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Washington State Big Spenders

Washington State’s Big Spenders are Slow Learners || John Merrifield || November 30, 2014

After having little to show for a nearly 30% increase in public school spending by her administration, previous Governor Christine Gregoire (D – WA) said,

“I came in here determined to make the system work better. I put a lot more money into K–12. But then you sit there and say, “Why have I not been able to get the result I set out to achieve?”

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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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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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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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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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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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Ability Grouping By Subject, Re-Visited

Ability Grouping By Subject, Re-Visited || John Merrifield || January 13, 2015

Hurray for the New York Times. I never thought I’d say that. But they earned it with their focus on the importance of ability grouping by subject, though their June 4 article fails to emphasize the critical ‘by subject‘ element that could cause many readers to confuse critical, non-elitist, multi-dimensional ability grouping by subject with similar-sounding, but very different ‘tracking’ that pretends that children are one-dimensionally weak, strong, or average, rather than the multi-dimensional people, with strengths and weaknesses, that are the human norm. Continue reading »

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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 »

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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 »

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Another Superintendent Bites the Dust

Another Superintendent Bites the Dust || John Merrifield || April 25, 2015

The latest example of a dis-employed school district superintendent is a Starr (literally and figuratively), Joshua Starr. The Education Week article that reported Superintendent Starr’s demise – written by John Mannes, a former member of the School Board that employed Mr. Starr – blamed widespread “school board dysfunction.” “A successful superintendent with a national reputation for positive change and vision was made unwelcome to continue his work by board members in Montgomery County, MD;” the nation’s 17th largest public school district. Continue reading »

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