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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).

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.

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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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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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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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Philanthropists Answer the Bell

Philanthropists, Please Answer the Nevada ESA Bell || John Merrifield || July 3, 2015

A key to the educational and political success of the landmark Nevada Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation is philanthropic dollars to finance ESA top-offs for low income families. The annual ESA deposit is about $5000. That’s enough to get into a lot of parochial private schools, but not enough for very many, if any, of the non-sectarian private options; either those already available or likely to be available soon via entrepreneurial initiative. Through competitive pressure over time, lots of private schooling options costing somewhat more than $5000/year will likely become available. When the full tuition amount of a preferred private school is more than the ESA amount – say $5000 for discussion purposes – admission to the preferred school will require shared financing, as it is called in Chile, or a co-payment (the term used in the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court Zelman decision that green-lighted sectarian school use of tuition vouchers). 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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Inattention-to-the-Roots-of-the-Problem

Noteworthy Confirmation of Persistent Futility || John Merrifield || June 27, 2015

We have another high level confirmation that we have not addressed the roots of the K-12 low performance problem. Whether the roots of the low performance problem differ from my diagnosis, or not, we have definitely not addressed them with the decades-long, expensive frenzy of activity, nationally, or in any state. Nevada may have begun to do so with an Education Savings Account law that will reduce government spending while increasing the per pupil funding of Nevada’s traditional public schools. Former impressive Houston ISD superintendent, and Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, said that, “despite massive new education policies from previous legislative sessions, and after decades of effort, tons of money, and volumes of educational punditry and political debate, we are left with relatively little to show for considerable effort.” Continue reading »

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Classroom-Level Roots of the Problem

It all comes down to what happens in the classroom. Virtually everyone agrees that we have a low performing school system; that not enough student engagement in important content occurs in our current school system’s public school classrooms. Note that the appropriate perspective for school system reform is that a region’s school system is the full menu of schooling options, public and private, that serves 100% of the region’s schoolchildren. Since public school classrooms enroll nearly 90% of schoolchildren, and since public school system governance and funding policies impact nearly all schoolchildren, problematic public school classroom conditions that have survived decades of reform efforts will explain why we desperately need new, systemic reform strategies. 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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Maranto Admin Accountability for 2018 SSRJ

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Does Administrative Accountability Capture Student Learning?  An Arkansas Test

Robert Maranto (rmaranto@uark.edu), University of Arkansas

Kaitlin Anderson (ande2018@msu.edu), Michigan State University

Alexandra Boyd (boydalexandra@gmail.com), University of Arkansas 

Every restraint and requirement originated in somebody’s demand for it.

Herb Kaufman (1977, 29)

Abstract

Market critics propose that administrative accountability is superior to school choice in promoting school quality. We use Arkansas school level value added measures of student learning to test whether schools which are less effective academically are more likely to face administrative sanctions. We find very modest, but statistically significant relationships between school academic performance and state sanctions: fully accredited (non-sanctioned) schools are slightly more effective academically. We hypothesize that charter schools are more likely to face sanctions since they have fewer administrative resources; this is not supported by the data.

We discuss the relevant policy implications.

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