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Alan Bersin '74 to give Harper Lecture on "Urban Public Education: Separate Again, Still Unequal," April 16

Alan D. Bersin '74, the superintendent of public education for the San Diego Unified School District, will deliver the 2002 Harper Fellowship Lecture on "Urban Public Education: Separate Again, Still Unequal," at YLS on Tuesday, April 16, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 127. The talk is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow in the Alumni Reading Room.

The Supreme Court's 1954 decision in the case of Brown v Board of Education has become the basis of civil rights policy in the United States. But the case was originally brought to challenge a regime of segregation and inequality in the public schools. In his speech on Tuesday, Alan Bersin will describe his perspective--as a superintendent of a large urban school district, as well as a former U.S. attorney and YLS graduate--of "where the desegregation effort has left [the schools] after forty-eight years."

Bersin's talk, titled "Urban Public Education: Separate Again, Still Unequal," will range from Supreme Court jurisprudence to actual applications in the classroom. He will describe a process since the Brown decision, by which many whites have fled urban districts, leaving concentrated poor and minority communities. Various efforts and initiatives have "tried to overcome the achievement gap," he says, but we are still faced with resegregation and inequality of outcomes in education.

One trend in education that Bersin will discuss is the shift from the bell-curve view of education--expecting a spectrum of performance from students in a class--to a standards-based model, in which "every student in every grade is compared to a fixed standard." And to measure how students are performing, school districts have developed detailed lists of standards. The problem, according to Bersin, is that "virtually nothing that goes on in the classroom has to do with standards."

The biggest issue in public education is urban public education, says Bersin, and he's involved in a "vigorous effort . . . to bring quality instruction into those schools where it is most needed." He was appointed superintendent in San Diego in 1998, and brought an emphasis on reading and writing instruction and on teacher training. He recently received a four-year extension of his contract, but the daunting nature of his task is highlighted by the fact that, after 45 months in the job, he is the longest serving superintendent of a large urban district in the nation.

To read more about YLS involvement in urban public education, follow this link.

To read more about the Brown decision and its subsequent role in American culture, read an article by Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, published in the Winter 2002 Yale Law Report. (See the link below.)

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