OAKLAND — The role of charter schools in public education was a hot topic Thursday at the Oakland Education Forum, which drew more than 50 educators, parents and concerned residents at the newly built 81st Avenue Branch Library.
The daylong forum, hosted by the Oakland Tribune, the Bay Area Business Roundtable and the Prescott Joseph Center, centered around four distinct areas: the role of charter schools in K-12 education, the future of regional higher education, and with a crippling $26 billion budget shortfall looming, the role of the private sector and philanthropic organizations in continued education funding across the state.
An afternoon session focused on the question of what is working.
A lively panel discussion on the role of Oakland’s more than 30 charter schools dominated the morning session. Charter schools use public funds, are non-unionized and have fewer rules. Some have gained national recognition for their success in producing quality education and high numbers of university-bound graduates. But their prevalence in Oakland has also caused concern among many who see their growth as unfair competition to a poorly funded and overstressed public school system.
“Charter schools are like people. Some are good, some are great and some are bad and should be closed,” said James Willcox, CEO of Aspire, a California network of charter schools. “We look at ourselves as a small player on a big team.”