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

Fiscal-Impact-Calculator

A State Fiscal Impact Calculator for Private School Choice Proposals || John Merrifield || October 22, 2015

Alleged fiscal impact often determines the political fate of private school choice proposals. So, the sad state of fiscal impact assessment for such proposals (“fiscal notes”) had become a major barrier to the kind of school system transformation we need. So, an online fiscal notes calculator was developed to provide a solid basis for much-improved, transparent fiscal impact assessment for private school legislation; a tool to help legislative staff better meet the demand for fast fiscal impact assessment. Since anyone can access the calculator website, and enter the information that determines fiscal impact, the calculator is also useful for designing private school choice proposals, and for holding fiscal analysts accountable for their fiscal impact assessments. 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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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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Dangerous Charter Malaise

Dangerous Chartering Malaise || John Merrifield || June 21, 2015

In 1993, Vice President Al Gore’s “Re-Inventing Government” pointed out that “scandal,” not routine inefficiency drives policy change, and makes/breaks government careers. And I pointed out that the circumstances of chartered public schools were ripe with potential for a school choice movement-imperiling scandal. That would be devastating, and recently, there have been warning signs that such peril may be imminent. It might nothing more than a particularly eye-popping scandal and an especially effective demagogue messenger to launch a doomsday scenario that could even engulf non-charter forms of school choice; for example, perhaps slowing or even totally stifling the copying of Nevada’s universal education savings account law by other states. 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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