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Education Platforms Explained

Gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have more differences than similarities in their approach to the future of education for the state.

Choosing a governor for the betterment of the California public school system can be a daunting task.

However, EdSource, a Mountain View-based nonprofit organization focused on research related to education issues, has published a useful tool that compares—side-by-side—the educational platforms of gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman.

According to EdSource, the state has 6.2 million students in almost 1,000 kindergarten-through-12th-grade public school districts. More than half of these students come from low-income families, while about a quarter are English-language learners. While California tops the list nationwide in teacher salaries, the state ranks only 41st in per-pupil spending, according to the National Education Association—a potentially important reason why the gubernatorial positions on education issues could be a crucial deciding factor for many voters.

Here are some comparisons EdSource points out:

On School Finance

  • Both Brown and Whitman propose to consolidate California's existing categorical grants, which come from state and federal sources. Brown plans to reduce the number of grants to less than 20, while Whitman plans to collapse them into simplified grants for special education with a reward system for those that "contribute to greater student achievement."

On Teachers

  • Whitman wants to attract math and science professionals into the teaching profession by allowing them expedited accreditation. Brown wants to improve teacher quality by strengthening teacher training and preparation through mentoring, apprenticeship and better recruitment.

On Accountability

  • Brown plans to simplify the Education Code, the set of laws governing K-12 schools in California, to allow the districts flexibility on how best to fulfill state requirements. Brown says schools should be held accountable for outcomes without prescribing how they should achieve those outcomes. Whitman plans to set up an A to F grading system for schools to give parents a chance to opt out of failing schools or petition to convert them into charter schools.

On Charter Schools

  • Brown, who founded two charter schools in Oakland, wants to encourage the good charter schools and close the bad ones. Whitman wants to use the charter schools to create competition within the public school system.

Whitman did not address four additional issues listed by EdSource—assessment, classroom instruction, school safety and innovative schools. Attempts by Mountain View Patch to get comments from Whitman's campaign office on these issues were unsuccessful.

On these issues, EdSource said Brown planned to develop tests that measured comprehension and not just facts and that linked to college and career preparation. He also planned to give more attention to science, history and humanities without deemphasizing math and English.

To help use available class time more efficiently, Brown proposed using online and other teaching materials. Brown would give teachers effective means to maintain discipline in the classrooms. Brown would also create innovative career-focused schools supported by local businesses and institutions.

The 325,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA), an organization that includes teachers and education support professionals, and the 135 union-strong California Federation of Teachers (CFT) have both publicly endorsed Brown for governor. One of the things the CTA opposes is Whitman's plan to tie teachers' merit pay to standardized test scores. The CFT has called Whitman "anti-education" and "anti-labor."

On the other hand, Tommy Schultz, co-chairman of the Students for Meg campaign, said he "chose to support Meg Whitman over Jerry Brown because of her extensive, successful career in business." According to Schultz, Students for Meg has about 1,000 members campaigning for Whitman across 44 campus chapters.

"The organization has connected a large amount of conservatives and moderates here in California," said Schultz.

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