Letters

Winter 2008
Buffaloed

To the editor:
Edward Glaeser, using less-than-academic research [“Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?,” Autumn 2007], claims that Buffalo’s “median home value is just $61,000, far below the state average of $260,000,” but that’s wrong. Check with the National Association of Realtors and you’ll see that Buffalo’s median housing price is $110,900, which is $40,000 more than stated. Hardly a typo; more like making up data to enforce a preconceived opinion. And if you gather statistics for the region (not just the city), the average housing price (different from the median, but equally useful) is $231,000, right up there with the state average.

Michael Buckley
Buffalo, NY

Edward L. Glaeser responds:
While I appreciate the suggestion that I make things up out of whole cloth, I regret to inform Mr. Buckley that in this case, I used the U.S. Census, American Fact Finder.

The Census is the standard source for housing values in cities, not the National Association of Realtors, and for good reason. The NAR gives the price of average sales during a particular (recent) time period. It does not give the sales price for an average existing home in a region. Recent home sales figures tend to represent newer and much more expensive homes. In an older city, the NAR data are extremely unrepresentative of the overall housing population. Few experts would actually use them to look at overall housing costs.

The Census data have their own problems. They represent a self-reported housing value, not a sales price. Research suggests that these self-reports tend to overstate actual housing prices, which suggests that the $61,000 figure overstates the true sales prices.

Jews and Israel

To the editor:
Melanie Phillips’s “Britain’s Anti-Semitic Turn” [Autumn 2007] is a perfect example of Zionist radicalism. The author takes the erroneous deductive leap of equating anything critical of Israel with anti-Semitism. They are not the same! Indeed, as the author cites, many liberal Jews are also highly critical of Israel’s recent policies.

My criticisms of Israel are consistent with those made by English intellectuals, as enumerated by Phillips: its illegal settlements in the West Bank, its apartheid treatment of Palestinians, its ignoring of numerous UN resolutions, its cruel use of cluster bombs against civilians in Lebanon, and its construction of a dividing wall between itself and the West Bank—generally usurping Palestinian land in doing so and often making normal intercourse for the people living nearby impossible. Furthermore, I resent that over $100 billion of American taxpayers’ money has been donated to Israel in the form of economic aid over the last 25 years, even though Israel’s standard of living is light years above the countries of Africa, where we give small change. I oppose donating another $30 billion of arms to Israel over the next ten years.

Despite my strong condemnation of the state of Israel, I highly esteem the members of the Jewish faith, who have contributed greatly to society almost everywhere.

Richard Huber
New York, NY

Melanie Phillips responds:
Richard Huber repeats the canard that all criticism of Israel is denounced as anti-Semitism. This is wholly untrue. Criticism of Israel’s policies is entirely legitimate, as it would be of any other country. The point of my article, however, was to demonstrate that Israel is not being treated like any other country. It is instead being demonized and delegitimized based on lies, libels, and distortions marked by many of the unique tropes and characteristics of Jew-hatred down through the ages. Huber repeats some of these falsehoods in calling the settlements illegal, accusing Israel of apartheid, and painting Israel’s self-defense as aggression.

Control Issues

To the editor:
In “Grading Mayoral Control” [Summer 2007], Sol Stern accuses the Department of Education’s “public-relations juggernaut” of distorting data and exaggerating the Bloomberg administration’s accomplishments. Ironically, his argument is based on greatly exaggerating the size of the department’s communications office, which has not 29 but 12 staffers, including two secretaries—hardly excessive for a $15 billion organization in the largest media market in the world.

Stern’s claim that the department does not provide transparent information about school performance is demonstrably false. Just in the last few months, we released the results of the first annual survey of public school parents, teachers, and students, as well as the first-ever school Progress Reports, giving the public more and clearer information than they’ve ever had about how schools are performing.

Stern goes on to demand an “independent research agency” to evaluate the department’s policies without mentioning that the chancellor committed long ago to creating one. It launched in October.

Stern also attempts to trivialize the gains New York City’s students have made in recent years. But the facts speak for themselves: since the mayor took control of the schools, whether you begin counting in 2002 or 2003, New York City’s gains have substantially outpaced those of the rest of the state in both fourth and eighth grade, the two grades for which we can make such comparisons over time. And following years of stagnation, the graduation rate has risen nine points since 2002 and seven points since 2003.

While Stern is entitled to his own opinions on each of these issues, he is not entitled to his own facts.

David Cantor
Press Secretary
New York City Department of Education

Sol Stern responds:
In researching my article, I found a budget document on the DOE’s website titled “Current Headcount,” which stated that 29 people worked in the “Office of Communications.” After the article was published, David Cantor sent me documents showing this consisted of three separate units—a 15-member “Communications Office” (not the 12 he now claims), a “Strategic Response Unit,” and an “Office of Public and Community Affairs.” We don’t know how many of these people work in public relations. But whether it’s 15 or 29, it’s still at least four times the number under the old Board of Education, when New York was also the “largest media market in the world.”

It’s misleading for Cantor to keep harping on the state test scores, when the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress results demolished the DOE’s boasts about improvement in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

I’m impressed that the DOE asks parents and teachers about their schools. I would be more impressed if they asked whether the school system had actually improved as a result of mayoral control.

Finally, the chancellor’s “research” organization has nothing to do with the state-funded “independent research agency” I called for in my article. How could the chancellor’s outfit be independent if he sits on the board?