February 4, 2005


Setting the Record Straight About Mr. Bersin

By Mike MacCarthy


Now that San Diego City Schools (SDCS) and its current superintendent have agreed to amicably part company in June 2005, it’s time to begin setting the record straight concerning the so-called “accomplishments ” of the Bersin administration.

Almost 500 years ago, Shakespeare wisely wrote: “What is past is prologue.” The citizens of San Diego deserve to know the truth of what’s been going on inside the halls of its public school system, so we never repeat the same mistakes. Moreover, we need to make sure that with the passage of time, there’s no revisionist history written about our public schools since 1998. Toward that end, I present the following:

(1) Between September 2000 (when Mr. Bersin’s “Blueprint for Success” was first fully implemented) and September 2004, enrollment at SDCS dropped from 142,260 to 135,807 (per SDCS)—a decrease of 6,453 students (4.5%). This loss of students alone meant a cumulative minimum loss of revenues for SDCS in excess of $33.3 million.

(2) During the 2001-2002 school year (second year of the “Blueprint”), student enrollment in SDCS stood at 141,599 (per the state), county public school enrollment stood at 494,533, and county private school enrollment stood at 41,985. By the end of the 2003-2004 school year, county school enrollment had risen 2.4%, county private school enrollment had risen 3.6%, but SDCS enrollment had fallen 2.6%. Mr. Bersin and his PR team (larger than the governor’s) blame enrollment loss on population decreases and/or demographics; nonetheless, during this same time frame total city population rose approximately 4%.

Since 2000, at virtually each meeting I’ve attended in connection with SDCS, parents, students, and teachers have told me basically the same thing: the loss in SDCS enrollment was due mostly to parents removing students from city schools because they realized Mr. Bersin’s “Blueprint” was not real reform; it was regression.

(3) Between school years 2000-2001 and 2003-2004, Mr. Bersin “redirected” (despite strong objections from the public) over $350 million from Title I funds (per SDCS) to underwrite his “Blueprint”. And what were the results? First let’s recall Mr. Bersin’s “minimum” promises when hired in 1998: (A) A substantial reduction in the “achievement gap” (the difference between how well white students and underprivileged students do on standardized tests); (B) a substantial increase in how well high school graduates test on the SAT/ACT college board entrance exams. The results (according to the California Department of Education—CDE) were that the combined SAT/ACT test scores for all SDCS high school seniors showed the following: 2000-2001—verbal 490, math 509; 2003-2004—verbal 492, math 505.

Does that sound like $350 million worth of “reform” to you? Does it even look like meaningful improvement?

(4) The failures of the Bersin administration are even more chilling when we examine the “achievement gap” (AG) of high school seniors. We’ll only examine the AG for African-Americans and Latinos because together they’re the two largest underachieving groups, currently comprising almost 60% of district enrollment. At the end of 2000-2001, the AG for Latinos was: verbal 95, math 92; African-Americans verbal 115; math 123. At the end of 2003-2004 (adjusted for the decrease in white student scores), the AG for Latinos was: verbal 104, math 102; African-Americans verbal 117, math 128.

The “achievement gap” actually grew during Mr. Bersin’s administration—and this was after “redirecting” over $350 million away from the SDCS Title I schools for the so-called “Blueprint for Student Success.”

Clearly, there are many more facts to be known concerning the Bersin administration, but the limits of space and willing witnesses prevent a more in-depth presentation at this time. Once the public comes to believe that whistleblowers will not be punished, I have reason to believe a long-awaited wind of fresh air will blow through the halls of SDCS. Suffice to say, that since Mr. Bersin will finally turn over the reins of power in July 2005, I expect many more “new” facts will come to the attention of the city’s citizens in the last half of this year and for many years beyond that. Much of the new “news” will be unpleasant and troubling, but we must all look in the mirror and accept our own piece of the responsibility for having allowed things at SDCS to get so badly away from citizen control. With the advent of a new superintendent and the continued nurturing guidance of the city’s newly installed school board, each of us must pledge to never again permit such a miscarriage of justice to this city’s public school children as occurred during the Bersin administration. Living in a representative democracy is NOT a spectator sport.

Mike MacCarthy is a freelance writer and President of Voters for Truth in Education (VOTE). He can be reached at mcarthy@sandiegomag.com.

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