Levels of learning | March 1, story
Learning is sacrificed for rankings
This article amazes me. Principal Tricia McManus has perfected the worst example of "teaching to the test" I have heard about in a long time. Children should not be taking multiple practice tests. They should be learning concepts that will enable them to take any test (FCAT or curriculum) with confidence.
In addition, McManus' motivational methods are ridiculous. It is not developmentally appropriate for students to be looking at their classmates' scores on a "Data Wall" or signing "contracts stating what they will earn on this month's FCAT exams." I can only imagine how many children look forward to their "data chat" with McManus when all the students' scores are posted on a wall, complete with color codes to indicate "students with disabilities" and students who rank the lowest.
It appears that principal McManus also decides the children's "goals for the next round of testing" during these data chats. What is unclear is how she determines these goals. Has there been a recommendation from the teacher? Has the child shown a consistent level of improvement? Or is it determined by how many points Just Elementary needs to move up a letter grade?
As a parent and a teacher I wonder why principal McManus has set the burden of raising Just Elementary's ranking so heavily on the shoulders of the children.
Laura Focaracci, Oldsmar
A future at risk
After reading Sunday's article on FCAT and the sticky notes, my disappointment with high-stakes testing deepens. Of course scores will increase with prescriptive teaching strategies, but there will be consequences.
Ten years from now, because of the "sticky note mind-set," our children will become passive or combative, producing nothing significant for the 21 century.
Maureen Stearns, St. Petersburg
When the money isn't there | March 1
Class size limits are still needed
Ron Matus sounds off about financial woes he attributes to the class-size amendment. Though he does realize it is a good thing, he draws a line far sooner than he should.
For people who haven't observed a classroom in the past handful of years, they would be thoroughly confused how different young people are today in school. They are much more vocal, preferring class discussions back and forth across the room to the traditional raise-your-hand-and-wait lectures driven by the teacher. Students are more socially comfortable around their peers, not in the least bit too timid to approach the pencil sharpener or a friend's desk.
Classrooms today are of a much higher energy and activity level. Because of this, it is absolutely essential that class sizes meet the amendment's standards.
Can we be flexible and put off capping each classroom for a few years and remain at a school-wide average? Yes. Can we eliminate the class-size amendment and pile in 35 of today's children and expect them to be able to concentrate on their learning? Keep dreaming.
Sarah Lehrmann, Clearwater
Bottom line: a tough new math | March 1
"The class has 631 registered students, though attendance tends to vary between 300 and 450 on normal days".
For this we subsidize Bright Futures? Why not require attendance at classes? Maybe this way smaller classrooms could be utilized.
Walter Supina, Redington Beach
Working under pressure | March 2, BayLink story
Some real stress
I find it shocking that teaching is not listed as one of the top five most stressful jobs in the "2009 Jobs Rated Report" by CareerCast.com.
We know that all jobs have some degree of stress, but to include advertising executives and real estate agents in the top five is ludicrous.
I write this one week before FCAT begins. The state of Florida must be using the same data as CareerCast.com because it continues to devalue teaching as a profession, as well as the entire educational system.
Gregory Lord, Clearwater
Don't let addicts be victims yet again Feb. 28, Ernest Hooper column
Caring for our neighbors
Ernest Hooper's column moves me to say "Amen" in agreement with Operation PAR executive director Nancy Hamilton, whom he quotes as saying, "I think people will realize we are our brothers' keepers. If we don't take care of our communities and the people who live in them, we don't have anything."
The concern goes well beyond the addicts that Hamilton and Hooper were talking about. The additional cuts that Florida legislators and county commissioners are threatening will hurt not only addiction services, but all manner of health and human services just at a time when the economic collapse, with its loss of jobs and income, drastically increases the need for those very services, not just in the abstract, but in our communities.
The closing of the Smithfield Foods plant moves 760 workers into the unemployed category, automatically putting more than 1,000 children into the at-risk category for abuse and neglect. Those families are our neighbors.
I don't see our legislators and commissioners seeking ways to increase the resources needed for "keeping" our brothers, our sisters, our children. Instead, I see them calling for easing construction permits and lowering environmental controls in a foolish attempt to resuscitate the bubble of "development" that helped to cause the crash in the first place.
Our legislators and commissioners talk of further cuts as if all our state and community resources are gone. That is only in their minds. Most of us still have houses, automobiles and incomes. In order to save our communities we are willing to pay taxes to ensure that those who have real needs — the jobless, the homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill, the addicts, and especially the children — get the services they need. We do want those taxes to be fair, however — and even progressive, so that those who have more should pay more.
Alvin W. Wolfe, Lutz
A child's chronicle of coldest comfort | Feb. 25, Garrison Keillor column
Garrison Keillor is just one of the hate-mongering commentators, of all political persuasions, who attack those with different opinions. He's different, though, since he is a humorist. His creative two-hour Saturday night radio program is a delight of songs, jokes, banter and yarns.
Too bad that in his articles, such as his ostensibly funny tale about growing up in the cold North, he cannot stop bashing Bush or Republicans. He's a master at sneaking bile into his articles and radio show, but he should leave out his hateful ambushes.
Can't anybody show some restraint and class, or is it the purpose of commentators, even funny ones, to cause one group to loath another?
Bob Womack, Crystal River
Snap up some cookies
It's Girl Scout cookie season. There's a lot more than sweets to celebrate. When you see the girls staffing booths and walking up to your door, I hope you'll reflect on the lesson they are learning through selling Girl Scout cookies.
These young ladies have learned how to set goals, plan for them and budget for them. By trying to pay their own way, they learn the values of self-reliance and responsibility. They won't spend money they don't have, and then seek a bailout. They will know that honest work can bring success and growth.
The Girl Scout program builds leaders, activists and team players. They run their own troops, focus on others in society, and practice civility and integrity. Girls learn to stand up for what's right, take courageous risks and solve problems. And they have a lot of fun at the same time. Please encourage them and support them. Buy Girl Scout cookies.
Linda F. Smith, Lutz