Alvarez: There is no equity in education in Silicon Valley
A view of San Jose from the East/Evergreen side of the city. Photo by Kyle Martin.

All students and families in Silicon Valley deserve access to high quality education and a pathway to college and viable careers. Such is not the case today in the areas of San Jose that encompass the poorest and least affluent neighborhoods, such as East San Jose, where income is at the poverty level and families are 85% Hispanic.

Specifically, East San Jose has eight school districts that serve 35,000 of the lowest income students in Silicon Valley. Nearly 95% of the students in the highest need schools are classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged, i.e.  families living at the poverty level of $29,000 in annual income.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to focus attention on the lack of equity in providing these students with high-quality education equal to what can be provided in the more affluent areas of Silicon Valley.

The East San Jose school districts and charter schools that serve these students lack the resources to improve the results, provide opportunity and access to high-quality college education or provide pathways to meaningful careers. The lack of resources is directly tied to the system of funding our schools in the state.

Schools are funded from two separate sources: (a) state funding and, (b) local property taxes based on the assessed values of residential real estate. The combination of these two separate funding sources provides schools between $15,500 and $23,000 per student annually in areas of high property values such as Saratoga, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos and Palo Alto. In East San Jose, school districts receive per student funding of $11,500! This means that in areas of high property values (the average home price in Mountain View is $1.8 million compared to $790,000 in East San Jose), those districts receive $5 million to $10 million more annually for every 1,000 students.

The impact of these additional monies is widespread through the educational system. It means, first of all, higher teacher compensation. Teachers in the affluent districts are paid $40,000 more in annual compensation. Why wouldn’t some of the best teachers choose to work in those districts?

Secondly, affluent school districts are able to invest in an average of 1,100 more hours per year per student. This translates to summer learning enrichment programs, comprehensive extended learning programs and rigor, mentoring and after school and extracurricular activities. If you were a student, where would you choose to go to school?

Of course, there is a direct correlation between how money is spent and student achievement levels. It begins with the transition from middle schools that graduate low-achieving students into high school. In a middle school with more resources, 65% of the students meet standards in English and math. In a typical East San Jose middle school, an average of 25% of students meet the standards.  

In schools with more resources, 84% of the students meet state standards in English and 67% meet the standards in math. In an East San Jose high school where 75% of the students are English learners, only 30% of the socioeconomically disadvantaged students meet state standards. In math, the results for socioeconomically disadvantaged students are worse — 12%.

Lastly is the impact of additional resources on college and career readiness. Clearly, schools with more resources prepare more students for enrollment into 4-year colleges. Seventy-five percent of these students graduate eligible to enroll in a 4-year college. These students have access to robust college and career centers and have completed Advanced Placement courses as well as college courses, which eliminates the need for courses in college and reduces the cost of college. Students in these schools are typically not the first in their families to go to college and benefit from the higher education levels of their parents.

Such is not the case in the typical East San Jose high school for a socioeconomically disadvantaged student where only 29% complete a course schedule making them eligible to apply to California State University or University of California and only 22% enroll in a 4-year college. Parent support is limited due to the lack of education background, low wages and exposure to all the issues common to living in poverty.

The conclusion to be drawn, without debating the data, is that equity in education in Silicon Valley does not exist. Social justice requires that we make this right.

Ed Alvarez is the president of the Latino Education Advancement Foundation.

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