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San Diego’s “Blueprint” School Reform Largely Successful—With A Notable Exception

Success in Narrowing Racial, Ethnic, Socioeconomic Gaps Particularly Encouraging

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 5, 2005 –When San Diego enacted a set of reforms under the “Blueprint for Student Success” program aimed at improving student reading skills, it raised considerable controversy. But these reforms have been so successful, according to a study released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), that school districts elsewhere should give them serious consideration as they try to satisfy accountability standards—with one major exception: While the reforms improved performance among elementary and middle school students, they not only failed to improve performance for high school students but may have worked against it.

The reform package includes double- and triple-length English classes, extended school days, summer reading programs, and extensive professional development for teachers. Student participation in the Blueprint interventions moved 4 percent of middle school students from the bottom fifth of the distribution of test scores in the district to higher levels in reading achievement on standardized tests. The interventions were even more successful for elementary school students, moving 10 percent out of the bottom tenth of students district-wide. Particularly important, the interventions narrowed notoriously stubborn achievement gaps between racial, ethnic, language, and socioeconomic groups. In elementary school, the reforms lessened these gaps by a marked 15 percent, in middle school, by 5 percent.

Unfortunately, the success did not extend to high school. Apart from summer school, none of the reforms helped the reading scores of high school students. In fact, the reforms may actually be associated with reducing achievement.

Still, as school districts everywhere struggle to meet state and federal standards, San Diego’s reforms deserve attention, according to the researchers. “Districts have a chance to examine San Diego’s program for ideas that could improve achievement in their own schools,” says co-author Julian Betts, senior fellow at PPIC and professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego. “Future programs could benefit from knowing which reforms succeeded, which did not, and how well they worked at different school levels.” The study, From Blueprint to Reality: San Diego’s Education Reforms, was co-authored by PPIC research associate Andrew Zau and Kevin King of UC San Diego.

This study was made possible with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.

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