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

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

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

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

Let the Differentiation Wars be Public

Let the Differentiation Wars be Public || John Merrifield || March 1, 2015

The James Delisle declaration that “Differentiation Doesn’t Work” in a back-page Education Week Op-Ed (very prominent) was a public assault on a key rationale for the public school system. I immediately noted its significance and strong language based on research. It’s hugely significant because either extensive, skilled differentiation of instruction is possible and widely ongoing, OR the current ‘business plan’ of the public school system will leave a lot of children behind; i.e. severely uneducated. And for decades, a lot of children have been left without even adequate basic skills. Continue reading

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

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

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

Differentiation Revisited

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

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