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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).

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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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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School District Superintendent

School District Superintendent: The World’s Most Difficult Unnecessary Job || John Merrifield || Sept 26, 2013

“The truth is incontrovertible.  Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

— Winston Churchill

The evidence is there on both counts (very difficult, unnecessary), as is the basis to believe it. It is very difficult to serve any diverse clientele with a uniform product.  But that’s what school district superintendents must aim for. Decades of widespread, alarmingly low performance suggest that it is mission impossible. But their task persists, and why not. The appearance of fairness that demands the uniformity is a virtual political imperative, and the high stress job of an urban superintendent is well-compensated. The high turnover rates of highly paid urban superintendents attests to the desperate search for someone capable of doing the impossible, or deviating from the mission impossible script while staying sufficiently politically correct to stay employed.  It is also an unnecessary job, even within a system not much different than the one we have. With accountability to their clients, principals can run their schools. Continue reading »

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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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Differentiation of Instruction Delusion

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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Sources of Extensive Terrible Experiences with the System

Arons, Stephen. 1997. Short Route To Chaos: Conscience, Community, and the Re-constitution of American Schooling.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gatto, John Taylor. 1993.  The Exhausted School. Oxford: The Oxford Village Press.

McCluskey, Neal P. 2007. “Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict.” Cato Institute Policy Analysis #587. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa587.pdf

Powell, Arthur G, Eleanor Farrar and David K Cohen. 1985.  The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 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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Nation at Risk VI

Nation at Risk VI, Including a Partial Misunderstanding of the Risk || John Merrifield || March 2, 2015

Here it is, ‘Nation at RiskVI: America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. How many prominent, well-grounded proclamations of doom and gloom do we need before we widely recognize that the changes we’ve made since Nation at Risk I in 1983, plus four more along the way, have not (despite massively increased per pupil funding) addressed the root causes of persistently poor academic outcomes? Continue reading »

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Tuition Top-off Spending by the Poor

Low-Income Families Find the Means To Enroll Their Children in Better Schools || John Merrifield || September 8, 2014

I recently re-discovered a finding that twelve percent of Oklahoma’s private school users are from families with annual incomes below $25,000. It reminded me of a key finding from my 2009 study of Edgewood’s (San Antonio) 1998-2008 privately-funded tuition voucher program: low income families find the means to enroll their children in schools that will work better for them. So, an expansion in the menu of schooling options facilitated by price decontrol – school choice including permission to top-off public funding with private funding – is not irrelevant or unfair to the poor. Such an expansion benefits all income classes, directly and indirectly; Continue reading »

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Dis-Engagement on Student Engagement

Disconnect on Student Engagement || John Merrifield || June 15, 2014

In the June 5, 2014 edition of the Diplomas Count special edition of Education Week, the official forum of the education establishment, Sarah Sparks’ “An Age-Old Problem Gets New Attention,” reveals the establishment disconnect on the imperative of attaining high levels of student engagement with high value instruction. It is an age-old problem because widespread disengagement is widely misperceived as a problem of under-motivated students and inadequately trained teachers. So, it is implicitly assumed that one size can fit all. Supposedly, it will just take improved teacher training, including strategies to motivate the disengaged, to succeed at teaching the same things in the same way to everyone that happens to be assigned to a particular classroom. We know that students have different learning styles, and that the subject themes that matter in holding students’ attention and creating a passion for learning difficult academic concepts differ, especially in our increasingly distraction-laden environments. The current system’s commitment to comprehensive uniformity, rather than a dynamic menu of schooling choices as diverse as the abilities and interests of our children, does not widely register as a key source of student disengagement. Continue reading »

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