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Sunday letters: Teachers get blamed, again

Fire most teachers — really? | Aug. 15, Perspective story

Teachers are being blamed, again

Recently the Times reprinted an opinion piece from Slate that suggested that perhaps 80 percent of teachers needed to be fired to improve education. It is, of course, complete rubbish. Even not knowing the details of the "study," it's clear that they started with a conclusion, "teachers are the problem," and then worked their way backward. Assuming teachers are the problem (after all they have a union) is the focus of educational analysis these days, particularly among conservatives.

What is astonishing is you can conduct a study, and come up with an absurd number like 80 percent, and not immediately question your assumptions! Ironically, it seems that the people doing educational analysis are themselves failing spectacularly.

Are there teachers who do a bad job? Sure. Every profession has its bell curve of competence. But be assured, it's a bell curve and not a cliff. It doesn't really matter what profession you study, be it teachers, electricians or doctors, you will find the same normal distribution of competence. Setting and adhering to professional certification standards (including firing those teachers who can't meet the standards) will move the entire bell curve, but teachers already have tough professional certification standards and contrary to popular belief, many bad teachers are shown the door.

What if the assumptions are completely wrong? What if the teaching profession is just as dedicated and hard-working as it was 50 years ago? What if the problem lies outside of the schools, deeper in the fabric of society? What if parents are failing?

I have noticed something about the fundamental schools in Pinellas County. They almost always do very well on standardized tests regardless of where they are located, who teaches in them or what color the rooms are painted. Perhaps the reason is simple: By their very nature, the fundamental schools attract the most involved and committed parents.

Rickard C. Webster, St. Petersburg

Fire most teachers — really? | Aug. 15, Perspective story

A basic principle

Every time I read an opinion like this one, I have to laugh! The "research" presented by Doug Staiger and Jonah Rockoff is merely an application of Pareto's Law, which basically states that 80 percent of the results are obtained by 20 percent of the actions taken. It is a well known principle in the business world. It can be applied to virtually any field of human endeavor and the results would be approximately the same.

Are we going to fire 80 percent of the police force because only 20 percent of them catch 80 percent of the criminals? I sincerely doubt it. Better yet, why not fire 80 percent of the researchers because they are only contributing 20 percent of the results?

This is merely academic sleight of hand to create controversy and justify research positions whose funding should have gone to someone making a significant contribution. As for the journalist, well, it would appear he has fallen into the 80 percent who are not making a significant contribution, too.

Leo Cain, Clearwater

Fire most teachers — really? and Inside an A school | Aug. 15, Perspective stories

A failing society

Wait a minute! I'm trying to "connect the dots." First, I read the article about firing teachers. Then I read Bill Maxwell's column about an A school.

In citing the reasons for Mount Pleasant Standard Based Middle School's being an A school, Maxwell wrote about the school's not accepting excuses, the dress code, and parental involvement. After 30-plus years of teaching, I heartily agree with Maxwell that these are some of the most important qualities of an A school.

He did not mention great teachers (though I'm sure there are good teachers at the school). Of course good teachers are important, but every child has many teachers while he/she is in school. I assume that some would be better than others. I contend that the factors mentioned in the article about an A school are just as, or perhaps, more important. Hmmmm. Maybe it's not necessary to fire 80 percent of the new teachers, as the writer of the other article, a professor at the Columbia Business School suggests.

It was interesting to me that the chairman of the board of Mount Pleasant mentioned having teachers there make some of their test questions in the format of the FCAT. Having just given the FCAT in a public school last year, I am aware that public school teachers are not allowed to see enough of the FCAT to know just what the question format is. Hmmmm.

Notice the back-to-school clothing ads. Do those clothes look like they were designed for serious effort in learning? Does this add to the idea that many middle school and high school students seem to have, that school is a place to hang out and meet girls/guys?

I don't think public schools are failing. I think the public is failing.

Helen Taylor, Dunedin

Inside an A school | Aug. 15

A ray of hope

Bravo! Bill Maxwell's column makes me feel there is a ray of hope concerning the mostly poor performance of schools that have a high percentage of black citizens. I hope other schools can learn from the techniques used at the Mount Pleasant Standard Based Middle School. A truly inspiring and well written article.

Jeffery D. Thompson, St. Petersburg

A look inside our recommendations Aug. 8, and Florida's history unkind to untested newcomers | Aug. 15

New blood needed

Recent opinion pieces by Tim Nickens and Martin Dyckman expressed a troubling bias among the vast majority of those in the press, media and talk show worlds that being a political neophyte discounts you as a qualified candidate.

On the contrary, it will take a significant influx of this new blood at the state level to abide by the 10th Amendment's principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the states by the Constitution of the United States are reserved to the states or the people.

We also need new blood at the federal level, people who remember their oath to uphold the Constitution as defined by the enumerated powers spelled out in Article I, Section 8.

"This government is acknowledged by all, to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it, would seem too apparent, to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted," as set forth by Chief Justice John Marshall says it all.

Chuck DiLullo, Tampa

Unpopular rights | Aug. 15

Elitist thinking

Robyn Blumner's column was well thought out and meticulously stated. What is so terribly wrong with her analysis is clearly defined in the last paragraph. "(The courts) stand for the unpopular when the public can't see past its own biases."

Blumner and her liberal elite see themselves as above the fray, intellectually superior, people who must guide the unwashed and unworthy to their way of thinking by using the court system.

It is outrageous that one man and a court can take away the votes of 7 million Californians who took the time to read and evaluate the issue and went to the polls to vote against same-sex marriage.

How dare Blumner and the "righteous thinkers" deem the populace of this country too stupid and unqualified to decide an issue of such importance. My blood boils with this demeaning put-down of the American voter and how progressives must put this display of obvious sheer stupidity to rest. Shame.

Dave Day, St. Petersburg

Sunday letters: Teachers get blamed, again

08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 4:33am]
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