August 9 2002


The Big Lie About City Schools

By Mike MacCarthy

It is interesting how San Diego City Schools (SDCS) is being touted across this country as a major success! For example, in the 7/30/02 issue of The New York Times they published a story (“Hoping an Outsider Plus a Bottom-Line Approach Equals Reform”) about how the mayor of New York City went about choosing the new Superintendent of Schools to deal with the failure of their school system. In the Times article, the reporter wrote: “In contrast, one of the school systems that has done best academically is San Diego. There, the secret of success is not mayoral control but a powerful combination of a tough administrator—Alan D. Bersin, a former prosecutor—and a talented educator—Anthony J. Alvarado, who made District 2 in Manhattan one of New York City’s most successful districts, luring middle-class parents back to schools they had abandoned.”

That article is a great example of “The Big Lie”. This is how the “Big Lie” works, you keep telling the same lie over and over, and louder and louder until you convince enough people that the lie is the truth.

But, let’s look at the facts and examine how SDCS compares (from the state’s Web sites: and to the test scores in reading and math SAT9 scores in terms of relative gains for 1999, 2000, 2001 (2002 is not yet available). Reading overall enjoyed equal gains, whether elementary (2-5) alone or all of 2-11, or whether it is state vs. county vs. SDCS. Math is much different. State and county gains are pretty much the same, but SDCS lags. In 2-5, SDCS average change in % above 50% is 4.0% a year below the county and 4.75 % a year below the state.  In 6-11, SDCS lags 3.1% and 3.2 % to the county and state in gains.

  Of further interest, no overall grade levels in California reading scores went down between 2000 and 2001. Four SDCS reading scores (grades 2, 3, 9, and 11) went down between 2000 and 2001.  (Grades 2 and 3 are particularly telling for SDCS because it has more or less refused to go to phonics-based programs, although mandated to do so by state content standards). In math, two grades (10 and 11) went down 2000-01 in the state and 3 (8, 10, 11) at the county. SDCS, by contrast, had 8 grades (2,3,4,6,8,9,10,11) go down from 2000-01. The picture is even worse when we examine the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

In SDCS, there has been an exodus of the middle class as a result of the Bersin/Alvarado curriculum over the past four years. So much for the Bersin/Alvarado success. At best, SDCS are in the middle; at worst they are actually going backward. 

It is imperative that all San Diegans make it their business to know the facts of what’s going on their city schools!

Mike MacCarthy is Publisher of “San Diego Writer’s Monthly” and President of Voters For Truth in Education (VO/TE). He can be reached at

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