Closing the School Performance Gap

There are more than 1000 special needs kids in the San Mateo Foster City School District – almost 10 percent of our 12,000 students. Today, their performance is essentially average for special needs kids in California – 13% were performing at or above grade level in 2015-2016 for English and 12% for Math.

This is pretty depressing if you are the parent of a special needs kid.

But, there is hope.

Much better is possible.

Earlier this year, Innovate Public Schools came out with a report on students with disabilities in the San Jose school district:

San Jose Unified Snapshot: Students with Disabilities 

In short, San Jose is pretty similar to San Mateo in terms of performance for special needs kids.

What is compelling in the report is how much better some of our neighboring school districts are doing.

Not in Finland, or New York, or somewhere faraway, but right here in the SF Bay Area:

  • Among our peer group of “mixed income” school districts, the top Bay Area district is doing twice as well – 28% of special needs students are performing at or above grade level (the top three such schools are all doing pretty similarly).
  • The 5 top public school districts in the SF Bay Area are performing near 50% for special needs kids.

4 times as well as we are.

If we were doing that well, an additional 400 special needs kids would be performing at or above grade level.

Even a little movement matters… if we were doing just as well as San Jose (16% English, 14% Math), we’d be doing 33% better in English and 16% better in Math than we are today.

Much better is clearly doable in California’s public schools in general, and in the San Mateo Foster City School District in particular.

I hope that the District itself will take on closing this gap.


I hope that the Board will help find the resources to make this happen.


And if those resources aren’t available, let’s go find them.


If it is something outside of school… let’s talk about it and figure out how to make it happen.

Much better is clearly possible. Here. Now.

I have had great initial conversations with District professional staff, but in order to effect real change in a timely manner, this needs to be a focus from the District’s leadership – both professional and elected.

Fully integrating special needs as a category for all requirements into the LCAP is a start and something that could be decided tonight… probably without a vote. Benchmarking ourselves against the best, not the rest, is a decision that should be easy. Beyond that, let’s figure out what it will take.

Numbers matter. Performance matters.

Outcomes matter.

Special needs kids are not just “bodies” and “bucks”.

They are our children.

The “separate and unequal” education system that we have for special needs kids is a big step forward from what things were before.

But we have a long way to go to achieve true equality and equity for our special needs kids.

I hope that both the San Mateo Foster City School District leadership and Board of Trustees make this a priority.

Today is a good day to start.


Steven B. Davis
founder – better outcomes for our special needs kids

If you want to help close the performance gap, contact:

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