Gov.-elect Rick Scott's severe approach to schooling is not reform but revolution. Instead of public education (known in the early days as "common schooling"), Scott would have widespread publicly paid private schooling. That is accomplished by providing educational vouchers to all parents. Scott and his advisers oddly believe the public, not the parents, should fund parental choice of schooling for their children.
Clearly, given appropriate funding and independent choice, what would occur in schooling would no longer be "public education" as we have come to know it. The only thread left in common would be a set of very limited standardized tests. So what is it that Scott and his advisers value so little in their clash with 200 years of public school development?
The central features of public schooling have always been: free to all, open to all and under public control. The latter is the least discussed but is a key to understanding the value of the schools most of us attended.
Public control assumes there are elements in schooling (such as organization and curriculum) that are important as common experiences. To public school pioneer Horace Mann, the common experiences would help to materialize the vision of a public good. Harmonizing differences would be critical for the new republic in order to minimize the maintenance of "elites" that had perennially doomed the idea of democracy in Europe and elsewhere.
Choice in schooling has long existed at the higher levels (elective subjects), but Scott's extreme view would wipe out ideals that have been fundamental for over 200 years. "E Pluribus Unum" was once a national value. Neglecting it leads to danger.
Don Chamberlin, Clearwater
I am not a member of the teachers union. I am not a full-time educator. I am a trained educator who left the profession and sometimes serves as a substitute. I am the product of the education system in the '60s, when we were expected to think out problems.
Rick Scott's transition team has recommended that parents have the right to move their children out of a classroom when they deem the teacher to be ineffective. What I do not see in the reports is how it is determined that a teacher is ineffective.
I have seen over the years parents who said they objected to a teacher because he or she did not teach science, for example, with a particular slant. Do we hinder the student's career possibilities because the parent wanted some necessary items removed from the curriculum?
I firmly believe that parents must get involved in the educational process, but not from the point of view of deciding an effective teacher based on their biases and misinformation.
Daniel Bloom, Largo
Scheme for corporations
Rick Scott's education plan will be blindly accepted by conservatives as it is high on anti-public school rhetoric and based on the false assumption that all private schools are better. Some private schools may be better than public, but they are not held to the same standard as public schools.
The child of a friend attended a well regarded north Pinellas private school through fifth grade. The child had all A's, yet upon entering sixth grade at a public school his math skills were a year behind the other students.
Scott has well documented and significant experience in taking taxpayer funds and enriching private sector corporations, both legally and illegally. The education plan is another scheme to move taxpayer money to corporate entities.
If taxpayer funds are to be awarded to private schools through vouchers or any other scheme, the private school must be held to the same testing standards, teacher qualifications, academic reporting and financial reporting standards.
M. Weinert, New Port Richey
Educators are the key
I can't believe that the people of Florida chose an unqualified person with little integrity to run our state. Rick Scott is already beginning to prove his inadequacy. A decision to put Florida's educational system in the hands of the parents is insane.
As a former teacher, coach and school administrator, I spent 50 years working with students and parents at every level. The final 17 years were spent as a dean of students, responsible for supporting classroom teaching and monitoring student behavior.
At times that experience was mind-boggling. It wasn't because of the kids; it was because of the parents. Many of the parents are reluctant to let their children face adversity. Having them "fail" at anything is unacceptable. In their minds, any deficiency in the classroom has to be because of poor teaching. In matters of discipline, parents are quick to defend, place blame elsewhere and insist that the school's response is too severe.
I don't have the formula to fix Florida's woes when it comes to public education, but the fix is certainly not with the parents. It's got to be with the educators; those who are trained and qualified to do the fixing.
The vast majority of the teachers in this state are effective. There needs to be a better system of evaluation and in-service education to weed out the few who may be ineffective and to support all those who work so hard to help Florida's children succeed.
Al Pisano, Palm Harbor
Details not clear
Being in the school system, I am concerned about the vouchers, not only legally but as a financial nightmare. For instance, if a child is accepted into a private school but, say, after three weeks it isn't a good fit, what happens to the money? Does three weeks' worth of the money stay at the private school and the rest go with the child? What if the child goes to two or three different schools in a year?
Rick Scott and his committee need to look at the big picture and realize that a large number of children aren't being raised by just "parents."
Cindy Burnside, Treasure Island
Hold parents accountable
Gov.-elect Rick Scott's proposals for improving schools in Florida all sound good to parents and like a nightmare to teachers, I am sure.
However, nothing is all bad or good, so let's follow through on the proposals. Scott wants to put the power of choice of the school in the hands of the parents. Good. Let's expand that list to include penalties and fines for the following: misbehaving in class, disrupting the class, refusing to perform assignments, being rude and or disrespectful to teachers, and not performing well on assignments/homework/tests.
Give the teachers and administrators only one power: to expel any student who does not perform up to his ability. Something like this works well in Japan. The parents teach the kids manners and respect for elders, discipline them for misbehaving, make sure they do their assignments, and generally hover over them and impress on them their responsibilities to the family name.
Charles Emberger, Weeki Wachee
Are they qualified?
I do not have any children in the Florida education system, but I feel I should have some say in how it is run since I contribute to the system.
I do not like the idea of giving almost $6,000 a year to my neighbors for them to decide how to spend it on their child's education. Did anyone stop to think that there are many parents who are not qualified to make the judgment on how to best educate their children? This decision is better left to those with the appropriate knowledge and experience.
John Peterpaul, Madeira Beach
Politifiction | Dec. 24, commentary
A nation that protects its citizens is best for all
The Wall Street Journal took issue with the Times' PolitiFact assessment of the Lie of the Year. Their different view made it clearer to me that we, U.S. citizens, do have a fundamentally clear choice to make: Are we a society with shared risks or are we a collection of individuals on our own?
I know there are a lot of political and economic variables that make the issue complex, but basically we have to decide if we want a health care system that enables us to share risks or not.
According to the Wall Street Journal, we should be concerned that we are being required to pay into a system "regardless of individual needs or preferences." So if I luck out and don't get cancer, I have no need to worry about you if you get it, regardless of your needs.
I made a decision a long time ago that I prefer a nation with laws and social supports that offer protection to the greatest number of our citizens. That choice has been under attack with lies and propaganda for the whole history of our nation.
We have a plan, with government regulations, that expects us to pay into universally shared risks, supports the work of private businesses and can be used to control costs. That is what I expect from my government. I think it is clearly the right choice.
Ronald Melancon, Tampa
Teens attack couple outside movie theater Dec. 29
An outrageous attack
I am outraged:
• That after viewing a movie some punk kids attacked a Marine home on leave from Afghanistan because he asked them to be quiet during the movie.
• That this Marine and his family could not view a movie in peace and quiet in his own country.
• That movie theaters don't police noisy patrons better. I've endured disrespectful people at movies as well.
• That a bystander had to pull a gun to stop the beating of this veteran and his wife.
• That the Times considered this story so insignificant that they relegated it to the back page of section B. As a longtime subscriber, I demand better.
Ray Marshall, Largo
Jobs surge, over there | Dec. 29
Companies sell us out
As more and more Americans join the unemployment ranks and those who are fortunate enough to have jobs struggle, American corporate profits continue to climb while stockholders enjoy their dividends.
American jobs are becoming scarcer and scarcer as our companies are finding the overseas market the only way to go. China, India, Brazil and others are emerging economically, and the demand for products is escalating. So what do our loyal American companies do? They continue to outsource American jobs, build production plants and hire the cheap labor available in these countries, then sell it back to us at top dollar.
Seems to me that American corporations have sold us out even though some have been bailed out of harm's way and continue to enjoy giant tax breaks. It's a shame that Americans can't find an item of need or even a luxury that is U.S.-made anymore.
I understand that profit is the name of the game for any business, but I can't understand how corporate America continues to turn its backs on their own people. Just how much is enough in profits?
Jack Burlakos, Kenneth City
Letters on Marlette cartoon | Dec. 29
I was shocked by the synchronicity in the letters to the editor and the latest in the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark saga.
On Dec. 29, the Times published two letters remarking on the insensitivity of the paper in producing "highly offensive" cartoon involving the Christian story of the Nativity. The day before, we learned of the attempted bombing by Islamic religious people of the newspaper that had tried an experiment in freedom of expression and had published several cartoons depicting the Muslim religious figure Mohammed.
The world was shocked by the vituperative outrage, violence, rioting, death threats and religious edicts calling for the death of the those printing pictures of this ancient founder of the Islamic religion.
After reading the letters, I went back to the Times to see the "offensive" cartoon. It was a joke about tweeting. How it could be interpreted as "offensive" can only be surmised in one way. It seems our Christian religious folks in America are not so different from the Islamic folks in this world: thin-skinned as every other person about their brand of superstition.
I am so glad I was able to escape the mind control of pastors and imams, priests and prelates. It is a happy existence freed from their superstitions, guilt and myths and being thin-skinned.
J. Steele Olmstead, Tampa
Get over it
I'm curious: If an anti-Islam cartoon ran, how many of those who complained about the Christmas cartoon would be crying "freedom of speech"? In my view, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander." The Constitution of the United States cuts both ways. Get over it.
Will Park, Tampa