Left behind in Silicon Valley

“When I came to this country, I saw the American dream. You get an education, go to college . . . Even American citizens can’t get the American dream now,” says Roberto Aguirrez, a parent group leader, in Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools. I wrote the report for Innovate Public Schools.

Aguirrez is working to bring a charter K-8 school to Morgan Hill, the San Jose suburb where he lives. But it won’t happen soon enough for his fifth-grade daughter. If he can’t get her into a good charter middle school — there are wait lists at all the high-performing charters — he’ll pay for private school.

“You know that movie? I’m not waiting for Superman,” he says.

Aguirrez and his wife earned college degrees. They were able to help their daughter with homework when she fell behind. They could afford to hire a tutor. When teachers said their kids were doing “OK,” they could read the report card and see that wasn’t true. Most Latino parents don’t know their children are scoring below basic, says Aguirrez.

Silicon Valley draws talented people from around the world. In 2011, 64 percent of the valley’s college-educated, high-tech professionals were born outside the U.S.

Only about one in five Latino and black students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is on track to complete high school in four years and go on to college, and even fewer will qualify for a high-tech job.

It’s not hopeless. The Alum Rock elementary district, which serves a low-income, heavily immigrant neighborhood in east San Jose, used to have dreadful schools. PACT, a church-based parent group, demanded the district authorize charter schools and start new, small autonomous schools (a bit like Boston’s “pilot” schools). The new schools are doing very well and the traditional district schools are improving. Alum Rock parents have real choices now.

Charters and Alum Rock’s autonomous schools dominate the top-ranked schools for Latino success, notes the  San Jose Mercury News. (Innovate ranked schools with at least 38 percent Latino enrollment, the region average.)

The top five middle schools for Latino algebra proficiency are KIPP Heartwood charter in Alum Rock at 81 percent; Renaissance Academy at 59 percent and Adelante at 53 percent, both in Alum Rock; Solorsano Middle in Gilroy at 48 percent and ACE Charter in San Jose at 47 percent.

At Jefferson High in Daly City, 78 percent of Latino students graduate UC/CSU ready — the highest percentage among comprehensive high schools. Other schools with high percentages of college-ready Latino grads are six charters: Summit Preparatory in Redwood City at 90 percent; KIPP San Jose Collegiate at 83 percent, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix at 62 percent, Downtown College Preparatory at 49 percent, Leadership Public Schools-San Jose at 46 percent and Latino College Preparatory at 39 percent.

In Morgan Hill, where Aguirrez and his wife are raising their children, 9 percent of Latino high school graduates qualify for state universities. (Update: The district says the number is off because one of its high schools was left out of state data.) Right next door in Gilroy, which has more Latino and low-income students, 20 percent are college eligible. Gilroy also has two elementary schools that make the top 10 list for Latino success in reading and math. Why can’t Morgan Hill do as well as Gilroy?

Educating the children of poorly educated, low-income, immigrant parents is very difficult. But some schools are showing it’s possible.

About Joanne


  1. “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.” Where, exactly IS “Silicon Valley”? Not even those of us who live here (I live and teach in Sunnyvale) know what the boundaries of this imaginary place are.

  2. Algebra Proficiency starts with a solid grounding in the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals/whole numbers, place value, exponentiation, and endless drills over this material until it is second nature to the student.

    The reason that so many students struggle with algebra and higher level mathematics is that they never got a solid understanding of the basics of math.

    Math is a foundation subject, you’ll never master it unless you have a good working knowledge of the basics.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    So when the schools see the Latinos show up the schools start slacking off. I can see that.
    Then I stop being sarcastic and see a reduction in parental pressure on the schools.
    And in conjunction with that, more home schooling and private schools as Latinos show up because not every Latino kid wants to be a rocket scientist or a tech genius.

    • Richard,

      I had an interesting exchange with a guy who is works for generalplastics.com in Washington State (as part of the No Math, No Job posting a couple of weeks ago), here is what he sent to me via email:

      Hi Bill,

      I hear you. We are an aerospace manufacturer and the requirement for jobs is basic (7th grade math skills). Yet only one in ten pass our test. It is frustrating.

      Now the job posting said they needed high school graduates or equivalent (GED), but when 9 of every 10 applicants fails, it’s a damning indictment against the applicants, their parents, and the school system that they attended.

      Not every kid aspires to be a ‘rocket scientist’ or a ‘tech genius’ (regardless of ethnic background), but a solid understanding of math/science/reading/writing at least gives them the option to do so in the future, if they decide they want to do something else as a career.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        I think managing a checkbook needs seventh-grade skills.
        Problem is…could the kids do better if the schools were better? Or have the schools maxed out the kids’ possibilities?

        • Well, given that this school year is the first one (nationally) that student spending has actually dropped, I’m not sure what we can do to make the schools better, due to the fact that I firmly believe that education begins in the home.

          If mom and dad won’t/can’t make education of their offspring a priority matter (which includes making sure they actually ATTEND school, do their assigned homework, and study hard), I don’t see what more the schools can do to fix the issue.

          It’s easy to blame the schools, spending, and teachers, when in many cases, the kids make little or no effort to actually participate in their own education.

          Many parents these days view the public school system as ‘free day care’, and if that’s the attitude, it’s not surprising that students aren’t achieving at the rates they should be.

          You’re also right that balancing a check book is a middle school math skill.