Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Some Applesauce Is Both Tasty and Nutritious

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Some Applesauce Is Both Tasty and Nutritious

Article excerpt

Those who say people must have specific skills for success in the 21st century are just one step ahead of the Roman augurs who divined the future from entrails, Mr. Bracey retorts.

I AM DELIGHTED that Arnold Packer agrees with me on so many important points. I agree with one of his final points: that schools should spend more time teaching creativity. And I agree that my grasp of economics is shaky. For that reason, I often run my discussions of economics by economists before publishing them, and I hope that I might call on Packer for that purpose in the future. A couple of my "errors" stem, I think, from Packer's misreading of my comments. In a couple of places, though, we do actually hold different views.

My first error, he contends, concerns productivity increases. Packer says that I argue that productivity growth over the last 25 years has been okay if you ignore the years when productivity fell (1974) or was essentially unchanged (1977-83 and 1987-89). This he likens to arguing that "workers' pay raises are okay except in the years when they don't get any or when they receive pay cuts."

But I didn't say this. The authors of Education and the Economy claimed that productivity had slowed over the last 25 years, and I took issue with that. I said that, when the economy grew, it grew as fast as ever, but there were periods of no growth. I said nothing about its "okay-ness"; I just reported its "is-ness" (no matter what your definition of is is). To me, a trend line that is slowing is a different creature from one that rises as fast as it ever did when it rises but sometimes doesn't rise. I would look for different causes for the two types of curves and different solutions to whatever problems they represented.

Packer then moves on to whether faster productivity growth is better and whether or not productivity is growing at a desirable rate. He attributes productivity growth generally to improved education, more capital stock, and better technology, but he asserts, "Despite the fact that each of the three is apparently growing rapidly, productivity is not." But it is. The curve on page 120 of the Eighth Bracey Report (October 1998) shows productivity between 1989 and 1994 to be growing at the same rate as in the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, the very article that Packer cites to show the importance of productivity growth indicates that productivity is rising fast: "The increase brings the rate of growth close to 2% annually over the last three years. That's about twice the rate of productivity growth from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s."1 This just in: the U.S. Labor Department announced that productivity grew by 2.2% in 1998.

As for the rapid productivity growth of the 1950s and 1960s, many economists now believe that those years, not the later years of slower growth, were the anomaly. The Washington Post article cited by Packer concludes by indicating as much:

How much higher productivity growth can go is unknown. After World War II, productivity grew at an annual rate of more than 2.5%. But that was fueled by huge pent-up demand, by increasing access to higher education for the middle class, and by America's predominant role in the global economy. While some economists and historians have drawn comparisons between the end of the Cold War and the end of the Second World War, many experts think growth in the range of 2% is probably as good as it gets in the current economy.2

Seems to me that Alan Greenspan surely ought to be a happy man. Indeed, in February 1999 Greenspan declared the U.S. economy the envy of the world.

Packer misunderstands my comment: "What has all this economy stuff got to do with the condition of public education in these United States? Precious little, and that's the point." His misunderstanding is understandable because I don't think Packer has recently read the "Education and the Economy" sections in earlier Bracey Reports, which would supply some context. …

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