NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 15, 2005

In 1998, San Diego City Schools launched one of the nation?s most ambitious efforts to address the troubled state of urban schooling, setting an example for other urban reform movements, says Frederick M. Hess.

Superintendent Alan Bersin's ideas to reinvent the teaching, organization and philosophy of the nation's eighth-largest school district provide future reformers with a legacy of lessons, ideas and challenges to learn from. His stormy seven-year tenure has been marked by visible successes, says Hess.

  • Between 1999 and 2004, the percentage of elementary schools scoring at the top rung of California's statewide Academic Performance Index increased by more than 35 percent.
  • During the same period, the number of schools scoring in the bottom category fell from 13 to 1.
  • Meanwhile, the performance gap dividing white and Asian students from black and Latino students narrowed.

However, high school achievement scores have not moved and some observers question the district's curriculum and Bersin's confrontational approach to the teacher's union.

The San Diego reform effort is supported by the Blueprint for Student Success. Adopted in 2000, it sets out three strategies to drive student growth: prevention, intervention and retention.

Source: Frederick M. Hess, "Urban School Reform: Lessons from San Diego," American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, April 2005.

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