The Great Debate

Getting the numbers right on Harlem schools

By Jenny Sedlis
The opinions expressed are her own.

I note that Michael Winerip has chosen to use data about Harlem Success Academy’s student body as the central piece of factual evidence in his reply to Steven Brill.  Harlem Success Academy had 9.5% English Language Learners in 2009-10, not the 1.5% that Michael Winerip reported.  The statistics are publicly available (as a ZIP file) in the section NYSESLAT Annual Results*: Source: NYSED School Report Card Database 2009-10 URL: http://www.nystart.gov/publicweb-external/SRC2010.zip

Even if there were vast differences in the demographics (which there are not) Harlem Success Academy 3rd graders scored in the top 1% in New York State on the ELA in 2009-10, while PS 149 3rd graders scored in the bottom 2%, a difference that cannot be attributed to demographics.  Winerip is correct that Harlem Success Academy has advantages over PS 149 that makes comparisons less valuable.  We can hire and fire. We can provide 8 weeks a year of professional development. Our principals are instructional leaders who are there to support and develop teachers. The composition of our student body is not the determining factor in our success. It’s the quality, training, passion, effort, and drive of our teachers, leaders and network staff.

*All English Language Learners take the NYSESLAT test.  The number of test-takers in a school reflects the number of English Language Learners.  The demographics section in the database is incorrect.  It pulls data from the City’s ATS database before the NYSESLAT results were included.

Jenny Sedlis is director of external affairs for the Success Charter Network.

The Fed must print money to head off a global crash

By Adam Posen
The opinions expressed are his own

It is past time for monetary policy to be doing more to support recovery. The Jackson Hole conference has come and gone, and no shortage of excuses was provided for central banks to hold their fire — even though most economists acknowledged the grim outlook for the advanced economies.

Too much attention has been paid, however, to the failings of fiscal policies and to the shortfall from effects of earlier quantitative easing. Further asset purchases by the G7 central banks are needed to check not just a downturn, but the lasting erosion of productive capacity and of debt sustainability — especially when even justified fiscal and financial consolidation is undercutting short-term recovery. Easier monetary policy will increase the odds of other policies improving, and those policies’ effectiveness when they do.

It is also past time to stop fearing inflationary ghosts. There is no credible threat of sustained higher inflation in the advanced economies that should restrain central bank action. The rate of wage growth is tepid and compatible with price stability, at most, even in Germany; the inability of wages to keep up with recent real price shocks underscores the ongoing downward pressure from labour market slack. Consumption was driven down by fiscal tightening and household retrenchment as much as oil prices, and those forces will be ongoing. Had consumer confidence not been weakly footed to begin with, the oil shock would not have had such an impact.

The sad flaw of measuring hurricanes by GDP

By David Callahan
The opinions expressed are his own. 

Hurricane Irene may not have lived up to all the media hype, but it still did billions of dollars in damage. Some analysts say cleaning up the mess will boost Gross Domestic Product for the second half of 2011. These estimates are surely correct – and remind us why GDP is such a perverse way to measure economic progress.

No number is more closely watched than GDP. Americans walk with more bounce in their step when GDP is rising at a nice clip and turn gloomy when this indicator sinks. While GDP first came into use after World War II as a technical way to measure all economic activity, it has somehow morphed into the nation’s thermometer – the leading gauge of how well we are doing.

Such is the dominance of GDP that we tend to forget just how crude this indicator really is – so crude that it can’t even distinguish between growth caused by a terrible event, like a hurricane, and growth tied to higher productivity or technological breakthroughs.

Tea Party cools as Keynes makes a comeback

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

Is the Tea Party running out of steam? I ask because there appears to be growing evidence that the Mad Hatters’ wild ride, culminating in Obama’s defeat last month over the debt ceiling at the hands of the Tea Party in Congress, has slowed to a trot. Exhibit one, the entrails of the most recent Pew poll where there is a startling finding. Just two months ago, those who believed trimming the deficit was the nation’s top priority outnumbered those who wanted more spending “to help the economy recover” by ten percent. Today, the number who advocate more government spending to fix the lackluster economy are neck and neck with those who wish to cut the budget deficit without delay.

Why the shift? Well, it seems that some Americans have changed their minds over the issue that lies at the heart of our politics. Today’s great political debate divides along the lines established eighty years ago by John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. In 1932, when one in four Americans was out of work, Keynes suggested a mixture of policies to pump money into the economy to increase demand and get people back into jobs: keep the cost of borrowing cheap so that businesses could expand; invest in public works that directly employs the jobless; and cut taxes to put cash into people’s pockets. Hayek countered that such expansionist policies were unlikely to work and would have unintended consequences. At the very least they would in the long run fuel inflation and, when the government took its foot off the gas, cause businesses artificially boosted by the measures to go bust.

When Obama was elected in November 2008 he faced an economy that was teetering on disaster. His answer was a Keynesian stimulus package that meant plunging the nation even deeper into debt than George W. Bush had left it after bailing out the banks, enacting a huge tax cut and funding two overseas wars. No sooner had Obama adopted a Keynesian remedy than some of his opponents demanded a Hayekian antidote: paying down the debt as soon as possible. This outbreak of electors’ remorse gave rise to the Tea Party whose argument appeared to be that if a family has to pay off its overdrafts and credit card borrowings when it is going bankrupt, surely a nation should do the same. The 2010 midterms saw the election of a wave of Tea Party candidates, most of whom had pledged not to agree to anything that would either raise taxes or fail to address the national deficit. The raising of the debt ceiling, which had always been a routine matter between the two parties, became a pitched battle, with the president having to bow to the Tea Party’s principles or allow America to default on its debts.

Reinventing America — from the bottom up

By Peter Sims
The opinions expressed are his own.

With Europe on the precipice, economically and politically, and U.S. institutions experiencing a significant crisis of moral leadership in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle, any student of history can predict that the world is approaching an inflection point.

Into this period of enormous uncertainty (and leadership vacuum) steps Thomas L. Friedman, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist, with his latest book That Used to Be US: How America Fell Behind the World it Invented and How We Can Come Back.

Coauthored with Friedman’s close personal friend, Michael Mandelbaum, who is a Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the authors set out to diagnose and frame a national dialogue and a set of possible solutions about a way forward.

Brill versus Winerip, continued

The debate around Steven Brill’s new book “Class Warfare” continues to swirl. A review/essay in Monday’s New York Times by Michael Winerip accused Brill of largely ignoring the views and experiences of teachers. Like some other Brill critics, Winerip accused the book of overstating the success of charter schools, and overallocating blame for failed schools to teachers’ unions where other factors–such as poverty–may be at work.

Brill felt Winerip’s criticism was misguided and had a bit of a personal attack in it. He attempted to post a response Sunday night to the Times‘s Web site. When, Monday morning, that response remained unposted (despite more than a dozen later comments going up), Reuters.com published it. He said it felt “almost as if [Winerip had] been waiting to unload on me for years,” and in turn accused Winerip of not using proper data to understand charter school performance in Harlem.

Then, later Monday morning, the Times site, got around to publishing Brill’s response, and about an hour later, Winerip replied to the reply. You can read that exchange in full here.

Jobs made Apple great by ignoring profit

By Clayton Christensen and James Allworth
The opinions expressed are their own.

Steve Jobs retires as the CEO of Apple with a reputation that will place him amongst the pantheon of history’s great global business leaders. Many people have written about what makes Jobs and Apple special, but I think they’re missing what truly set him apart. Jobs has succeeded by eschewing the one thing that most people view as the raison d’être for companies — profit.

When I left the industry to come to academia 22 years ago, it was driven by a set of questions that had troubled me for some time. Why was it that the best run companies in the world — companies that have had incredibly smart leaders, following carefully detailed plans and with tremendous execution ability — reliably seem to come unstuck? The answer to this question is what has become known as the theory of disruption.

In a cruel twist of irony, the pursuit of profit — something that Wall Street pushes so hard — is what leaves companies open to being displaced. As they grow, their ability to find opportunities that are big enough to sustain their growth is reduced. They become myopic; they listen only to their best customers. They focus disproportionately on their most profitable products, and strive to improve these the fastest.

Steven Brill responds to Michael Winerip

This is a response to Michael Winerip’s review of “Class Warfare” in Monday’s New York Times.

I appreciate that Mr. Winerip thinks I have “seen the light” at the end of the book. What he doesn’t realize, though not for lack of my trying to explain it to him, is that I was simply reporting what I found over two years. I was not trying to render, let alone reconcile, a verdict for or against his (anti-reform) point of view.

However, despite his distinguished prior career as a reporter, I am not surprised by the apparent anger in Mr. Winerip’s opinion column, let alone his decision to distort my book by ignoring all in it that describes teachers (and even teachers’ union leaders) in a positive light and strains to explain, and depict from the classroom, how difficult efffective teaching is. When he talked with me, it was almost as if he’d been waiting to unload on me for years. He freely cast epithets, some profane, at many of the men and women portrayed in the book, and refused to consider that his reporting about alleged “skimming” of the best students at the Harlem Success charter network might be based on faulty data. (Though he did, I guess in attempt to humor me, chuckle when I tweaked him for ignoring in a prior article that I was the product of Queens, New York elementary and middle public schools, before winning a full scholarship to go to a prep school – whereupon he repeated this revelation in this article.)

Buffett cash won’t solve Bank of America’s problems

By Keith Mullin, Editor at Large, International Financing Review
The views expressed are his own.

Warren Buffett’s $5 billion injection will not stop the rot at Bank of America.

If anything, it proves that the bank’s naysayers were right to be wary.

In the aftermath of the news, dealers aggressively marked BofA’s CDS levels tighter, and the stock leapt from $6.99 at Wednesday’s close to an intra-day high of $8.80 Thursday. But the stock slid all the way back down to close at $7.65. Even at that momentary intra-day high, it was still down 38 percent YTD and 81.5 percent off the long-term high of October 2007. Hardly inspiring.

Can Americans hear that they are overstretched?

This is a response to Nader Mousavizadeh’s latest Reuters column, “A smaller America could be a stronger America.”

By Michael Ignatieff
The opinions expressed are his own.

What I found myself asking, as I read this extremely compelling critique of American imperial over-stretch, is how exactly a politician is supposed to tell Americans the bad news. What are the politics of honest discussion of imperial over-extension?

The change that Nader Mousavizadeh discusses can’t happen without political leadership, so what form of truth-telling will work here? Americans fear they have lived through a decade of decline, so there is no difficulty telling them what they already know. The more difficult message to pass is: we’re going to cut back on defense, we’re not going to go head to head for dominance with the Chinese in east Asia. We’re going to stay home and cultivate our garden, as Voltaire said, because our garden badly needs weeding.