Losing Ground: Fewer Silicon Valley 11th Graders Ready to Go to College or Work

By John Melville

Despite greater attention to educational improvement in recent years, the latest state test results show that fewer Silicon Valley high school students are ready for college or the world of work.  After three consecutive years of improvement on the Smarter Balanced English Language Arts and Math exams, the share of students in 11th grade that met or exceeded state standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics declined in Silicon Valley in 2017-18.  This pattern mirrored the trend in California more broadly among 11th grade test takers – declines after years of improvement.

As the chart below shows, only 64% of Silicon Valley students met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts in 2017-18, down from 69% in 2016-17, and even lower than in 2014-15.  In addition, only 47% of students were proficient in math in 2017-18, down from 48% in 2016-17.  Put another way, fully 36% of Silicon Valley 11th graders do not meet state standards in English Language Arts, and 53% fall short in Mathematics.

11th grade English and Math 2018Moreover, the gap in student test scores by ethnicity in Silicon Valley remains stark, and more dramatic than the rest of California.  For example, there was a 60% gap between the share of Asian students (78%) and the share of Latino students (18%) that met or exceeded state standards in Math. At the state level, this gap was 55%.  In Silicon Valley, the share of 11th grade Latino students meeting or exceeding state standards in Math has continued to decline the past three years from 20% to 19% to 18%.  As a result, today fully 56% of all Silicon Valley 11th graders that are not meeting Math standards are Latino students, a total of more than 8,400 students.

Although we should be careful not to over-interpret a one-year decline in overall test scores, we also should not overlook the fact that the percentage of Silicon Valley students falling short of state standards remains high, and the gap between top-performing groups and lower-performing groups remains large.

Let us know what you think should be done to raise the level of student achievement.  And, be sure to stay tuned for additional educational achievement data in the 2019 SVCIP report.

John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.



Silicon Valley Best at Filling its STEM Talent Pool

By John Melville

For innovation regions like Silicon Valley, the size and growth of its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) talent pool is a critical ingredient of economic success.  People with STEM skills are essential in researching, developing, improving, and scaling innovative technologies, businesses and processes.

As of 2017, our region had 354,990 STEM workers, much more than most other innovation regions.  Silicon Valley’s STEM talent pool is almost four-times larger than that of Austin (91,470), and substantially larger than both Seattle (199,780) and Boston (186,670).  Of the SVCIP comparison regions, only the megaregions of New York City and Southern California have more STEM workers.SVCIP_vEmpGrowth

Silicon Valley also has a much higher concentration of STEM talent than other innovation regions—that is, the proportion of STEM workers in the overall workforce relative to the national average.  High concentration is important, indicating a strong specialization in STEM talent-driven industries in the regional economy.  Some regions have larger absolute numbers but lower concentrations (e.g., Southern California, New York City region), while others have higher concentrations but lower absolute numbers (e.g., Seattle, Boston, Austin).  As the chart shows, Silicon Valley ranks highest on concentration and among the largest in terms of size.

Moreover, Silicon Valley in recent years has been extending its lead.  Between 2012 and 2017, STEM jobs grew 30% in the region.  Unsurprisingly, this growth was largely driven by employment in occupations related to computer, web and telecommunications, which rose 38% during this period.  Austin, with a much smaller STEM workforce, grew 24%.  Other regions grew much more slowly:  New York City (13%), Seattle (9%), Southern California (9%), and Boston (4%).  Bottom line:  Silicon Valley is both closing the gap in terms of total size of the STEM workforce with New York City and Southern California, as well as outpacing the smaller innovation regions of Austin, Seattle, and Boston in terms of growth.

SVCIP_vConcGrowthOne more indicator of the region’s STEM strength:  between 2012 and 2017, STEM jobs grew faster than the regional economy only in Silicon Valley and New York City.  The chart below shows the change in concentration of STEM jobs relative to all jobs, with Silicon Valley’s concentration growing 3%, New York City’s growing 1%, and all the other comparison regions experiencing slower growth of STEM jobs compared to the regional economy (-2% to -10%).

Despite legitimate concerns about the region’s housing costs and transportation woes, Silicon Valley remains arguably the nation’s strongest magnet for STEM talent.  Let us know what you think, and tells us what you believe the region should do to sustain its STEM advantage.

John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.

On Education: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

When it comes to public policy issues, education is as convoluted as they come.  Progress, where it is to be found, it incremental and often halting.  But we’ve seen some hard-fought advances over the last six months that are worth a nod at least, even if we’re not ready to strike up the band.

At the top of the list is an agreement reached by Governor Brown and ​legislative leaders on a proposed spending package, increasing ​funding for all segments of public education.​

Key components of the agreement included:

  • $5.2 million ongoing funding to expand Cal Grant eligibility for former foster youth, as proposed in SB 940 (Beall).
  • $125 million dedicated to teacher recruitment, training, and retention, to address California’s ongoing teacher shortage.
  • $3.67 billion in additional funding needed to fully fund the Local Control Funding formula that structures support for California’s K-12 public schools.

In higher education news, a much-needed increase in state funding for public higher education means that the University of California and the California State University systems will not increase tuition and will be able to enroll 1,500 and ​3,600 more students, respectively.

Finally, we turn to Alameda County, where voters passed a half-cent sales tax on June 5th to increase access to childcare and preschool.  The program will provide early education scholarships and support for the early ed workforce, and other counties will be watching as the program rolls out.

We know the need for more quality early childhood education is there. Even as Silicon Valley performs better than other regions in terms of access to early childhood education, thousands of children still go without.  When educational inequities take root before a child even arrives in preschool, equality of opportunity rings hollow, and our region suffers on many levels.

A big win for young children occurred in May, when SVCF and partner NBC Bay Area hosted the top six candidates for the California governor primary. For the first time ever, candidates for elected office talked about young children on statewide, live TV. SVCF’s Choose Children 2018 campaign has been working behind-the-scenes with each candidate to ensure they are all champions for young children – both during the campaign and afterward. Because of this work, the candidates discussed their positions on expanding access to early childhood education.

Debates don’t solve problems. But public fora, like this debate, are a part of a long term, tireless strategy to build a lasting relationship with the next Governor, to ensure that person—whomever it may be—is on the side of young kids.


Special thanks to Margaret Daoud-Gray from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Remy Goldsmith from Silicon Valley Community Foundation for their contributions to this blog.


Mid-Year Policy Review: Immigration Policy – Ouch

Immigration is our lifeblood in Silicon Valley.  The 57 percent of our STEM workforce hailing from abroad is an outlier even among tech hubs in this country – and is a critical part of the Valley’s secret sauce.

The 2018 SVCIP made several federal policy recommendations again this year to streamline high-skilled immigration to further the Valley’s competitiveness. But the powers that be haven’t been feeling us on this, shall we say. Here’s the litany:

  • The Administration has proposed eliminating the International Entrepreneur Rule, which granted international entrepreneurs temporary visas if they provide evidence of venture funding and jobs to be created.
  • The Administration has proposed eliminating the work authorization for H-4 spouses of H-1B recipients.
  • Premium, or accelerated, review of H-1B visas was cancelled earlier this year.
  • Chinese visa applicants are now subject to heightened scrutiny and shorter visa stays. This is the Administration’s response to suspected IP theft by Chinese nationals.

The importance of immigrants to Silicon Valley’s vitality is not in question.  We will continue to find new ways to encourage open immigration policies consistent with our national identity and the well-being of the innovation economy.

Coming Up:  Our Final Mid-Year Policy Update – On Education: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Thanks go out to Peter Leroe-Muñoz for his contributions to this post.

Mid-Year Policy Review: Housing (Fits and) Starts

Much of the talk on housing policy in early 2018 was around a bill that failed…but will be back.  Senator Scott Weiner, who as a new state legislator made waves last year with the passage of his housing streamlining bill, Senate Bill 35, was back at it with an even bolder proposal to ensure that our communities are building more housing and maximizing the public benefit of key development opportunities.

His Senate Bill 827 would have allowed for higher building heights and density around transit hubs across the state, overriding existing local zoning in an effort to ensure that we take full advantage of investments in transit infrastructure.  The bill died in committee this year, but some of the bill’s most prominent opponents, including State Senate Housing and Transportation Committee Chair Jim Beall, signaled support for the approach in concept.  There is talk of restructuring Sen. Weiner’s bill and making another run at it next year.  Both Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group were active supporters of SB 827.

Making its way through the legislative process is Assembly Bill 2923 (Chiu, Grayson), which would require the BART Board to adopt transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning standards for BART-owned land.  It would also require cities to adopt these TOD standards, which include minimum heights and related parking requirements depending on the type of community where the BART station is located.  The legislation narrowly passed out of the Assembly, was amended in two State Senate policy committees, and awaits consideration by the Senate Appropriates Committee.

On the local front, we’ll give a nod to a decision handed down in late 2017, but that still deserves mention:  The approval in December by the Mountain View City Council of 9,850 new housing units in the North Bayshore district, with 20% affordable housing.   The product of six years of planning, the approved Precise Plan puts Mountain View on the map as a housing model in a region that has too often dragged its heels on new residential projects.

Looking ahead:  Start telling your friends to support the Veterans and Affordable Housing Act, which will be Proposition 1 on the November 6 ballot.  Prop. 1 is a statewide housing bond authorized for voter approval by Senate Bill 3 (Beall) last year.  The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is one of four partners leading the effort, which would provide $4 billion for affordable housing financing and home loans for veterans. The housing bond proceeds, leveraged substantially by federal, state, and local housing funds, would produce an estimated 50,000 new affordable homes.

Up next: The downer of our series:  Immigration Policy

Thanks go to Nathan Ho for his contribution to this piece.

Mid-Year Policy Review: Whither Traffic?

Six months into 2018, have our policymakers helped or hurt Silicon Valley’s regional competitiveness?  Um, Yes.

We’ll take on this policy update through a series of posts in the coming days, all focused on areas where the SVCIP has called for change.  Today’s topic:  transportation – and it’s largely happy news.  Even if commuters don’t yet feel it, we’ve seen enormous progress in the first half of the year, though the next six months might not be as rosy.

The progress starts with the BART extension to downtown San José, which hit several key milestones.  In April, the California State Transportation Agency announced $730M in funding from Senate Bill 1, the state transportation infrastructure package signed into law by Governor Brown in 2017 after a bruising fight in the legislature.  Then last month, the Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision for the project – a critical step in securing the $1.5B in federal funds needed for the project.

These decisions set the stage for Bay Area voters’ approval of Regional Measure 3 on June 5th, which will raise approximately $4.5B over 30 years for regional transportation improvements – including funding to refurbish Diridon Station in preparation for BART’s arrival, and to purchase new BART cars.  The Silicon Valley Leadership Group co-led the effort, with the Bay Area Council and SPUR. Silicon Valley Community Foundation endorsed the measure and supported campaign efforts.

This is all good. But looming on the horizon is a threat to Senate Bill 1, the transportation package referenced above.  Signatures are being gathered for a referendum on the measure, which will likely appear on the November 2018 ballot.  At risk:  $5B annually dedicated to maintenance of our state’s aging transportation infrastructure.  If you like potholes, this is the measure for you.

Coming up:  Housing (Fits and) Starts

Creating a Pipeline to Prosperity – Starting at Birth

By Avo Makdessian

It has been proven time and again that high quality early care and early education programs are critical for life-long success. As a result, John Pepper, the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, calls investments in early childhood “the social, moral and economic imperative of our time.” However, statistics show Silicon Valley has not embraced this imperative.

Sixty percent of Silicon Valley’s entering kindergarteners are not ready for school. Further, half of our third-graders, and three out of four third-graders of color, can’t read proficiently. Unfortunately, research also tells us these children have a high likelihood of dropping out of high school and not contributing to the local economy.

The point here is that these unfortunate linkages of poor outcomes for kids start well before a child enters kindergarten. These indicators suggest that for too many of Silicon Valley’s children, prospects of being part of the innovation economy and sustaining our region’s competitiveness are diminished before they even get to a kindergarten classroom.

The most frequent barrier to preschool and child care is the cost, which averages between $1,200 and $1,600 per month, per child. This cost represents the second highest living expense for Silicon Valley after housing. It’s no wonder real estate brokerage Redfin has designated San José “the most expensive American city to have a baby,” and the Santa Clara County Sheriff recently observed her Department loses out on quality applicants who can’t find or afford local child care and preschool.

What can we do? The cost of doing nothing is devastating, not only to the child’s long term success, but to their family’s immediate need to balance care for their children with income and work, to the next generation of employers and local talent, and to Silicon Valley’s future prosperity.

Silicon Valley Community Foundation recently commissioned economists from the Institute for Child Success to determine the Return on Investment (ROI) to the local community if more local investments were made in early childhood programs. They concluded investing in local preschool programs would yield a conservative ROI of $4.19 for every $1 invested in terms of reduced health care costs and crime while also yielding greater earnings and more education.

Other communities have dedicated local funding to subsidizing high quality preschool and child care for decades. Silicon Valley lags in this regard behind the likes of Boston, San Antonio, Seattle, Cincinnati and New York—and we are thus at risk of losing top talent to those communities.

It’s time Silicon Valley got serious about local investments in our youngest residents to create a pipeline to prosperity from birth, and meet the social, moral and economic imperative of our time.

Avo Makdessian is vice president and director of Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning.  Avo is a member of SVCF’s leadership team and oversees the Center’s efforts in providing up-to-date research, state and local initiatives, and local policy on pressing issues facing young children and their families.

Any Way You Slice It: Silicon Valley’s Innovation Industries Continue to Lead the Nation

By John Melville

As we stated last year, The Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project (SVCIP) focuses on a subset of industries in the regional economy that are important export-oriented sectors with positive ripple effects on other parts of the economy.  We call them “innovation industries” because innovation is their shared core business.  While their products and services vary widely—from software to hardware, internet-based services to biotechnology, and many more—what they also share is a core need to operate in a supportive community environment, including talent, financing, and other resources.   They directly account for 26% of the jobs in Silicon Valley, and their success is an important measure of how well Silicon Valley and other regions are providing an effective “innovation ecosystem.”

We hear a lot about competition for jobs, and how innovation industries are thriving in other regions like Seattle and Austin.  What we find is that innovation is not a zero-sum game.  Many regions can and do participate and thrive in the innovation economy.  As the chart below shows, Silicon Valley and all the comparison regions continued to grow their innovation industries in 2016.

Indexed Growth - 11.30.2017While there were individual sectors that grew and declined in every innovation region, the net effect was a continued upward trajectory across the innovation economy of these regions.  How did Silicon Valley do?  It led all other innovation regions with a 5.1% growth rate, well ahead of second place Seattle’s 3.6% increase.

Moreover, in the decade between 2006 and 2016, Silicon Valley’s innovation industry jobs grew 53%, while those in Seattle and Austin each grew 41%, and in Boston 22%, while innovation industry jobs in New York City increased 17% and in Southern California by 9%.

By the end of 2016, Silicon Valley had for the first time surpassed 500,000 innovation industry jobs (503,966).  The region is closing in on much larger population centers such as Southern California (571,135) and New York City (525,651), and has a substantially bigger pool of innovation industry jobs than Boston (311,603), Seattle (271,264), and Austin (103,576).  As a result, as the chart below illustrates, Silicon Valley outpaces all the innovation regions in jobs in innovation industries per capita.

EmploymentPer10000 - 11.30.2017

There has been a slight deceleration of growth in the innovation economy in Silicon Valley between 2015 and 2016.  However, as the chart below shows, all of the specific industry sectors that comprise the innovation economy in the Valley continued to grow in 2016, except for medical devices.  Whether the overall deceleration can be chalked up to volatility or lifted up as evidence of the beginning of a slowdown is too early to tell.  What we do know is that over the long-term, despite the enduring challenges of housing, transportation, and educating a skilled workforce, Silicon Valley has continued to thrive as an innovation economy.  Let us know what you think is likely to happen next.

1yrGrowthTable - 11.30.2017






 John Melville is CEO of Collaborative Economics.

Silicon Valley Made Little Progress in 2017 in Meeting Math and Language Arts Standards

By John Melville

In 2017, Silicon Valley’s students made minimal progress on key statewide exams that measure proficiency in foundational skills and readiness for future education, including 3rd grade Language Arts, 8th grade Mathematics, and 11th grade exams for both subjects.


This year about the same percentage of the Valley’s 8th graders met or exceeded the Smarter Balanced* state standards in mathematics (53.3%) as in 2016 (53%).  This is after a jump from 49% in 2015 in the share of local 8th graders who met the math standards.  The pattern was similar for 3rd grade language arts.  About the same percentage of Silicon Valley 3rd graders met or exceeded state standards in language arts in 2017 (55.1%) as in 2016 (54.7%), after rising from 2015’s figure of 51.7%.

Silicon Valley does continue to outpace California by a wide margin in 2017.  Just as in 2016, only 36% of California 8th graders met the math standard compared to 53% of Silicon Valley 8th graders.

What remains striking is the large achievement gap by ethnicity.  Only 26 percent of African American and 24 percent of Hispanic or Latino 8th graders met or exceeded state standards on the Smarter Balanced mathematics exam (and the latter was down from 25% in 2016).  At the same time, 82 percent of Asian students and 69 percent of Caucasian students met or exceeded the standard.

2017 - 8thMath

What about Silicon Valley students who are getting close to graduating from high school?  Overall, less than half of the region’s 11th graders (48%) met the Smarter Balanced math standards in 2017.  While this performance is much better than the California average (32%), the fact remains that more than half of Silicon Valley students who are about to either enter the workforce or postsecondary education are not proficient in mathematics. Moreover, only 85% of local 11th graders took the Smarter Balanced exam in 2017, down from 91% in 2016.

Again, there are substantial differences by ethnicity.  Only one in five African American and Hispanic or Latino 11th graders in Silicon Valley (19%) met or exceeded the math standard in 2017, compared to 61% of Caucasian and 78% of Asian students.

2017 - 11thMathThe performance in Language Arts was better, but achievement gaps remain.  In 2017, 69% of Silicon Valley 11th graders met or exceeded the Smarter Balanced standard, which was higher than the California average of 60%.  However, less than half of African American (46%) and Hispanic or Latino 11th graders (49%) were proficient in Language Arts, compared to Caucasian (81%) and Asian students (86%).

What do all these percentages mean?

2017 - 11thEnglish


In 2017, just over 10,000 Hispanic or Latino 11th graders took the Smarter Balanced mathematics exam in Silicon Valley, and only about 2,000 scored proficient or higher.  About 5,400 Hispanic or Latino 11th graders didn’t meet the standard in Language Arts.  And, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest group of test takers in Silicon Valley (36%).  This means that although many Silicon Valley innovation companies are hungry to employ home-grown talent, the largest group of test takers in our region are neither STEM-workforce ready nor, if going to college, prepared to major in postsecondary STEM fields.

In aggregate across all ethnicities, out of about 29,000 11th grade students who took the exams in 2017, almost 15,000 were not proficient in math and about 9,000 were not proficient in Language Arts.  Thousands of students are preparing to leave high school ill-prepared for work or postsecondary education.  Moreover, when we step back and observe preparedness by ethnicity, it’s painfully clear that students of color are in particular being left behind in one of the most prosperous regions of the country.

One other point.  Our math achievement gap is actually larger than the California average.  Our gap between the lowest and highest performing groups is 60%, while California overall is 56%.  If our regional economy requires a higher level of STEM-related skills because of its higher concentration of innovation industry jobs, and if we value increasing diversity in the workforce and providing local youth with the opportunity to participate in those jobs, then we clearly must up our game substantially.

Let us know what you think needs to be done.

*Smarter Balanced is an assessment system developed to align with the Common Core standards, which are “challenging students to understand subject matter more deeply, think more critically, and apply their learning to the real world. To measure these new state standards, educators from Smarter Balanced states worked together to develop new, high-quality assessments in English and math for grades 3–8 and high school. These Smarter Balanced assessments provide more accurate and meaningful information about what students are learning by adapting to each student’s ability, giving teachers and parents better information to help students succeed in school and after.” (see www.smarterbalanced.org).

 John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.

8th Grade Math: A Bellwether for STEM Success

By Alysa Cisneros

Tech companies are not the only ones who would benefit from closing the 8th grade math achievement gap. This is a major concern for parents, as well.

My daughter, who is mixed race, just started 6th grade, and is currently meeting standards in math. As both a parent and an education policy professional, I am very aware of the statistics surrounding young women of color in math. Holding her interest in math over these next two years will be critical, even if she chooses not to enter a STEM field later in life. Computational thinking and mastering basic algebraic concepts are key components to learning how to think critically. This is an important skill for professionals and workers of every stripe. Students who struggle with 8th grade math miss out on a computational thinking foundation that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

To ensure that my daughter stays on top of math achievement and doesn’t fall through the gap, her teachers work with her on a very individual level. They let her correct mistakes, elevating her self-efficacy and willingness to make errors, learn from them, and try again. We are fortunate to be in a district where every student’s learning is addressed in this way. It is wonderful that there are plenty of resources to support this style of teaching, though not every math-8th-gradedistrict has this capability.

Diversifying the STEM pipeline is one of the most pressing issues facing the Silicon Valley. Not only is a diverse workforce crucial important to raising up all of our communities in the tides of our robust local economy, but many see it as critical to business success. Diverse teams are often the most successful teams, according to McKinsey, and inclusive hiring practices have been adopted by some of Silicon Valley’s largest and most respected employers.

But herein lies the problem: how do companies source diverse, homegrown STEM talent? Often, there is a dearth of local, diverse candidates to meet the demand for a more inclusive workplace. This achievement gap can be traced back to one critical stage in K-12 education: meeting or exceeding standards in 8th grade math.

Students who meet or exceed these standards are far more likely to continue onto STEM educations and careers. Hence, increasing the number of local 8th graders who meet and exceed math standards is a good start. “Mission accomplished” would be all students, regardless of their background, arrive in high school with a solid foundation in math, paving the way for future success in STEM courses and the option to pursue it as a career.

As a region, Silicon Valley outperforms California in terms of how many students are prepared to tackle high school math. According to the SVCIP 2017 report, 53% of our 8th graders meet or exceed math standards, compared to just under 40% of Californians overall. Despite an overall higher percentage of high school math readiness, disparities between racial group and gender success remain pronounced in Silicon Valley math achievement.

Organizations and programs like ALearn; Elevate Math; and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s program partnership with the Mayor’s office, STEM with Mayor Sam, all work to provide added enrichment to catch students in middle school and keep them from falling through the achievement gap in 8th grade. Working in late elementary and early middle school, students who are not quite proficient, but also are not too far behind, can be identified and targeted for extra help and mentorship to bring them up to speed. Most of these programs also focus on parent and family involvement to build a learning community. These programs operating in high-need districts can be game changers for the students and families who participate.

Individual programs and efforts are heartening, and change lives. Robust public/private partnerships between industry leaders and school districts have been used to great effect in Oakland and San Francisco. These cities are building comprehensive computer science and STEM programs in their schools with significant financial and volunteer commitments from regional companies. Bringing Silicon Valley employers together with South Bay school districts to seed and develop a strong early intervention program could change the education and career trajectory for countless students. 8th grade math is the single most accurate bellwether for math success in high school and beyond. For more equitable outcomes, we must also think about the experiences students have with STEM leading up to the critical 8th grade assessment.


Alysa Cisneros is Education Policy & Programs Associate at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.