter outcomes found charters to be no better or worse on average than district schools.

Free market “school choice” is fracturing traditional school districts and dividing communities, thinly veiled beneath the noble cloak: We must do it for the children.

disalvoDi Salvo begins by bemoaning the moral injustice of, and urgent need for (his) leadership to cure, a 40% Latino dropout problem in Santa Clara County. BTW, here’s the real data. He points blame at district boards for not capitalizing on parent activism to improve student outcomes. If local district boards did a better job capitalizing on parent energy and activism, he believes their schools would be more successful and SCCBOE wouldn’t need to intervene.

As evidence that district boards don’t respond to parent demands, Di Salvo bizarrely shares a 7-year old story of a non-Latino parent in a high-performing school district lobbying her Trustees unsuccessfully for two years for a Mandarin Immersion magnet program. The school district in question was Palo Alto Unified, the parent was current SCCBOE President Grace Mah.

Here’s the non-sequitor between Latino dropouts and Grace Mah’s Mandarin Immersion:

  • Mah’s children attended Palo Alto schools, widely regarded as a top-flight public school district. Not exactly evidence of unmet student need.
  • Mah’s children were already enrolled in an extra-curricular Mandarin language program, which she liked. The children’s language instruction needs were being met.
  • Mah tried many times to convince PAUSD to establish a Mandarin program, but the district repeatedly refused citing insufficient demand to justify it over other priorities.
  • Mah’s program was not intended to close an achievement gap or reduce dropouts, it was just one more programmatic choice for parents in a district already full of choice.

Grace Mah’s experience in Palo Alto is totally irrelevant to the county’s Latino dropout problem, but it’s a textbook example of how CA charter law is being used today to contravene democratic rule in public school districts up and down California. Joe Di Salvo holds up this long-running, bruising PAUSD battle as an example of “getting it right.”

The clear message from Di Salvo’s bluster is, “Parents should get anything they want from their districts, whenever they want it, and if district boards don’t give in, I’m fully prepared to usurp local control by approving charter petitions.”

Don’t let something as antiquated as democracy or the needs and constraints of the community at large keep you from eating first at the education trough. If your district board doesn’t give you what you want, threaten them with a charter. Lack of a choice program is itself reason enough to justify introducing a charter school against the community’s wishes.

This abusive, intrusive, anti-democratic approach to public education adminstration is maintained by Joe Di Salvo, current member and former President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

mahGrace Mah is the current President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.


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