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

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