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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).

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 »

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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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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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Tuition Top-off Spending by the Poor

Low-Income Families Find the Means To Enroll Their Children in Better Schools || John Merrifield || September 8, 2014

I recently re-discovered a finding that twelve percent of Oklahoma’s private school users are from families with annual incomes below $25,000. It reminded me of a key finding from my 2009 study of Edgewood’s (San Antonio) 1998-2008 privately-funded tuition voucher program: low income families find the means to enroll their children in schools that will work better for them. So, an expansion in the menu of schooling options facilitated by price decontrol – school choice including permission to top-off public funding with private funding – is not irrelevant or unfair to the poor. Such an expansion benefits all income classes, directly and indirectly; 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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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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Maranto Admin Accountability for 2018 SSRJ

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Does Administrative Accountability Capture Student Learning?  An Arkansas Test

Robert Maranto (rmaranto@uark.edu), University of Arkansas

Kaitlin Anderson (ande2018@msu.edu), Michigan State University

Alexandra Boyd (boydalexandra@gmail.com), University of Arkansas 

Every restraint and requirement originated in somebody’s demand for it.

Herb Kaufman (1977, 29)

Abstract

Market critics propose that administrative accountability is superior to school choice in promoting school quality. We use Arkansas school level value added measures of student learning to test whether schools which are less effective academically are more likely to face administrative sanctions. We find very modest, but statistically significant relationships between school academic performance and state sanctions: fully accredited (non-sanctioned) schools are slightly more effective academically. We hypothesize that charter schools are more likely to face sanctions since they have fewer administrative resources; this is not supported by the data.

We discuss the relevant policy implications.

Continue reading »

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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 »

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