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

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

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

Dangerous Charter Malaise

Dangerous Chartering Malaise || John Merrifield || June 21, 2015

In 1993, Vice President Al Gore’s “Re-Inventing Government” pointed out that “scandal,” not routine inefficiency drives policy change, and makes/breaks government careers. And I pointed out that the circumstances of chartered public schools were ripe with potential for a school choice movement-imperiling scandal. That would be devastating, and recently, there have been warning signs that such peril may be imminent. It might nothing more than a particularly eye-popping scandal and an especially effective demagogue messenger to launch a doomsday scenario that could even engulf non-charter forms of school choice; for example, perhaps slowing or even totally stifling the copying of Nevada’s universal education savings account law by other states. Continue reading

Charter Schools Scandals

Posted on Sat, Dec. 10, 2011

Florida charter schools: big money, little oversight

BY SCOTT HIAASEN AND KATHLEEN McGRORY

shiaasen@MiamiHerald.com

PATRICK FARRELL / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Jeremy Rosende participates in his first-grade art class at the Renaissance Charter School in Coral Springs.

Preparing for her daughter’s graduation in the spring, Tuli Chediak received a blunt message from her daughter’s charter high school: Pay us $600 or your daughter won’t graduate.

She also received a harsh lesson about charter schools: Sometimes they play by their own rules.

During the past 15 years, Florida has embarked on a dramatic shift in public education, steering billions in taxpayer dollars from traditional school districts to independently run charter schools. What started as an educational movement has turned into one of the region’s fastest-growing industries, backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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