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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).

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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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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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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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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2012 PISA Results

The Wall Street Journal’s “U.S. High-School Students Slip in Global Rankings” (12/3) noted a widening gap between the U.S. and other countries, and it’s not because we improved more slowly than the countries with better test scores. Every three years, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests a sample of 15-year-olds from countries that contain eighty percent of the world’s economy. Among the international tests, this is the most useful measure because it tests the oldest children; the closest to the school system’s final product. 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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Equity Math for a Transformed System

Equity Math for a Transformed System || John Merrifield || June 2, 2016

Suppose we provide a high minimum level of per-pupil public funding to anyone wanting to exit their assigned public school, and independent schools – charter or private – can charge whatever the market would bear. Markets would then set tuition rates; often at the per-pupil public funding (‘free’) amount, but sometimes above. Market entry would drive tuition rates down to just the level needed to finance and sustain efficient operations, including a normal rate of return on investment. Purveyors of poorly conceived instructional approaches would not be able to recruit enough schoolchildren to cover their expenses. But purveyors of some well-conceived instructional approaches would be able to charge more than the per pupil public funding; a 3rd party co-payment. Continue reading »

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Ability Grouping

Doing Ability Grouping Right || John Merrifield || June 12, 2013

A June 9 NY Times article on the resurgence of ‘Ability Grouping’ is good news, and it illustrates why this resurgence in our public school system will yield much smaller benefits than if ability grouping by subject results from schools’ need to be choiceworthy within the needed dynamic menu of schooling options as diverse as our schoolchildren. Indeed, as the Times article points out, ability grouping was politically incorrect for a long time, resistance continues. And now that the resurgence has surfaced in a big way in the Times, it may prove to still be politically incorrect. The resurgence may be temporary, or forced to ‘stay under the radar’ that tends to detect and destroy anything that smacks of unequal treatment in our public schools, even if differentiation is needed to engage children with different subject-specific abilities. Continue reading »

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Test Score Spin

Test Score Spin Defying Reality || John Merrifield || Nov 9, 2013

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

— Thomas Jefferson

The Obama Administration recently celebrated that the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are up slightly in the last decade. But as Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson pointed out, the 4th and 8th grade gains are tiny, and occurred mostly prior to the Obama Administration taking office. They made no mention of the more important trend for the school system’s nearly final product, 17-year-olds. The NAEP scores for high school seniors have barely budged over any time span one could pick. The 2012 average score was 287 (out of 500; 57.4% – see Jefferson quote, above); only one point above the 2008 score. Continue reading »

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