Friday, January 28, 2005

California's Jerry Brown Makes A (Slight) Right Turn

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, of all people, has become a promoter of charter schools. While he was governor of the State of California, (1974-1982) Jerry Brown was considered by many conservatives to be "so far to the left," that he was given the sobriquet "Governor Moonbeam." However, it has been said by some, that the older we get the more conservative our outlook often becomes. In his case, Brown may have made a (slight) right turn.

Since he was elected as mayor of Oakland in 1998, Brown has been instrumental in the founding of not just one, but two charter schools. (For those that may not be familiar, a charter school is a publicly funded institution that educates its students according to policies that are delineated in a written charter. The schools are free from many of the bureaucratic constraints and union rules that often dictate educational policy.) Brown continues to be a vocal supporter of the charter school concept.

Surprisingly, one of the schools that Brown helped establish is the
Oakland Military Institute, where students undergo the rigorous military academy-type education associated with elite (and expensive) eastern boarding schools. Less surprisingly, the other is the Oakland School for the Arts, where of course, the focus is on the visual and performing arts.

The schools offer a college preparatory-type curriculum. Both of these tuition-free public institutions outperform Oakland's traditional comprehensive high schools on standardized tests.

Like many large cities, the Oakland public school system has had its share of problems. Several charter schools can be found within the city, and they have proven to be very popular with parents.

Nationwide, charter schools have had mixed results, with a
Harvard study showing charter school students doing better than students placed in traditional public schools. A Federal study indicated that there was little difference between them.

Teachers unions are usually opposed to charter schools, because salaries and working conditions are set by the school's charter and not through the (usually) adversarial collective bargaining process. In the past, Brown has been strongly supported by (and has supported) traditional unions.

Even though we here at the 'Wonks have always been a little suspicious of Jerry Brown's intentions (as well as the sincerity of his public positions) we can respect the fact that he has at least shown some flexibility regarding his position on public education.

We like the fact that there are at least some Oakland parents that have a choice regarding the education of their children.

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