Back to School — But Where is the Teacher?

By Margaret Daoud-Gray

Meeting your teacher on the first day should be a given for our students. This year, too many students will enter their classroom with rotating substitute teachers or instructors on emergency credentials. This will be more common in low-income school districts, STEM fields, and special education classes. Last year, approximately 75% of school districts reported a shortage of qualified teachers. As of August 11th, 2017, the districts of San Francisco Unified, Oakland Unified, and Franklin-McKinley reported 61, 50, and 31 open positions respectively. This is because the current supply of teachers in California is at a 12-year low.

At the Silicon Valley Leadership Education Policy Summit on August 10th, we heard from experts throughout the day about the importance of recruiting and retaining strong teachers. Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade launched the conference with a compelling discussion around educational equity, emphasizing that teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, two candidates for State Superintendent of Schools, agreed that the shortage must be addressed through short-term and long-term efforts. Silicon Valley districts face additional challenges due to housing costs that are prohibitive on a teacher’s salary. Stephen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent of San Jose Unified School District, recognized that staff turnover is driven by teachers moving to work in more affordable regions.

The legislature clearly understands the urgency in addressing the shortage and introduced a number of bills to fund teacher recruitment and training. However, Governor Brown’s budget proposal included limited funding; ultimately, the state appropriated $30 million and redirected $11 million federal Title II dollars towards teacher recruitment and training.

Expect Legislators to push for further funding to address the shortage in 2018, and for the shortage to receive more attention through campaigns for both State Superintendent and Governor. Every student deserves to start school with an effective teacher greeting them at the door on the first day of school and the state must act to address this growing problem.

Margaret Daoud-Gray is Director of Education Policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group


How poverty and politics affect the Valley’s housing crisis

This article appeared in the Silicon Valley Business Journal on August 3, 2017

Guest opinion: How poverty and politics affect the Valley’s housing crisis

By Brian Brennan and Erica Wood

For every ten new jobs created in Silicon Valley between 2010 and 2015, we built just one new housing unit.

That is the core of the Bay Area’s housing problem, and it goes a long way to explaining why, as documented in a recent report by our two organizations, Silicon Valley’s median housing price in 2015 was $935,000, while in competitor regions like Seattle and Austin it was $380,000 and $249,000, respectively.

We cannot expect the housing market to moderate until we build more housing at all income levels.  To do that, we need robust action on two fronts:  poverty and politics.

First, we need to dedicate public funds to support housing for the neediest in our region.  The housing crunch affects everyone, but government has a particular role with respect to our low-income residents.  Healthy communities have space for people at all income levels, but the cost of land in the Bay Area means stand-alone low-income housing rarely pencils out.   That is why we need affordable housing funding measures like Senator Toni Atkins’ SB 2, which would establish a permanent funding source of affordable housing, and bond measures such as that proposed by Senator Jim Beall’s SB 3.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, however, addressing the housing needs of the poor means building housing for all income levels.  The shortage of middle- and upper middle-income housing leads to gentrification: buyers at those levels look in markets that used to be for lower middle- and low-income residents.  Thus, not only are we not building enough new housing for low-income residents, but the supply that we already have is being squeezed by inadequate new housing at other income levels.

Building more housing means addressing a second issue:  housing politics.  While new housing is in the interests of the entire region, it makes sense for individual cities to wait for their neighbor cities to bear the costs of building it.  The local politics are all the more challenging because our housing crisis is less of a crisis for those who already own a home.  They might want their kids to live nearby, or be concerned about the region’s economic vitality or the well-being of friends or coworkers – but many homeowners are counting on the steady increase of housing prices as their nest egg.   We don’t talk about this much, but it adds to the complexity of housing politics, and helps explain the opposition to new housing in a region that so clearly needs it.

Part of the answer lies in re-thinking the way we make decisions about housing.  Senator Scott Wiener is making a courageous effort to move the needle with SB 35, which would prevent those local governments not building their share of housing from rejecting new housing projects that have gone through the proper environmental review, community engagement and permitting processes.  We agree with Senator Wiener: “Local control is about how a community achieves its housing goals, not whether it achieves those goals.”

When a region builds just one new housing unit for every ten new jobs, it’s no surprise that housing prices skyrocket.  That is supply and demand.  To address it, we need to focus public dollars on low-income housing while putting in place political structures that are conducive to new housing at all income levels.

Erica Wood is Chief Community Impact Officer at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.  Dr. Brian Brennan is Senior Vice President at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.  They wrote this piece for the Business Journal.


Computer Science Education: No Time to Wait

By Paul Escobar

Our society is on the cusp of perhaps the most dramatic shift in modern history.  The digitalization of our society and economy—our greater reliance on artificial intelligence, the use of big data and the ubiquity of computers—promises to radically reshape how we live, work and play.  To remain economically competitive and foster a more inclusive society, we must ensure that everyone is prepared for and can be active contributors to this future.  Crucial to this is widespread access to a robust K-12 computer science education.

Currently only about 25 percent of Californian schools offer any CS courses to their students.  In 2015, the Sacramento Bee writes, of the roughly 2 million public high school students in the state, only 35,000 students were enrolled in computer programming or CS courses.  This disparity in education contributes to disparities in the workplace.  As the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported in March, the underrepresentation in the Valley’s tech workforce of women and minority populations is striking: only 2 percent are African American, 3 percent Latinx and 24 percent women.

Momentum is building, however, and equity of access expanding.  With the introduction of the AP CS Principles exam this year, the College Board experienced the largest exam launch in history.  The number of students taking AP CS exams doubled nationwide between 2016 and 2017 (54,379 and 111,262, respectively).  Most heartening, this year compared to 2016, the number of female and underrepresented minority test takers increased their participation by a striking 135 percent and 170 percent respectively.  In addition, though California is not currently among the only 8 states that have developed rigorous K-12 CS standards, our state is taking an important step to join their ranks with the convening this September of the Computer Science Standards Advisory Committee.

Accessible, robust K-12 CS is not only a moral and social obligation; it is an economic and national imperative.  Providing equitable access to computing resources and education will allow us to substantively expand and diversify the pool of qualified STEM workers, a vital piece to filling the over 200,000 open cybersecurity jobs and the projected shortfall by 2022 of 1.3 million qualified computational workers.  Given that STEM jobs are the number one source of all new wages in the U.S. as well as the growing reliance on computers in all sectors, accessible CS education could ultimately raise more people of all backgrounds and beliefs into a renewed middle class.  The alternative is to risk American economic competitiveness and stifle innovation.

While the state moves to develop standards, there is still much that the rest of us can do to promote access to K-12 CS education in our local districts.  Parents, teachers, administrators and nonprofit partners can all be a catalyst for a budding new CS initiative or program on at a school site or within a district.  For some ideas as to how you can do this, a great place to start is Code.org’s advocacy page.

Paul Escobar is Director of Policy and Education Programs for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.