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?

School System Reform:

Why and How is a Price-less Tale

John Merrifield
October 2019

Dedication
To my school system reform mentor, Mike Liberman, and to all of the people determined to create a school system that can engage every child

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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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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The Equity Implications of Pricelessness

Free-Only, Subsidized Schooling: A Priceless Equity Disaster || John Merrifield || April 22, 2014

Like so many other well-intentioned government rules, mandating free-only (no tuition charge) public schooling, and perhaps also free-only publically subsidized schooling options, arguably achieves the opposite of the intended result. It likely has a net negative effect on equity rather than the widely assumed significant net benefit to the lowest income families. 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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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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