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4th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 4, 2003
By Andrew Wolf

When Joel Klein became New York City’s schools chancellor last summer, one of the first things he did was take a field trip to San Diego, Calif. He made this odyssey to see what another former federal prosecutor, Alan Bersin, had accomplished with that city’s school system, which is about one-eighth the size of New York’s.

San Diego is the city where the former New York City chancellor and superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, was tapped to run the instructional program to complement the skills of Mr. Bersin, who, like Mr. Klein, has no background in education. By all accounts, Mr. Klein was quite impressed. Despite academic results in San Diego that are less than inspiring, Mr. Klein seems to be modeling many of his reforms in New York on what he learned out West.
In the meantime, little more than six months later, as Mr. Klein implements his changes at lightning speed, the situation in San Diego has rapidly deteriorated. A sea of red ink has led to Mr. Alvarado’s sudden, forced departure, and the programs he and Mr. Bersin put in place are being dismantled. San Diego’s experience holds lessons for us here in New York — if we’re smart enough to learn them.

The parallels between the San Diego program and the program being put in place in New York are striking.
Playing the Alvarado “instructional czar” role in New York is Diana Lam, who has served as a superintendent in a number of much smaller cities over the past 15 years, with mixed results. Like Mr. Alvarado, Ms. Lam insisted on a contract that puts her salary at parity with that of her boss.

The foundation-financed “Children First” initiative that Mr. Klein and Ms. Lam are putting in place in New York mirrors the “Blueprint for Student Success” that Mr. Bersin and Mr. Alvarado installed in San Diego. The Eli Broad Foundation has been involved in the establishment of the programs in both cities.

Just as the 40 superintendents in New York City are being replaced with 100 “local instructional supervisors,” in San Diego five assistant superintendents were replaced with 11 “instructional leaders” when Mr. Bersin and Mr. Alvarado came aboard. San Diego pays each of the eleven instructional leaders $128,000 a year, while New York is offering $135,000. Mr. Klein is going his San Diego colleagues one better by imposing yet another layer of bureaucracy, 10 “regional superintendents,” on top of the 100 local instructional supervisors.

Judging from a February 5, 2003, article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the similarities between the troubled Alvarado Blueprint and New York’s Children First plan reach right into the schools and classrooms.”The Blueprint dramatically increased teacher training, set up a training academy for principals, doubled and sometimes tripled the amount of student time spent on reading and writing instruction,beefed up classroom libraries, expanded summer school and dispatched teaching coaches to most of the 187 [schools],” according to the Union-Tribune.This is precisely the program that Mr. Klein and Ms.Lam are bringing to New York’s schools, with the exception of the summer-school expansion. That had already been put in place under Mr. Klein’s two immediate predecessors, Harold Levy and Rudy Crew.
As these programs have led to significant problems in San Diego, so they may here. Critics of Mr. Klein’s uniform curriculum, such as educational historian Diane Ravitch, note that the expenditures for professional development are likely to skyrocket if Month
by-Month Phonics and Everyday Mathematics are put in place.This is exactly what happened in San Diego, where outside expenditures for professional development increased to $55 million a year from just $1 million a year in just four years.

San Diego, like New York, is in the midst of an enormous budget shortfall. The city has been forced to plan a $150 million cut in education for the upcoming year — a 13.6% reduction. The $55 million professional development budget has been a particular bone of contention, becoming an election issue in San Diego, which elects its board of education. Last year, that board split 3-2 on authorizing the funding for those outside consultants to provide teacher training. One can only wonder if such political battles and budget bloodbaths are on their way to the Big Apple.

It seems likely. In New York, the Department of Education released a letter signed by 100 of New York City’s education professors supporting the Children First initiative. Virtually all of those signing the letter currently provide professional development services to New York’s schools. Under the Children First program, they anticipate a windfall in new contracts as schools scramble to retrain teachers in the controversial new programs.

The cost of this has to come from somewhere. Critics charge that the pain will be felt where it counts most. In San Diego, parents of the most atrisk students charge that the San Diego City school district had funded its Blueprint plan by “siphoning tens of millions of Title I dollars from the classroom.” Sixty percent of San Diego’s children, most of them African-American and Hispanic, are eligible for this assistance.

Calls for re-evaluation of Mr. Klein’s programs are likely to grow louder as the deteriorating situation in San Diego, on which our plans here are so directly modeled, becomes more widely recognized.In the meantime,we’ll be seeing more of Mr. Alvarado about town. He has agreed to join the advisory board of New York’s new “leadership academy,” set up to train principals. It’s modeled after the one he established in San Diego.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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