Florida FCAT scores
Numbers don't tell whole story
I see some glaring issues with the rankings of K-12 public schools in Florida.
First, methodology. The rankings are based only on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, which are a small sliver of the educational pie. If we want to rank schools, we should develop a formula that helps paint a complete picture of what happens in the classroom, not just what happens while bubbling in tests.
As a professional educator and board-certified teacher, I don't define success only as whether or not my elementary school students ace their FCAT. I define success as whether my students set goals and strive to meet them, if they contribute to making the world a better place by using their education to help others, and if I've ignited the passion of lifelong learning, so that they can spark that passion in all those around them.
I also worry about the motivation behind these rankings. What are we hoping to accomplish? Teachers will get on board if you are aiming for transparency, but we must make sure we are getting it right and asking stakeholders how to do that.
To me, it looks like we are handing over flimsy data to those who advocate for charter schools and for the privatization of public education. It's amazing that in other countries, they see charters as a complementary part to public education, while in Florida we are using them as blatant competition and potential leverage to privatize education.
Megan Allen, Tampa
Bill imposes religion at workplace Feb. 2, editorial
Protecting religious liberty
The editorial against my bill to protect religious freedom against an unconstitutional Obama administration overreach was blatantly misleading.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 would insert a conscience clause to effectively repeal the new ObamaCare mandate forcing most church-affiliated organizations to offer employees private insurance coverage without out-of-pocket charges for birth control, something they object to on moral grounds. Without this exception, their religious liberties and conscience rights are being violated.
To be clear, this bill does not forbid women from pursuing these products. If an employee asks for birth control, that worker could pay for it themselves or choose to work elsewhere. What it does forbid is government from forcing religious entities to provide them.
Contrary to your editorial, I am not imposing my beliefs on anyone. The culprit here is the Obama administration, which has decided to impose its ideological beliefs on faith-based institutions that have a First Amendment right not to offer birth control to workers.
This is a commonsense bill, based on concerns shared across the political spectrum. That's because if there's something liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on, it's that religious liberty rights enshrined in the Constitution trump this administration's — and your paper's — disdain for them.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Washington
Rich aren't enemy; lack of opportunity is Jan. 30, commentary
Fix campaign financing
As a 72-year-old who spent 18 years overseas, lived in nine countries and spent time in 21 more, I'd like to add some perspective.
Andrew Kohut is correct about identifying the tax laws as a huge problem, which they are, but there is one larger problem — America does not finance political campaigns with public money.
Therefore, the 535 people who create our tax laws were all financed by private money seeking tax breaks and every other kind of advantage they can get through legislation.
"Big money" only has to convince a fairly small percentage of those 535 people to get what they want.
Other nations have turned to public financing. Once America does, elections will be fairer and equal opportunity will eventually return for all.
Doug Hicks, Tampa
For Apple, American factories can't cut it Jan. 29
Competition from China
It's true that President Barack Obama isn't as entertaining as the dancing bears of the Republican Party, but he did ask an interesting question of Steve Jobs last February: "What would it take to make iPhones in the United States?"
Apparently all it takes are factories that can scale up and down quickly; government underwriting of some of the costs; workers who will work 12 hours a day, live in dormitories and earn less than $17 a day — and it wouldn't hurt to have a great many industrial engineers.
If our ship of state, hopefully not a Costa Concordia, is not to run aground, we need to provide a manufacturing environment that can support our workers with a livable wage, something we once had. Or we have to hope that Chinese workers will suddenly become unionized.
Erin Scarlett, New Port Richey
Cuban oil drilling rife with worries | Jan. 31
Embargo hasn't worked
The United States has expressed concern over Cuban oil drilling. We are worried over possible oil spills and who will pay for any damage that might occur. If we had a relationship with Cuba, maybe we could have negotiated some type of inspections of these oil rigs and possibly how one could reconcile any damages.
Why are our politicians — with the exception of Ron Paul — opposed to ending the Cuban embargo? If we can deal with China, North Korea and who knows how many other countries led by dictators, then it's time to lift this 50-year-old embargo. Cuba could be another source for our markets, especially our farmers.
Vic Gonzalez, Spring Hill
Trend toward radicalism
While major news outlets, including the Times, have hailed the Arab Spring as a major step in the Arab world toward freedom from dictatorship, the media have failed to report the increasingly radical, anti-U.S., and anti-Israel governments that have formed in their place. Even more concerning is the failure of mass media to report the disturbing trends toward radicalism in the Arab world.
Egypt is a prime example of the new turn toward radicalism. First, there was the detention of Israeli-American Ilan Grapel, which the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism declared to be merely a ploy by the Egyptian government to deflect the anger of the citizens from Hosni Mubarak to Israel.
Then there was the recent travel ban on American workers whose democratic ideas threaten the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As Americans seek protection in the embassy, Egyptians vote for leaders who seek to provoke America and Israel.
Egypt's actions have proven to be increasingly hostile toward all bastions for democracy in the Middle East. As Americans, we should recognize the plight of our fellow citizens trapped in Egypt and consider that the Arab Spring may, in fact, be a winter for democracy.
Margaret Beck, St. Petersburg