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Why will some San Diego Unified schools enjoy smaller classes while other schools — some of them poorer or lower-achieving — won’t?

The question came up last week when San Diego Unified listed the schools for the plan. Superintendent Terry Grier had earlier said that small class sizes mattered most in schools that serve low-income families, yet the schools selected weren’t necessarily the district’s poorest or lowest-achieving.

Jennifer White, a former principal recently chosen by Grier as an Elementary School Improvement Officer, recently explained to me why the schools chosen for the program weren’t necessarily the poorest or lowest-achieving schools in San Diego Unified.

(You might remember White — she used to lead Webster Elementary, which ratcheted up its test scores and nearly eliminated suspensions through this nifty program. No surprise that White will now be helping elementary school principals hone their programs.)

Here’s why: When Grier got pushback from schools on a different idea — keeping students in the same classes between kindergarten and second grade — he slimmed down the project from a district-wide initiative to 30 schools. And he converted it into a pilot project that will study whether the method works. He also combined the pilot with his plan to reduce class sizes in 30 schools.

But to be an effective study, White explained, the schools needed to be randomized, not chosen for their test scores or their demographics.

“It should help make everyone clear — this is why we’re going in the direction that we are,” White said.

EMILY ALPERT

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