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A school system is all of the schooling options, public and private.

SSRJ = School System Reform Journal

The peer- reviewed articles in the SSRJ will focus on the exploration of this question: What factors cause some school systems to produce better aggregate schooling outcomes than others?

"I believe that Mike Lieberman’s The Educational Morass: Overcoming the Stalemate in American Education is the most important and insightful book on US education policy in print, and none other approaches it. Anyone interested in education reform or understanding how and why our education policy processes do not function rationally or productively, should start by reading his volume.” (Richard Phelps; Journal of School Choice V 8, #2; 2014).

Taking Flak for Being on Target

Taking Flak for Being on Target: Vague Denunciation SOP by Defenders of the School System Status Quo || John Merrifield || November 11, 2016

Jesse Ortiz and I recently co-authored a chapter in, Improving Lives in Alabama: A Vision for Economic Freedom and Prosperity. On the basis of school system facts like persistent low performance in Alabama, and nationwide, non-controversial core principles like the diversity of children and educators, and the infeasibility of attendance zones for schools that address that diversity with specialized instructional approaches, we argued for a system that would have a dynamic menu of specialized schools of choice. We cited evidence of widespread dis-engagement in the current system’s implicit efforts to make comprehensive uniformity fit all. Continue reading »

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Another Superintendent Bites the Dust

Another Superintendent Bites the Dust || John Merrifield || April 25, 2015

The latest example of a dis-employed school district superintendent is a Starr (literally and figuratively), Joshua Starr. The Education Week article that reported Superintendent Starr’s demise – written by John Mannes, a former member of the School Board that employed Mr. Starr – blamed widespread “school board dysfunction.” “A successful superintendent with a national reputation for positive change and vision was made unwelcome to continue his work by board members in Montgomery County, MD;” the nation’s 17th largest public school district. Continue reading »

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Another Money Doesn’t Matter Story

Another Money Doesn’t Matter Story: Sadly, this one Includes Charter Schools || John Merrifield || January 27, 2015

This is just a quick take on a significant study; mostly to bring it to your attention. The report compared the rate of return on Traditional Public School (TPS) and Chartered Public School (CPS) spending. The study compared the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores of TPS and CPS per dollar spent on each, controlling for socioeconomic characteristics. The bottom line is that the CPS rate of return is higher. But it seems to reveal, or confirm, a sad truth. In about half of the states in the sample Continue reading »

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Great TPS Rare, Really

High-Performing Traditional Public Schools are Rare, Really || John Merrifield || November 30, 2014

This is going to be a tough sell. I recognize that. But sadly, this is a very important, painful reality check. My assertion that high-performing traditional public schools are very, very rare flies in the face of some deeply-rooted human tendencies, the first of which is that ‘best’ is widely seen as something that has to be really good. An even bigger likely source of resistance to the sad fact that the dysfunctional ‘business model’ of traditional public schools ensures low efficiency, and likely low performance even in the best-funded schools with the easiest to educate children, is parents’ strong desire to believe that they did right by their children. If we define this aspect of doing right as doing as well as possible within the available choices, most families pass the test. But when best available is shown to be pretty bad for a lot of children, some denial/resistance to the message will set in. That such a message will not produce the voter adulation candidates seek may explain why few, if any, public office-seekers will take on the myth that the better public schools are just fine. The roots of the low performance problem that I keep referring back to exist throughout the public school system, and they are not substantively negated by generous funding or by locating a school in a high socio-economic status neighborhood. Continue reading »

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Fiscal-Impact-Calculator

A State Fiscal Impact Calculator for Private School Choice Proposals || John Merrifield || October 22, 2015

Alleged fiscal impact often determines the political fate of private school choice proposals. So, the sad state of fiscal impact assessment for such proposals (“fiscal notes”) had become a major barrier to the kind of school system transformation we need. So, an online fiscal notes calculator was developed to provide a solid basis for much-improved, transparent fiscal impact assessment for private school legislation; a tool to help legislative staff better meet the demand for fast fiscal impact assessment. Since anyone can access the calculator website, and enter the information that determines fiscal impact, the calculator is also useful for designing private school choice proposals, and for holding fiscal analysts accountable for their fiscal impact assessments. Continue reading »

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TPS Principals

District School Principals: Unsurprising Recruiting Difficulties || John Merrifield || July 11, 2014

Who would want to do a job with mediocre pay, high expectations, and little authority in many of the areas quite likely to significantly impact their effectiveness? For examples, the vast majority of district school principals have little say in their school’s instructional program, or its personnel. Indeed, it is quite difficult to recruit people prepared to succeed in yet another critical public school system job that political imperatives have made unnecessarily challenging. Recall that I have previously described the daunting challenges the current system imposes on district superintendents and public school teachers. Of course, every public school eventually gets a principal, but often the district hires an under-qualified person from within the district. “There’s not much strategic thought going into the identification of exceptional talent.” Continue reading »

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STEM Stuff

The Root of the STEM Problem || John Merrifield || July 30, 2013

A tour of any major university, including meeting the faculty, will establish the STEM problems. Interviewing department heads or even perusing the faculty directory may be sufficiently insightful. You’ll find that in the “STEM” fields of science, engineering, and math, and a few others, the U.S. is very immigrant dependent. That is also true in my field, economics. U.S. citizen applicants for faculty positions are not the norm, especially natural born citizens. For example, I’m a naturalized citizen. Luckily, the U.S. is very attractive to highly skilled immigrants, though often a big part of the attraction is the awful condition of the immigrants’ home country; for many, perhaps more so than the appealing circumstances of the U.S. Some folks have blamed America for causing a 3rd world brain drain, but fault lies mostly with the origin countries. Continue reading »

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Differentiation Revisited

Differentiation Delusion: More Exposure Needed || John Merrifield || February 7, 2015

To even credibly imagine that one size could come close to fitting all, it must be possible to effectively ‘differentiate’ instruction, which is ability grouping by subject on steroids. ‘On steroids’ because with the classroom diversity that can result from our current system’s practice of sorting children only by neighborhood and age, appropriately differentiated instruction can mean a different teaching approach for every child.

Finally, specific evidence of the futility of the obviously costly and stressful challenge of having each teacher develop and deliver multiple pedagogical approaches is going mainstream public. The title of Dr. James Delisle’s January 7 Education Week Op-Ed says it plainly: “Differentiation Doesn’t Work,” and now the mainstream knows ‘the Emperor has no clothes’. Continue reading »

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A Key Myth About the Roots of the Problem

Still Widespread Cluelessness on Roots of the Problem || John Merrifield || February 19, 2014

Sadly, we have another example of good guys ‘stepping in it’; a major fallacy embedded in an attack on a major fallacy. In, The Myths of School Vouchers, Then and Now, Casey Given asserts this myth: “Poverty, not teacher quality, is the root of America’s educational woes.” He correctly points out that vouchers allow disadvantaged children to find schools that will work better for them. Poor fit is the central problem, not poverty or teacher quality. Misallocation of teacher talent, including rampant out-of-field teaching is a big part of the poor fit problem.

Continue reading »

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Persistent Failure to Address the Roots of the Problem

Persistent Failure to Address the Roots of the Low Performance Problem || John Merrifield || February 16, 2015

A recent journey through my archives produced a 2009 Ronald Wolk (founder of Education Week) article marking the 25th Anniversary of the first ‘Nation at Risk’ report. Wolk discussed the five assumptions he thought caused us to fail to address the Roots of the Low Performance Problem. I will summarize the five assumptions, comment, and add one to the list. Continue reading »

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