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They Call This Research?

Ohanian Comment: Take a look at the bedfellows funding what is defined as critical research: the Walton Family Foundation Inc., The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Broad Foundation, New American Schools, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Foundation for the Improvement of Math and Science, Harcourt Achieve, The William H. Donner Foundation, the San Diego Business Education Roundtable, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Houghton Mifflin.

Now what do you suppose might be left out of this research?

The reporter names the crew top researchers. A better description would be top marauders of public schools. Teachers had better unite against this: Just what do you think progressive contract means? Some of these thugs already spent a whole lot of money to influence the last school board election in San Diego.

Don't cry for Alan Bersin. He's a former US attorney and a Johnny-come-lately to public schools. As Professor Rich Gibson, who works in San Diego, notes, Bersin "has made his career by dividing people by nation, class and race." Here's the tribute given Attorney Bersin in the Senate:

Under United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, the office became one of the premier prosecutorial offices in the country. Under Alan Bersin's leadership the caseload was transformed from one dominated by misdemeanor prosecutions to the largest number of felony prosecutions in the nation.

And here are Bersin's own words: "If you look statistically, there has been an increase in the number of removals from the United States, or deportations, by a factor of two." He brings this law enforcement mentality to public schools.

In a 2003 declaration declaring that It is no more essential for every education leader to be a teacher than for the CEO of Bristol-Meyers Squibb to be a chemist, the Broad Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute jointly named Attorney Bersin as one of six urban superintendents who exemplify the model of superintendents taking the helm after making a record in a different career.

National Studies Rate Initiatives, Atmosphere Under Superintendent

These superintendents move in with top-down my way or the highway rule, imposing a scripted, regimented curriculum to get those test scores up.

Top researchers from around the country have dissected the most crucial education initiatives, policies and issues to hit the San Diego school district under the leadership of Superintendent Alan Bersin.

The investigators scrutinized the administration's strained relationship with the teachers union and documented flaws and strengths of the "Blueprint for Student Success" reform effort. They presented their findings yesterday to an invited audience of educators and community leaders.

Led by Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, 18 studies were commissioned. When they began their examination, many of the more than two dozen researchers, mostly academics, were warned about San Diego's turbulent education politics.

"Obviously, San Diego is a hotbed," said Hess, who called Bersin's reform efforts audacious, exciting and, at times, uneven.

Hess suspects some will question the timing of the research release, just weeks before a pivotal school board election.

"Nobody should come out of this using the research as a celebration of the district or an indictment of the district," Hess said. "We have the advantage of having people with a fresh perspective. The idea is not that we are writing a prescription."

The research praises the district for improving literacy skills of its youngest elementary school children under the blueprint. Researchers also found that the controversial effort was largely ineffective in middle and high school.

In a probe of the district's "toxic" relationship with the San Diego Education Association, years of strain between the administration and labor management are documented in detail. Suggestions to improve the situation include expanding the district's small labor relations office and pioneering progressive contracts at low-performing schools that would offer teachers financial incentives, among other things.

Researchers revealed many behind-the-scenes nuances in areas such as human resources and hiring practices and information technology and data management.

Some of the work documents, if not confirms, what many critics have been saying for some time. For example, in a study of high schools, a researcher wrote, " . . . high school personnel began sounding a recurring theme: the Blueprint's one-size-fits-all approach just did not fit high schools."

Researchers praise the district for improving the quality of school principals through specialized training, and suggest giving principals more authority over staffing decisions and hiring.

The researchers commend the district for developing a clear policy to approve and monitor charter schools. The study also notes that traditional schools that convert to charter schools perform worse than startup charter schools. Because low-achieving schools may be converted to charter schools under federal law, they could be vulnerable.

A researcher who looked at the divisive politics of the school board wrote, "While Alan Bersin's unusual and surprising longevity has permitted the roots of his powerful reforms to deepen and take hold, the incessant conflict has to a considerable degree 'poisoned' the soil in which sustained school improvement in San Diego must grow."

Bersin invited the criticism at the suggestion of U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who commissioned a similar study as superintendent of the Houston school system.

Researchers were paid as much as $7,500 and given $5,000 for expenses for their work.

The project was underwritten by private donors: the Walton Family Foundation Inc., The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Broad Foundation, New American Schools, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Foundation for the Improvement of Math and Science, Harcourt Achieve, The William H. Donner Foundation, the San Diego Business Education Roundtable, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Houghton Mifflin.

State Education Secretary Richard Riordan praised Bersin's work in San Diego at yesterday's conference, "San Diego Review, Urban School Reform at Work," at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.

Researchers will meet privately today with administrators from the San Diego Unified School District to discuss their findings in detail. District officials will work with researchers before the papers are published.

Karen Bachofer, the district's executive director of standards, assessment and accountability, said she disagrees with how the data was analyzed but is eager to collaborate with researchers on the findings.

"The research is consistent with what we know to be true about the blueprint," Bachofer said. "I think this will be a useful tool for us as we move forward."

The research papers are available on the district Web site, http://www.sandi.net

They aren't there yet.

— Maureen Magee
San Diego Union-Tribune





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