Obama's education plans
Teacher merit pay a flawed idea
As a retired teacher of English at all levels from middle school through college, and as a former teacher union president, I deeply appreciate President Obama's expressed dedication to improving the quality of the nation's educational system. We can no longer afford substandard teaching and learning while most of the countries in the world pursue excellence and surpass us in technology, science and the humanities.
But as much as I admire and support President Obama's dedication to educational quality, I must express deep reservations about his call for merit pay; there are valid reasons why teacher unions oppose merit pay. In principle, we can all agree that the best teachers should receive the best compensation. But how do we measure teaching quality? Standardized test scores can be useful in assessing individual pupils' needs, but surely are not a legitimate measure of teaching quality. When test scores become the measure of quality — and this is now common practice — the scores become the goal, not critical thinking, not creativity and certainly not advanced levels of learning.
Subjective evaluations by supervisors can also be notoriously unreliable, sometimes encouraging teachers' endeavoring to meet demands and expectations of the supervisor, not necessarily developing effective teaching strategies. Until and unless reliable standards of measuring teaching quality are developed, merit pay plans will remain ineffective.
All parents want their children taught by superior teachers. Until the finest minds and the most effective teachers are recruited, most of the best and brightest potential teachers will be siphoned off to more lucrative and perhaps less demanding professions. Until all, or at least most, teachers are "merit teachers," the American school system will not achieve the highest standards that it so urgently needs.
Norman Orenstein, Clearwater
Health sector donated millions March 9, story
Nation needs a single-payer plan
I am so sick of hearing the arguments about socialized medicine from the fearmongers on the right. Is it true that the government will make our health care decisions if we have a single-payer plan? No! Ask anyone on Medicare, a single-payer plan where you choose your own doctor and discuss your options with him/her. But now, we have insurance companies and drug companies making our health care decisions. Doesn't that worry anyone?
When will the American public open its eyes to the terrible way the insurance and drug companies have led us to the worst health care system in the developed world, and stand up for a universal single-payer system? This issue must be addressed from the bottom up, because those at the top need the money from the industry to get elected. They will not respond without our pressure.
Think of the 30 percent of our health care dollars going to the profits of the industry, and compare it to the 3 percent overhead of Medicare. In the end, all health care is paid by the taxpayer, be it in premiums, taxes, higher costs of goods, or just plain out of pocket. That 30 percent would be a lot better spent paying for the 46 million uninsured than going into the pockets of the greedy CEOs making upward of $30 million each year!
Lois H. Fries, Largo
Remove helmets, don dunce caps | March 13, Daniel Ruth column
I am disappointed that the Times gave print space to a recent article by Daniel Ruth that basically crucified Bobby Bowden and the FSU Seminole football team. The article by Ruth was written with the temperament of a petulant child.
There were a number of personal attacks on coach Bowden and the FSU players which went above normal and professional opinion. Ruth's accusation that FSU "players hold the collegiate record for the most number of bail bondsmen on speed dial" and his indicating that "Bowden has overseen a football program for years that has been more scruples-challenged than an Afghan warlord" take hyperbole to a laughable level. And the reference to FSU propping up an "embalmed Bowden" was such a disrespectful thought as to make this reader wonder just how your paper approved such hurtful and pointless drivel to be published.
The above paragraph just barely scratches the surface of the extreme vitriol expressed by your columnist. I find no justifiable excuse for a supposedly reputable paper such as the St. Petersburg Times giving this fellow any space. It is my hope that any individual whose life has been positively influenced by either Florida State University and/or coach Bowden will show their displeasure with the Times.
Matt Waters, FSU 1992, St. Petersburg
Remove helmets, don dunce caps | March 13
Bring back sanity
Columnist Daniel Ruth's spearing of FSU football and coach Bobby Bowden deserved to be in the Sports section. Ruth deals with the age-old problem of the student athlete and FSU's academic scandal involving 61 "performers" in all sports taking a "gut" college course for credit. What a laugh and what a lack of integrity and supervision in the academic program of the "students." With all the money college football at many Florida universities generates, surely the coaches are more sensitive to such potential cesspools.
What is so rich is Ruth's choice language, devastating critique and utter disdain for the fact that such scandals are still common. Your sports writers are decent craftsmen but they can't match Ruth and his fresh air bloodletting.
There won't be much reform probably, but with the country paying for its greed and illusory wealth, FSU needs to change to preserve the goose that lays the golden egg.
It is sad because sports of every form and level are enjoyable and healthy. Why can't some sanity, moral rearmament and cost controls be applied to them?
James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg
Election is over, fight isn't | March, 12, story
If former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair ever wanted to continue on in the field of politics, he has really blown his chances of it ever happening again.
This lawsuit against Kevin Beckner, who defeated Blair at the polls last November, is a waste of everyone's tax dollars and a waste of the court's time. What is he thinking?
People who run for any public office know they are going to face all sorts of things. Blair should be used to all the negative campaigning and mud-slinging; he took it and dished it out in his wrestling career and was faced with it while a county commissioner.
Blair is wasting our tax dollars and looking to profit from being a sore loser.
Lizabeth Cantos, Tampa