Mathematics Learning, San Diego Segment, PBS Documentary "Schools That Work"

March 29, 2005

From: William R. Hook
Subject: Mathematics Learning, San Diego Segment, PBS Documentary "Schools that Work"

Dear Mr. Smith

I understand you are intending to feature the leadership of Tony Alvarado in improving the San Diego City schools in a segment of an upcoming PBS documentary "Schools That Work".

This would be a terrible mistake on the part of your fine organization and a black eye for PBS, as the Tony Alvarado era in San Diego was a disaster for mathematics learning in the San Diego Schools. The performance of the San Diego elementary schools, the key to preparing students for the rigors of middle and high school math and the bellwether segment of the school population for performance evaluation, was close to the worst of any major school district in California for that 5 year period.

Alvarado arrived in San Diego in 1998, the same year that California began using the outstanding international math curriculum derived from the leading math nations of Asia and Europe. Under Alvarado's leadership, San Diego refused to use the new (to California) international curriculum and instead imported a very different curriculum from New York District #2. In addition, under his leadership San Diego began a massive and costly professional development effort for teachers and principals.

Also in 1998, California began using the SAT-9 national test to evaluate every 2nd grade and higher student. This test was administered to over 97% of the enrolled students in every public school in California every year for the five year period 1998-2002, roughly the same period Tony Alvarado was in charge of teaching and curriculum in San Diego.

The performance improvement of cohorts of students, in terms of national percentile ranking (NPR), for San Diego elementary schools over that period may be compared to that of the elementary schools in other large districts which aggressively started teaching the new international California curriculum, and which had larger percentages of economically disadvantaged students (EDS). This comparison is:

-  San Diego City - - 0.64 NPR points improvement, 56% EDS, 49,546 students
-  Sacramento City - 7.7 NPR points improvement, 64% EDS, 19,654 students
-  Azusa - - - - - - - -  5.5 NPR points improvement, 67% EDS, 4,602 students
-  Baldwin Park - - -  8.3 NPR points improvement, 76% EDS, 6,816 students
-  Basset - - - - - - - -  6.9 NPR points improvement, 78% EDS, 2,254 students

Other jurisdictions of interest include:
-  Los Angeles - - - -  2.4 NPR points improvement, 76% EDS, 216,000 students
-  California State - -  4.4 NPR points improvement, 47% EDS, 2,241,000 students

In other words, comparable elementary school districts which taught the California curriculum had average yearly improvements over the period 1998-2002 which were an astonishing 8.6 to 13.0 times better than the Alvarado curriculum and administration. Even the dysfunctional Los Angeles system, which also refused to use the new international curriculum but kept using the previous California curriculum, was 3.8 times better than the San Diego/Alvarado performance. The entire state of California was 6.9 times better than the Alvarado administration.

In short, comparable districts which started to teach the international curriculum showed stunning improvement while the Alvarado district stagnated, far behind the state average and even worse than Los Angeles.

In regard the selection of elementary schools as the bellwether segment of the school establishment for the purpose of evaluating performance, it is necessary to understand that the performance of the elementary schools is not only critical in preparation for middle and high schools, but also is the only measure available during the Alvarado tenure which evaluates the performance of students who have been taught all or most of their school lives by the same system.

The research supporting this data was done by Dr. Wayne Bishop of California State University Los Angeles, and Dr. John Hook of the Ojai Unified School District, California, as well as by myself. A detailed summary of the underlying data may be found at, and the raw data may be found at the California STAR website.

William R. Hook, Los Angeles, California.
Retired, now at University of Victoria, British Columbia

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