I saw The Big Short last night. It is an excellent movie and I agreed with much of its implicit and explicit critique of banks, government, and consumers.
David Kirp has a piece on Newark in the New York Time today. He argues that Union City (district reform) is a better path than Newark reforms (including expanding Newark’s charter schools).
He did not mention New Orleans in his piece.
I’ve written a lot on Newark.
You can read the shortest and most direct version here.
As with most great movies, in The Big Short the audience feels connected to the protagonists.
In The Big Short, the protagonists are those betting against the big banks by shorting the housing market.
Here is how I personally related to the protagonists: I feel like I hold an opinion that most people view as wrong (that charter districts will outperform traditional districts); that I have data to support this case (New Orleans + CREDO analysis of urban charter markets); and that many people are either ignoring or misinterpreting this data.
Of course, this is a fairly self-serving way of looking at the world (and watching a movie). And the world is surely more complicated than this. As such, I try to check myself as often as I can.
But most of us who takes sides on an issue, except in moments of deeply honest reflection, are the heroes of our own story – and I’m no different, especially when caught up in watching a great movie.
I’m sure that David Kirp views his tribe as the protagonists who are fighting against the corporate reformers who have all the power and money.
There is some truth in this.
Another way to say all this: strong opinions are inherently egoistic, as such, it is often best that they are weakly held.
I sometimes worry that my strong opinions are no longer weakly held.
What I loved about The Big Short – and financial markets as a whole – is that there is a way to call bullshit.
You can short the people who are wrong.
I wish there was an accepted way to do this in public policy that actually worked.
First, I want there to be a way to more quickly correct policy beliefs that I believe are harming children.
Second, I want to hold people (including myself) accountable for our beliefs.
Third, as with most competitive people, I want to win.
I try to keep the first reason, rather than third reason, at the forefront.
Last year, when Doug Harris’ study came out and demonstrated that New Orleans had achieved greater academic gains than any other urban school district that the researchers knew of, I thought this would change people’s opinions on whether the reforms worked.
I’m not sure that it did.
Instead, the argument shifted to the gains coming at too high of a cost. And to the gains not being replicable in other cities.
In short, the goal posts were moved.
If you have not made a bet, you can move the goal posts all day long.
Of course, I might be wrong about my beliefs.
If I end up being wrong, I hope that I am honest enough to close down this blog with a post that says: I was wrong.
Most of all, I’ll be saddened that I devoted a good bit of my working years to something that did not help anyone.