The San Diego Story

Glazer, Nathan. "The San Diego Story." Review of Tilting at Windmills: School Reform, San Diego, and America’s Race to Renew Public Education by Richard Lee Colvin, Education Next, Winter 2014.

Excerpt: Reading this account of Alan Bersin’s successful, by the test scores, but highly contentious time as school superintendent in San Diego, 1998–2005, I could not help but think back to an account of another successful superintendency, that of Pat Forgione in the Austin, Texas, public schools, related in Larry Cuban’s book As Good As it Gets (see “Lessons from a Reformer,” book reviews, Fall 2010). The challenges were similar: substantial gaps between black and Latino and white and Asian schoolchildren, school systems in disarray, and school boards looking for strong leadership. The remedies that the new leaders proposed and implemented were also similar: bringing in the best consultants, introducing new curricula, removing and replacing the principals of poorly performing schools, adding math and reading coaches, requiring summer staff training, bringing in charter school organizers to manage the worst-performing schools. Yet San Diego became notorious for the fierce resistance of its teachers union, abetted by school board members, to any and all efforts at change, whereas there is hardly any reference to the role of the unions in Cuban’s account of Austin. Cuban, writing in 2010 of Forgione’s success there, notes, “his performance matched that of big-city superintendents…such as Carl Cohn of Long Beach, California, Beverly Hall in Atlanta, and Tom Payzant in Boston.” Bersin is striking for his absence from this list: Carl Cohn, who succeeded him in San Diego, did not last two years, apparently driven out by the atmosphere of incessant and poisonous conflict that prevailed even after Bersin left.


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