Reforming San Diego City Schools: 1998-2002

By Linda Darling-Hammond, Michael Milliken, James Phills
2004 | Case No. SI53
Alan Bersin was hired as the superintendent of San Diego City Schools (SDCS) in 1998. Over the course of four years, he and his Chancellor of Instruction, Anthony Alvarado, led an aggressive reform effort in SDCS: reorganizing the central office, redesigning the instructional program in reading and math, and devoting incredible resources to teachers’ and administrators’ professional development. The SDCS leaders faced significant political and financial challenges: the school board was deeply divided, the teachers’ union opposed the district leadership, and the state was entering the most significant financial crisis in recent memory. Nevertheless, from 1998 to 2002 student achievement scores improved significantly in elementary schools, modestly in middle schools, and virtually not at all in high schools. The reform efforts appeared to be working in the smaller elementary schools but not the larger, more organizationally complex secondary schools. The leaders were faced with a choice: should they continue the reform efforts, with the understanding that the reforms were not yet fully implemented and results so far were mixed, or should they modify the reform strategy, and if so, in what ways?
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