Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson visited the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday, making his case for why education is “the great equalizer.”
A former NBA basketball player and Cal alumnus, Johnson appeared as the weekly guest speaker for Political Science 179 — a class focusing on special topics in politics — taught by campus political science lecturer Alan Ross.
Johnson, who attended UC Berkeley on a basketball scholarship, recounted an incident his freshman year that made him realize how “woefully unprepared for college” he was. Not knowing what the word “euphemism” meant, it took Johnson just one confused class period to make the connection between socioeconomic status and quality of public education.
“I made a commitment that, if I was able to graduate from college and become successful, I would go back to my community and prepare those kids for college,” he said.
After retiring from the NBA and getting his bachelor’s degree in political science from campus, Johnson founded St. HOPE Academy — a nonprofit community development corporation that operates seven charter schools.
In a state with around 300,000 teachers and “no way to measure who the good and bad teachers are,” Johnson said he would like to see an increase in accountability in the public education system and that he values programs like AVID — a program that helps student prepare for college — and Teach for America.
As a way to measure teachers and reward those who are doing well, Johnson proposed paying the most successful teachers more money in exchange for having them train the least successful teachers.
Johnson also expressed support for having a “portfolio of schools” from which students could choose the high school best suited to their needs. Johnson said students should be able to select whether they want to go to schools with themed programs, charter schools and schools with the AVID program.
“I (feel) a responsibility to speak up for the destitute, the poor, the people who don’t have a voice,” he said.