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Beyond measuring achievement, we need to improve our schools

Florida school policy onstage | June 19, story

More than measurement, our schools need improvement I read with great interest Jeb Bush's statements regarding the success resulting from the education reforms he advocated during his term as Florida's governor. In 1983 the U.S. Department of Education released a landmark report entitled "A Nation at Risk" urging immediate educational reforms to avoid a looming threat associated with increasing illiteracy rates.

In spite of increased funding, expanded programs, improved teacher education and attempts to outsource our public education challenges in the form of vouchers and charter schools, Florida is still below the national average in the percentage of our public school students who graduate.

What we have, 25 years after the risk was first identified, is a questionable accountability process that measures failure and assigns blame yet provides no proven tactical solutions for increasing achievement.

While I commend Bush's efforts in establishing an objective means to evaluate our educational outputs, I believe it is important to realize that measuring achievement is not the same as improving achievement; it is only the first step.

The success of the initiatives will be determined by our ability to move from measurement to improvement. It is premature at this point to proclaim our current model a success.

Grant Smith, St. Petersburg Bush: Education system 8-track in an iPod world | June 20, story

It's all about the testing

Did Jeb Bush really say "our education system is an eight-track system living in an iPod world"?

That proves he is frighteningly out of touch, and that he hasn't set foot inside a classroom in at least 30 years: Nowhere have I ever seen one of those obsolete devices in any school I have been in as a student or teacher.

I can assure you our schools are more technologically current than most people's homes. But Jeb Bush still envisions purple-inked dittos, green boards and yellow chalk, back when the teacher wore her hair in a severe bun and rapped knuckles with rulers.

The real reason FCAT scores have gone up is that all teachers now know how to teach test-taking strategies to their students. Since kids have been systematically and explicitly taught test-taking secrets every year ever since they can remember, they now know how to answer the questions very thoughtfully.

Testing used to be a tool for teachers to determine what students' strengths and weaknesses were regarding reading comprehension and math computation. We now use it to diagnose which test-taking strategy we need to spend weeks reteaching.

Therefore, students are doing better on FCAT because they're more practiced test-takers. It makes little sense to attribute higher test scores to some innate increase in human intellect due to a complex right-wing political policy.

Sarah Lehrmann, Clearwater

Bush administration accused of war crimes June 19, story

An important story

I am puzzled and disappointed with the Times for placing a story about a retired U.S. Army general calling for the Bush administration to be held accountable for war crimes on the back page of the A section.

To my way of thinking, nothing in the news should have topped this story. I say that not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an American.

The general who is calling for war-crime hearings (Gen. Antonio Taguba) is the one who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. I do not believe he is calling for an investigation because he is a partisan or because he hates the Bush administration. Rather, he loves this country and the military to which he has dedicated much of his adult life.

John Burrell, Tampa

Vietnamese realities

Having worked in Vietnam four years with the State Department, knowing the language, having helped to open Camp Pendleton to Vietnamese refugees, and having housed or supported more than a dozen family members, I found Susan Taylor Martin's June 8 story (40 years later, Vietnam undergoes surreal shift) insightful as far as it went. However, one of the most overlooked aspects of our involvement there is the 1-million refugees she alluded to in her story. Those who continue to view our success or lack of same in military terms fail to observe what a successful segment of U.S. society they have become.

Because communism results in its usual dismal economic failure, Vietnam actually had its society propped up by U.S. refugees for years. The money they sent to relatives and friends left behind was the country's largest source of foreign exchange during its worst economic times. Conversely, immersion in the wealth of goods left behind by the United States created enormous corruption at high-ranking military levels as well as among those civil servants who could access bribes (customs, legal paperwork, etc.). These two dynamics played a significant role in the capitulation of the government to capitalist encroachment.

However, the "hatred" between Northern and Southern ethnicities has by no means dissipated. The vast majority of refugees in the United States are from the South, and they will tell you that Southerners have no significant role in the current government.

Conversely, any Vietnamese in the United States never calls Ho Chi Minh City anything but "Saigon."

Hopefully the economic benefits will reach most of Vietnam's citizens. But, as the column implies, those best positioned to take advantage of corruption have influence or authority at some level. For practical purposes, Vietnam is a one-party, one ethnicity, authoritarian state.

Bill Ackerman, Homosassa

Bionic hand works like the real thing | June 18, story

War and medicine

If any good can come from war I would have to say it is in the field of medicine. It seems to have started in Korea with the first medevac choppers, then with more advanced training in life-saving skills taught to corpsmen and medics in Vietnam as well as the bravery of the "Dustoff" pilots in Vietnam. Today many hospitals have a medevac chopper and a dedicated crew.

The advances such as the bionic hand and other bionics, stronger antibiotics and many surgical techniques are all due to war. I am not saying that it's the best way to achieve these goals, but if any good can come from war let it be to help future generations. I was a Navy medical corpsman and damn proud of it.

Michael R. Covino, Pinellas Park

The benefits of high gas prices | June 11

Few transportation options

Where gas use and demand are concerned, columnist Debra Saunders apparently knows more about Europe than Florida.

"Raise gas prices to cut down on car use" is the obvious response to rising gas prices. Let's take a look at that locally. You work in Brandon; you live in Bradenton. What are your options?

•You can try to find a job closer to home. In your dreams.

• You can sell your house. Try it; you may be the lucky exception.

• You can carpool if there is anyone else in your neighborhood who works in Brandon.

• You can swim part way. Bike? Only if you're in training for a marathon. And would you have time to sleep or eat?

Think about mass transit. By the time mass transit arrives, most of the working readers of this letter will have retired or their jobs will have been abolished. Most of us are using less gas now by cutting down on shopping and recreation — but what does that do to the local economy?

Sorry, Debra. It sounds like a feasible solution; it just won't work around here.

Adelaide Santora, Sun City Center

The high cost of fireworks

Another summer is here, and with it come the stress and danger of another Fourth of July. Many communities are reduced to war zones as our friends and neighbors thoughtlessly shoot up thousands of dollars in illegal fireworks, with no thought to what comes down.

Please, before you shell out your hard earned money, think of the animals around you, think of the homes damaged every year, and think of your children — whom you are teaching to not have respect for their neighbors or the environment. However you think of it, can we really afford these fireworks?

Erika Fant, St. Petersburg

Beyond measuring achievement, we need to improve our schools 06/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:28am]
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