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EconomicPolicyInstitute May 19, 2010

Over the past week, EPI hosted two panels on the high-profile topics of education reform and trade policy, with a focus on the ways both issues are critical to building a strong economy with broadly shared prosperity.

Beyond No Child Left Behind
On March 15, education historian Diane Ravitch (pictured), a former proponent of No Child Left Behind, spoke about why she has come to believe that the eight-year-old law poses a serious threat to public education. Ravitch, who served as assistant secretary of education in the George H. W. Bush administration, recently published The Death and Life of the Great American School System, a book outlining the damage that has resulted from a heavy focus on standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind.

[watch Diane Ravitch video interview]

While much of the criticism of No Child Left Behind has focused on the over-testing and the narrow focus on math and reading that has resulted, Ravitch asserted that the damage it caused is much deeper, creating “a tremendous momentum for the privatizing of public education.” Under the law, schools where all students do not meet proficiency standards by 2014 could be closed. With that deadline looming, it appears many schools will fall short. One study Ravitch cited, for example, projected that close to 100% of the elementary schools in California could be deemed failing schools.

Other panelists at the March 15 panel — including Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the Department of Education; Bill Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Clinton administration policy advisor on education; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers — debated the best ways to move forward with policies that would be more flexible and include more ways to reward good teachers.

Povery a big problem for many schools
Martin, who was largely responsible for the new blueprint revising No Child Left Behind, said the policy would need to focus more on preparing students for college and careers after graduation. She and Ravitch both stressed that any analysis of school performance also needed to consider the special challenges of teachers in schools with high rates of poverty.  “Anytime we alleviate poverty, we will increase the odds for educational improvement,” said Ravitch.

Audio and video of the event, How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, and a brief Q&A with Ravitch are available on EPI.org.

EPI’s Education Program has published several books including Redesigning Teacher Pay and Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability focused on the best ways to measure student performance and school and teacher accountability. EPI’s Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign recommends a new policy that would take a more comprehensive measure of student performance. In addition, EPI Research Associate Richard Rothstein has reviewed Ravitch’s new book for The New Republic Web site. That review is also available on EPI.org.

Chinese currency manipulation costs American jobs
On March 12, EPI hosted Currency Manipulation: How Should the U.S. Respond? a discussion of Chinese trade policy featuring Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman along with Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steel Workers and an EPI board member, EPI International Economist Robert Scott, and some American manufacturers who said they were finding it harder and harder to compete with extremely low-priced goods from China. Economists on the panel said China had kept the value of its currency artificially low, squeezing American companies and displacing as many as 3 million American jobs.

While Chinese currency manipulation is not new, Krugman and other panelists said it had reached a point where a shift in policy was needed. The discussion set off a wave of media coverage and opinion pieces, many of which also called for a policy shift. One editorial in The New York Times stressed that the United States was not the only country being hurt by Chinese currency manipulation. “China’s decision to base its economic growth on exporting deliberately undervalued goods is threatening economies around the world,” the editorial said. “It is fueling huge trade deficits in the United States and Europe. Even worse, it is crowding out exports from other developing countries, threatening their hopes of recovery.”

Fact check on Social Security
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Social Security had started tapping its trust funds. EPI Economist Monique Morrissey issued a rebuttal, explaining why the report was not accurate. Her piece, published on EPI.org, cites Congressional Budget Office forecasts that Social Security will continue to run a surplus for years to come.

“Social Security is not about to become a net seller of Treasury bonds, and is in fact still acquiring them to the tune of $100 billion a year,” Morrissey states. “However, the story has taken off because it fits with the preconception that Social Security is in crisis and its finances are suspect.”

[photo: Lawrence Mishel and Timothy Geithner]Geithner visits EPI
EPI hosted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (pictured with Lawrence Mishel) and his senior staff on March 11 for an open discussion on a wide range of economic topics. “I was very pleased that Secretary Geithner and some of his key staff came to EPI to meet with some of our staff and other progressive economists,” EPI President Lawrence Mishel said. “The discussion covered everything from deficits, jobs, currency issues, housing, financial markets, and reform.”

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