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?

School System Reform:

Why and How is a Price-less Tale

John Merrifield
October 2019

Dedication
To my school system reform mentor, Mike Liberman, and to all of the people determined to create a school system that can engage every child

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 »

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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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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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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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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 »

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