A new study has found that a controversial batch of school reforms under former San Diego Unified Superintendent Alan Bersin worked well in elementary and middle schools, but did little in high schools.
The findings echo an earlier study by the same researchers that only delved into two years of the hotly debated reforms. They are likely to reignite the debate over Bersin and his impact years later, as the school district embarks on a very different, decentralized model of school reform.
The Public Policy Institute of California studied the Blueprint for Student Success, a set of reading reforms championed by Bersin from 2000 to 2005. It found that adding more reading time for struggling students helped boost student achievement, especially in middle school. Lengthening the year at ailing schools also helped — a finding that could spell trouble as California districts shorten the school year.
“Additional time on reading really can make a difference,” said Julian Betts, head of the economics department at the University of California San Diego and one of the authors of the study. “Intervening late just does not seem to work.”
Betts believes the gains could be linked to widespread, consistent teacher training as well, but is unsure because all teachers got the training, making it impossible to untangle its impact.
Some of the most common criticisms of the Blueprint: that it would cause students to burn out or make it harder for them to rack up the classes needed to apply to California public universities. Those were not borne out by the study. But researchers did find that Blueprint reforms had much weaker effects in high schools than in the earlier grades and sometimes even seemed to hurt student achievement.