Sunnyvale, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is home to such high-tech fixtures as Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, AMD and Applied Micro, plus aerospace/defense operations of Lockheed Martin and Honeywell. Yet few Latinos who grow up in their shadow are qualified to work for those companies.

The participation and proficiency rates for Algebra I for Latinos in Sunnyvale, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is well below the already low statewide  average.

The participation and proficiency rates for Algebra I for Latinos in Sunnyvale, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is well below the already low statewide average.

The disconnect between aspirations and reality starts early. Only 10 percent of Latinos, who comprise 42 percent of students in Sunnyvale Elementary District, are proficient in algebra by the end of 8th grade, a key measure of getting students on track for a career in science, engineering and math.

Sunnyvale is not alone among the 54 school districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, which form Silicon Valley. The data for Latino and African American students “paints an alarming picture about the future for so many of these children. That’s the promise that we, as a community, have broken,” concludes the report “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind In Silicon Valley,” released Wednesday by Innovate Public Schools, a new organization funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Walton Foundation, which promotes charter schools and parental choice.

The report, by journalist Joanne Jacobs, focuses on Academic Performance Index scores, algebra proficiency rates by 8th grade, and the percentage of students who graduate with the courses required for admittance to the University of California and California State University by district and by school, drawing attention to those with the best and worst performances.

The overall rate of algebra proficiency for Latino children in Silicon Valley – 23 percent – compares with 57 percent for white children and 76 percent for Asian children. Surprisingly, given the Valley’s demand for tech workers, the Latino proficiency rate is 3 percent less than the statewide average for Latinos, according to Innovate Public Schools. That disparity reflects the family income and school district resource divide in Silicon Valley, which has a large number of basic aid districts ­– property rich, primarily white and Asian communities that raise more dollars per student than state funding provides. Some low-income, largely Hispanic districts in Silicon Valley could see $3,000 more per student if Gov. Brown’s school funding Local Control Funding Formula is adopted. (The proficiency statistics for African American students, though few in number in Silicon Valley, mirror those of Latinos.)

There are also vast disparities in enrollment rates in algebra. In San Jose Unified, 22 percent of Latino children were proficient by 8th grade, but 90 percent took the course; in Santa Clara, 11 percent were proficient, while only 22 percent took the course. In largely low-income Gilroy Unified, one of the more successful districts for algebra, 38 percent were proficient, with about 60 percent taking the course.

A number of recent studies (here and here) have shown the harm from enrolling students in algebra unprepared; only about one out of six students who repeat algebra end up scoring proficient the second time around. But holding students back until 9th grade is no assurance they’ll do better either. Most of Sunnyvale’s students enroll in two high schools in the Fremont Union High School District, where only 11 percent of Latino 9th graders in Algebra I scored proficient, according to the report. And studies have concluded that some districts should have been assigning more Latino students to algebra earlier.

Good teaching in early grades is critical. The promise of the switch to the Common Core standards is that students will have a better grasp of fundamentals before taking full-blown algebra, most likely in 9th grade. What’s unclear is the impact that taking algebra in 9th grade will have on students who want to major in STEM in college or attend a UC school; unless they double up in high school, they won’t have taken calculus before graduating. Some Silicon Valley districts – particularly those with parents in high tech – will likely continue to encourage Algebra I in 8th grade. The report raises the question of whether the gulf in math achievement among underserved minorities could widen under Common Core.

There are middle schools whose Latino students far exceed the averages for algebra proficiency, elementary schools with high APIs and high schools that excel in preparing Latino students for four-year college. Many are charter schools, like Rocketship’s K-5 schools in San Jose, KIPP Heartwood middle school in the Alum Rock school district in San Jose and Summit Preparatory High School in Redwood City.

Alum Rock, long considered an academic backwater in East San Jose, has four of the five middle schools with the highest Algebra I proficiency rates for Latinos, including two semi-autonomous schools that the district started under parent pressure, and ACE Charter School, which recruits struggling students out of elementary school. The fifth middle school is in Gilroy.

The report calculated the percentage of students completing the courses, known as A to G, required for admission to UC and CSU campuses, based on the four-year graduation rate. Source: Innovate Public Schools.

The report calculated the percentage of students completing the courses, known as A to G, required for admission to UC and CSU campuses, based on the four-year graduation rate. Source: Innovate Public Schools.

The  report calculates the A-G completion rate using the four-year graduation rate, based on the cohort that entered 9th grade, reflecting dropouts along the way; the state calculates the rate based only on the senior class, a higher rate. The Silicon Valley four-year rate with A-G completion for Latinos of 20.2 percent (combining 26 percent in San Mateo County and 15 percent in Santa Clara County) is 0.3 percent less than the statewide average, according to Innovate Public Schools.

Here, too, six of the top 10 high schools for Latinos are charters, along with four district schools (Jefferson High in Jefferson Union, Lincoln High in San Jose Unified, Half Moon Bay High and Capuchino High in San Mateo Union). The report profiles three of the high-achieving schools and outlines strategies that others use. Summit Prep, for example, assigns to every student a mentor teacher who serves as college counselor, coach and advocate; struggling students get extra help during two month-long intercessions.

But for many Latino students, the report says, ambitions are cut short, starting when they fall behind in reading by third grade and math in middle school.

“These young people don’t have the reading, writing, math and science competence to study programming, accounting or nursing at San Jose State. They’re not prepared to train for a computer networking job at Foothill College.”



Filed under: A to G Curriculum, California Colleges, Charter Schools, Equity issues, Featured, K-12 Reform, Reporting & Analysis, STEM, UC and CSU

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  1. that should be Brown’s new PLAN for Adult Ed… via the May Revise…

  2. Good points and info, CarolineSF, thank you.

    I’m coming from the Adult Ed angle… and I’ve been pondering how Brown’s new place specifically excludes Older Adults and Parent Ed from new funding.

    Kids are raised by families not schools.

    Teaching both ESL and Parent Ed revealed something to me:

    Many other cultures expect schools to provide rigorous academics and families to provide strong social and emotional support.

    We’ve been veering toward opposite expectations for many years now.

    Families matter. So do communities.

    Supporting families helps children.

    Yes, it’s hard and messy and complicated and what does that “look like” etc.

    But… just starting with that truth… is very powerful.

    Strong industry can provide money.

    Strong families and communities make the sure the money is not spent on prisons, juvenile detention centers, and rehabs.

    We have a lot of money. We actually have very strong industry in CA – much stronger than in many other states.

    But a lot of money goes to dealing with problems that being with deep suffering in families and communities.

    The cost of the prison system is pretty dumbfounding.

    So… do I have all the answers? No.

    But given how low-cost Adult Ed is… and what a small portion Parent Ed and Older Adults Programs are of it… and what an important rudder families are to children and the state at large, I sure as heck don’t understand cutting it.

    Last thing: I am NOT saying the families of these particular children are not supportive, caring families.

    I don’t know all the factors at work here.

    I do know that it is stressful to focus on family life in our culture.

    I see it all the time – in my life, in lives of my students, in the lives of pretty much every parent around me.

    Our culture is not about family life.

    It’s stuck somewhere between 17 and 28. It’s about ambition and independence.

    It’s not about interdependence even tho’ primates are and we are them.

    1. el says:

      I agree, Cynthia, and I think schools can really play a role in knitting people into the community. I would love to see all schools offering parenting classes and/or parenting get-togethers for toddlers in the neighborhood, to help people meet their neighbors and their kids’ classmates and to make school a place parents come and where there are community resources available.

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Great point, El. (Although I actually think my kids who graduated in ’09 and ’12, did fine without math in 12th grade. They are far, far more math-savvy than I am and than most adults I know are, given that I mostly hang out with liberal-arts types.)

    Again, I think EdSource Today needs to avoid reporting on advocacy written by partisan sources as though it were impartial research. Fine, cover the report, but don’t portray it as though it were impartial and scholarly. Disclose disclose disclose.

  4. el says:

    It’s my sense that even among college-bound kids that a substantial portion, perhaps even a majority, don’t enroll in any math class their senior year. IMHO, this is much more limiting than kids not taking algebra in 8th grade. You don’t need calculus in HS. You probably do need 12th grade math.

    The headline on this piece really bugs me, that schools are “crushing aspirations” of these kids. I doubt that is the case: I suspect the problem is that the kids in question don’t have aspirations to work for those high tech companies. IME, even the “worst” public schools actually are very good at supporting kids who want to learn and are self-starters. (With a caveat that peer pressure can sometimes crush kids who stick out that way, and it can be hard for adults to combat that.) The problem is how few kids come to school that way in the first place.

  5. CarolineSF says:

    The A-G requirements include three years of high school math, correct (which as the parent of a 2012 high school graduate I’m pretty sure of)? My kids met them with advanced algebra, geometry and trig, and between them were admitted to UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, SFSU, SJSU, CSU Northridge and CSU Long Beach.

  6. Paul says:

    Well said, CarolineSF.

    I wonder whether the schools, or the particular students in them, are responsible for some of the differences. If this report is to be believed, converting every single school in Silicon Valley to a charter will solve the problem. “Charter schools give kids a shot at college”. [p. 10]

    Charter schools are schools of choice. Because parents must apply, and these schools are free to set special expectations for family commitment, charters attract students who are different from their district school counterparts — even if they have same ethnicity, socio-economic status (school lunch eligibility), and special needs (IEP/504 and/or EL). The report itself mentions differences in commitment. “At Phoenix, parents promise to spend 30 hours a year supporting their children’s education, including attending parent-teacher conferences, orientation meetings and workshops on college admissions and aid. Rocketship charters also ask parents for 30 hours a year. Still, parent pledges are the exception, not the rule.” [p. 15]

    I must note the nonsense about algebra and the Common Core.

    Not actively encouraging 8th-grade algebra does not mean actively “discouraging” [p. 9] it. Yes, the state will no longer give schools extra credit for 8th-grade algebra test scores. This restores 8th-grade algebra and 8th-grade general math to neutral positions.

    Here’s another gem: “Passing algebra in 8th grade is the first step on the track that leads to geometry in 9th grade, advanced algebra in 10th grade, pre-calculus in 11th and calculus in 12th grade. Students who aspire to a university degree in a STEM field – science, technology, engineering and math – NEED to be on this track. … In 8th grade, most Asian and white students take algebra and pass the class, opening the POSSIBILITY of 12th-grade calculus and a SHOT AT a high-tech career.” [p. 8; EMPHASIS ADDED]

    This is hogwash. Neither UC nor CSU specifies calculus as an undergraduate admission requirement. In response to a different article, I looked up the specific admission requirements for a math major at CSU a few months ago. Even math majors are routinely admitted without high school calculus!

    It’s much easier to set our sights on mythical milestones such as 8th-grade algebra or 12th-grade calculus, and to extol charter school models that might not be repeatable across the entire public school population, than to focus on what kind of instructional experience is offered in the classroom, and what kind of effort the students (and, by extension, their families) actually invest.

    1. If you read the California draft framework for Common Core implementation, it does actively discourage what it calls “acceleration,” which means pre-algebra in 7th grade and algebra in 8th, for all but the very best students.

      The A-G courses are the minimum standards set by California’s state universities. The report distinguishes between the “STEM university track” and the “college track.” Students who “aspire to a university degree in a STEM field,” such as engineering, need more advanced math than students who plan to major in humanities or social sciences. Even with good grades, high test scores and an A in AP Calculus, it’s very hard to get into the good engineering programs that provide a shot — not a guarantee — of a high-tech Silicon Valley job. It’s exceptionally difficult to do the minimum in high school and get on the high-tech track in college.

      The report is by Innovate Public Schools, which explains its mission — it favors innovation in public schooling! — in the introduction. All data comes from the state Education Department.

      Was I paid to write the report? Yes — or I will be once I remember to send the invoice. Do I support education reform? I don’t support every proposed reform strategy, but I think we need to work harder and more creatively to improve public schools, especially those serving the neediest students. I believed that when I wrote for the San Jose Mercury News and I continue to believe it now that I’m a blogger ( and and freelancer.

      1. CarolineSF says:

        I would assume it was a given that you were paid to write the report.

        My point was that if you otherwise derive income from sources advocating “reform” policies such as charter schools — in a highly charged situation in which opinion is extremely divided over those policies — that needs to be disclosed, rather than EdSource Today’s treating your work as impartial research. Your other work makes your highly partisan positions on controversial issues clear.

        (Turnabout being fair play, full disclosure that I have a background in advocacy as well (though I’ve never been paid for it, g*d knows — very emphatically au contraire) and now work in mainstream media. I recuse myself from any editing on topics on which I’ve been involved in advocacy, and try to maintain a scrupulous ethical standard for disclosure. And for the record, I also think we need to work harder and more creatively to improve public schools, especially those serving the neediest students. Does anyone on either side of the “reform” policy debate does not believe that?)

      2. el says:

        As one of those fancy engineery-types, my experience matches Paul’s assertion better than yours – an A in AP Calculus is of course nice, but in fact admissions decisions are usually made before one can earn an A in calculus, and STEM majors do admit people without AP calculus. (Grades and test scores in math are expected to be solid, of course.)

        A second dirty secret: you don’t have to have a degree in engineering to get a high tech computer-oriented job; you have to have demonstrated skills in programming. It’s not necessarily the same at all.

        Also, I love how “engineering programs so impacted that only the creme de la creme of students are even allowed to attempt one” and “omg, not enough American kids are pursuing STEM training, we’re going to have a shortage” so wonderfully coexist. I don’t mean to pick on you exclusively for that; it’s endemic.

  7. Paul Smith says:

    Speaking of inequality, this just in: “Sequester cuts gut schools serving neediest students”

    I’m not a big social justice guy, but I think you have to be a little dead inside think this is okay when talking about children who have no choice when it comes to where they live.

  8. Paul Smith says:

    CarloineSF makes excellent points. I too have my suspicions about some charter schools. Keep in mind that some of the most high-profile charter schools such as KIPP and Rocketship are focused on underprivileged communities. If you haven’t already, you must read Stephanie Simon’s special report on Reuters: “Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want”

    All that being said. Inequity in the valley between schools in East-side San Jose and say Palo Alto are stunning. One does not have to look very hard to see the disparity in teacher salary, class size, science/technology/arts/liberal studies programs, field trips, Internet access, 1:1 initiatives or school-sponsored after-school programs.

  9. el says:

    There’s nothing new here, and I don’t think it’s about curriculum. The idea that Common Core will create magic for these kids ignores decades of history through various curricula and only relatively minor changes in achievement.

    What can we do to build connections between home and school? What can we do to get these kids thinking as third and fourth graders about how great it would be to work at Yahoo! or Apple? How can we get their parents thinking that way? How can we integrate the community not just into the well-being of the kids they know personally but also into the well-being and education of kids that they don’t?

  10. CarolineSF says:

    Don’t forget to be scrupulous about separating correlation from causation. “…proficient in algebra by the end of 8th grade, a key measure of getting students on track for a career in science, engineering and math…”

    Also, there should be a disclaimer that author Joanne Jacobs is an open, avid advocate of charter schools and other “reform” policies. I don’t know if she derives income from “reform” sources, but that information might be relevant as well.

    As to the success rates of the charter schools mentioned, their selectivity and attrition rates are often a subject of intense debate.