Avoid the San Diego Model of Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado

To The Editor
The New York Times
July 31, 2002
Cc: Anemona Hartocollis

From Michael McKeown


I read with interest Anemona Hartocollis' article (July 30) on the appointment of businessman and antitrust lawyer Joel Klein as head of NY City Schools. There are good reasons for bringing an outsider and non-educator to the system, but he or she must bring effective classroom practices, not just business management skills to bring about real improvement.

As a long time resident of San Diego, I note that the example of a similar change, Alan Bersin's work with Tony Alvarado in San Diego, is not a smashing success. Before they arrived, California had put all the pieces in place: Standards, textbooks aligned to the standards, money to buy them, and a plan for yearly testing and accountability. Success in this context is not just marginal improvement, but doing better than others who have the same tools. By this measure, San Diego has failed.

State test results from the years 1999, 2000, and 2001 (http://www.eddataonline.com/StarComp/, 2002 is not yet available) reveal that San Diego's rate of improvement, particularly in math, lags behind San Diego County and the state as a whole. For example, in elementary school math (grades 2-5), the state moved 4.75% more students from below national norms to above them than San Diego did. In doing so, the state nearly caught up with San Diego in grades 2 and 3 and actually passed San Diego in grades 4 and 5.

If a good start in school is most important for future success, recent trends are even more distressing. Between 2000 and 2001 San Diego's grade 2 and 3 math and reading scores dropped while California's continued to climb.

Alan Bersin has garnered an impressive amount of support in the business and newspaper communities. That is not enough. Bad curriculum and labor management choices have limited academic success of his students relative to their peers around the state. For New York's sake, I hope Mr. Klein does better.

Michael McKeown
Barrington, RI

I am a Professor of Medical Science at Brown University. Prior to that I was on the faculty of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. My 3 children attended San Diego City Schools for a total of 31 years before we moved to Rhode Island in 2000. I was a member of the committee which wrote the California Mathematics Advisory and the committee which drafted the San Diego Mathematics Standards. I am a co-founder of Mathematically Correct, and have spoken across the country on issues related to mathematics education, including last fall at the Education Leaders Council annual meeting and this year at a forum on math education organized by Lynne Cheney held at the American Enterprise Institute.

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