Former Gov Team advisor to run for State Senate


Anushka Patil

Former Gov Team advisor Christopher Chiang plays multiple roles: a government and world history teacher, an Academic Technology Integrator, a mentor to his former students, a father — he pauses our interview around 8 p.m. to put his young daughter, babbling in the background, to bed — and soon, he hopes, a California State Senator.
Chiang, a Democrat, announced his campaign for State Senate on Feb. 7 for the 13th district, which runs from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale. The majority of his campaign is centered around education reform.
Teaching the teachers
“Half our [state] budget goes to education,” Chiang wrote on his campaign website, “but we haven’t been bold in our thinking of what our schools can become.”
On Jan. 17, Chiang attended the Empowerment Through Learning Global Conference at Stanford University. The conference exposed educators to different types of education systems, and it was there that Chiang found himself amazed by those in countries like Finland. According to Chiang, due to Finland’s avoidance of standardized testing and due to the way teachers there are trained, the country is topping the charts in terms of international testing.

“There’s an increasing gap between what Sacramento thinks is going to fix schools and what the research is showing,” Chiang said. “The research side is saying that we need to train teachers to be better teachers. That’s what’s working. We can’t find a country that focuses on testing [as a primary means of assessment] that has good scores [on an international level].”

Chiang attributes this gap, to some extent, to the fact that only one State Senator has been a teacher in the past ten years. The lack of education experience in the state government, according to Chiang, is an issue for schools because it is the government, not individual school districts, that makes policy decisions.


“There’s an increasing gap between what Sacramento thinks is going to fix schools and what the research is showing. The research side is saying that we need to train teachers to be better teachers. That’s what’s working.”

– former Gov Team advisor and State Senate candidate Christopher Chiang


“The state decides what it takes to be a teacher and what colleges have to do to train teachers,” Chiang said. “You wouldn’t have to talk to many teachers at [MVHS] to find someone who felt their program didn’t really train them — they had to learn on the job. And there are consequences to that. In five years, over half of [new] teachers leave. If you train teachers properly, they’re able to stay and not quit, and that’s key.”
Part of Chiang’s solutionis to implement a new system that involves having the best teachers train new teachers. According to Chiang, in the current system, new educators pursuing master’s degrees are taught by professors who are often researchers with little teaching experience. Chiang’s proposed system is similar to those in Finland and Singapore, in which top students are often recruited to become teachers.
“That makes sense, right?” Chiang said. “But we don’t do that. It’s not as prestigious to be a teacher in America as it is in those countries.”
According to Chiang, the best way to implement such changes is through the State Senate. Because only 40 state senators each represent nearly 850,000 people, Chiang believes each senator has far greater power to sway legislation.
Former Gov Team advisor Christopher Chiang recently announced his campaign for State Senate. He plans to push for education reform and the integration of technology in government. Chiang was an Academic Technology Integrator at the Castilleja School, and recently moved to Mountain View High School to teach World History. This is his eighth year of teaching. Photo used with permission of Christopher Chiang.

Push for pension reform, utilization of technology
Chiang also intends to help amend the state budget by dealing with pension reform. According to Chiang, the problem arises when the money that is put towards state worker pensions — including teacher pensions — does not suffice, and the state has to use tax dollars to compensate for the promised benefits not given to state workers. Chiang supports Governor Jerry Brown’s pension reform plan, a summary of which can be read here.

Chiang also hopes to get the state government to start utilizing technology to its fullest potential,  as he has long believed in integrating technology with classroom curriculum.  After starting the Gov Team pilot program at MVHS, he transformed it into a completely paperless class and constantly found new online tools to utilize in the classroom like Google Docs, which was still relatively new in 2009. Though he is now a world history teacher at Mountain View High School, Chiang first left MVHS last year to take on the role of Academic Technology Integrator at the Castilleja School, where he helped teachers plan projects and enhance their curriculum with technology.

Chiang’s goal is to translate that concept into local government.

“In Silicon Valley, we really believe in the power of programming, in [the fact that] we can solve really complicated problems through technology,” Chiang said. “But a lot of people in government are afraid of [technology] and don’t have a vision of how to use it to solve problems, so whoever represents the Bay Area needs to truly have a passion for showing how technology can be used.”

One of the best examples of the government struggle with technology, according to Chiang, is its ongoing effort to develop the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, a database that tracks data like teacher and student performance and graduation or drop out rates on a state-wide level.


“Whoever represents the Bay Area [in the State Senate] needs to truly have a passion for showing how technology can be used [in government issues].”

– former Gov Team advisor and State Senate candidate Christopher Chiang

“There are students at MVHS who could build a database like [CALPADS, given the data],” Chiang said. “But the state of California has been working on this for over ten years, since 2002, and they still can’t get it done.”

“Being an active citizen was taught in his class”
Though Chiang’s campaign was only publicly announced on Feb. 7, it was his large network of Gov Team alumni that found out first. Chiang founded the Gov Team class at MVHS in 2009 and has kept in touch with his past students from every graduating class since.

Class of 2009 alumni and students from Gov Team’s pilot program Tarun Galagali and Devina Khanna described the excitement.

“It was like … like one of our family members was running for office,” Galagali said.

Both he and Khanna describe Chiang as a mentor and friend, citing their experiences with him inside and outside of his classroom — particularly those in which he stressed the importance of civic engagement — as reason for their enthusiastic support of his campaign.

In Galagali and Khanna’s senior year, during the 2008 presidential election, Chiang encouraged all of his students to volunteer at phone banks for whichever candidate they supported.

“And we all did it,” Galagali said. “He took us to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. even though we didn’t make it to the national [Gov Team] competition, and he urged us to watch one of the opening trials and we got to see the justices for ourselves. He went out of his way to take us to Berkeley’s law school to hear lectures on civic engagement.”

These experiences as a teacher played a major role in Chiang’s decision to run for State Senate. For years, he taught his students that good ideas and passion can change government.

“I taught them that you don’t have to be well-connected or have a lot of money to change things. I realized that if I have something I’m passionate about, which is education, then it would be hypocritical of me to not get involved in it,” Chiang said. “[I think my students are excited because] they know I really care about it and that after teaching it for so long, I’m actually getting involved in government.”

Galagali, Khanna, and several other alumni plan to support Chiang’s campaign in anyway they can, though plans have not been finalized as the campaign has just begun.

“I really hope that [Chiang] getting involved with the government will be a stepping stone for so many other people like him. People who are younger and different and who [aren’t interested in just] playing the politics game,” Khanna said. “He’s opening the door for people with voices.”

To follow Chiang’s campaign, visit his website or his Facebook page. Chiang’s opponents include former Mountain View mayor and California State Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and San Mateo businessman and California State Assemblyman Jerry Hill. California primary elections take place on June 5, 2012.