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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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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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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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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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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School District Superintendent Churn

School District Superintendent Churn || John Merrifield || October 23, 2013

Earlier this month, I argued that school district superintendents have a very difficult, but unnecessary job. Today, because I am little behind – okay a lot behind – on my Education Week current events due diligence, I happened to grab the May 15, 2013 edition. There, on the front page, I found this headline: “Wanted: Schools Chiefs for Big Name Districts.” Of course the article disagrees with my assertion that the job is unnecessary, which I base on the need for governance and funding policy reform that would allow schools to independently address student diversity with specialized instructional approaches. The article takes the current system’s cartelization of public schools for granted (districts amount to school cartels). It argues that the high turnover rate for big city district superintendents severely undermines the ubiquitous futile efforts to make school cartels achieve some noteworthy improvement away from the ‘Nation at Risk’ results that are at least the norm, and perhaps persistently universal, with some periodic temporary outliers such as El Paso in the 1990s. 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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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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Big Spending Increases – No Results

Big Spending Increases – No Improvement || John Merrifield || July 9, 2013

Washington State Governor Gregoire’s Education Legacy provides an in-your-face, re-affirming example of the typical failure to address root causes; that without a laser focus on those causes, additional funding won’t yield noteworthy improvements. I called it an ‘in-your-face’ example because we apparently need frequent, new concrete reminders that the disappointing performance of the current K-12 system is not caused by inadequate funding. Commonplace evidence such as Washington state’s failure to reap improved academic outcomes from a nearly 30% increase in per pupil funding has not deterred repeated claims that increased funding is the key policy reform. Those claims fail to note how much we already spend, or that the tripling of inflation-adjusted, per-pupil funding in the last forty years has not yielded any noteworthy gains in the most trusted performance measures. Continue reading »

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