Florida schools moving in right direction | April 10, commentary
Don't believe school testing spin
As FCAT season begins in Florida, the spin doctors are out in full force trying to convince us that all this testing is good for public schools. Patricia Levesque, longtime associate of Jeb Bush and CEO of the nonprofit group he founded, may actually believe it, writing that she is "thrilled to join Florida's educators in celebrating the impressive progress" of the last 15 years, and criticizing the Times editorial for "cherry-picking" statistics to downplay it.
But Levesque herself is guilty of ignoring other facts: Florida still ranks at the bottom on many scales: 42nd on SAT scores, 45th on teacher salaries, 44th on graduation rates, and 50th on public school spending per student. After 15 years of so-called "reforms," shouldn't these numbers have improved? To call our schools "above-average nationally" is simply not true.
What is true is that, over the last 15 years, the following have declined and, in some schools, been eliminated: instructional time, recess, science fairs, field trips, art, music, debate, speech, creative writing, academic and vocational electives, and the joy of learning. At the same time, the following have increased: standardized tests, budgets for standardized testing and "accountability" measures, stress and paperwork for teachers, administrators and support personnel, and stress on parents and students. Also increasing every year are tax dollars to private schools that have not eliminated all of the extracurricular activities that make well-rounded students, nor do they have the increased negatives that public schools are suffering.
Perhaps these are the reasons that "only 8 percent of parents statewide" think Florida schools are above average, as Levesque and Bush would like us to believe. Unfortunately, it just isn't so and all the spin in the world won't make it so.
Sarah Robinson, Safety Harbor
E-cig bill fires up foes of tobacco | April 9
Keep tobacco from minors
A bill being considered by the Florida Legislature should incite both parents and public health supporters to action. House Bill 169 started out as a measure to prohibit the sale of nicotine-dispensing devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes, to minors. Now language has been added to the legislation that would effectively eliminate years of hard work to protect Florida's youth from tobacco products.
If this bill becomes law, all of the good work done in communities across Florida to limit the exposure children have to tobacco products in retail environments would be overturned. Not to mention, all future work in this area, like regulating candy-flavored tobacco or prohibiting self-service vending machines, would be stopped dead in its tracks. Pre-empting local control of tobacco products would be a dangerous step backward for Florida. In a state that currently boasts one of the lowest youth smoking rates in the nation, we've obviously been doing something right. I urge lawmakers to oppose HB 169.
Susan Hopkins, Seminole
The science is in: Pot is medicine | April 9, commentary
Dangers of marijuana
I take issue with Gregory Gerdeman's assertion that "even aspirin kills hundreds of Americans each year." The literature I read stated that only 52 deaths "involving single-ingredient aspirin were reported in the U.S. in 2000; however, in all but three of these cases, the reason for the ingestion of lethal doses was intentional — predominantly suicide." This is from the 2000 report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recorded 279 deaths from 1997 to 2005 to which marijuana contributed. One hundred eighty-seven of these deaths were listed as being directly related to the cannabis plant itself. This does not take into consideration the 28 percent of marijuana-related traffic deaths in 2010 (Journal of Epidemiology). The Drug Abuse Awareness Network documented 157 deaths in 2002 in which marijuana was the only drug involved. The network estimates that as many as 581 marijuana-related deaths occurred in America that year.
The conclusions that marijuana is somehow harmless or that no one has ever died from using it are untrue.
Don Newman, Health and Human Services undersecretary, 1985-89, acting HHS secretary, 1990, Belleair
No gun permit, no problem | April 10
A basic right to defense
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says allowing citizens an exemption on permitting to conceal/carry during a riot would be "crazy." Apparently those caught in a riot or circumstances forcing exposing one's self to such a chaotic situation where the police are absent or overwhelmed have a civic duty to emulate Reginald Denny and take that concrete block to the head and say, "Thank you, may I have another?"
We've forgotten the basic, God-given rights belonging to all Americans before the constitutionally limited powers of the state exploded.
Dwayne Keith, Valrico
Spend more responsibly
I'm unhappy to learn that 40 cents of every one of my 2013 federal tax dollars went to fund current and past wars, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker advocacy group.
We have some critical needs as a country — how to respond to the effects of climate change, how to repair our crumbling bridges and roadways, how to bridge the growing divide between rich and poor. I want to see more of my tax dollars going to these priorities rather than to the Pentagon.
I hope my senators will work to make this happen. They can start by eliminating the more than $100 billion of documented waste, fraud and abuse found in the Pentagon's budget every year. We might disagree about the need to invest in the tools for war, but surely we can agree on the need to spend our tax dollars responsibly.
J. Darras Dubich, Dunedin
Stop the demeaning treatment | April 6, letter
Cause and effect
If the letter writer doesn't understand why St. Petersburg police officers act the way they do, the April 6 article by Bill Maxwell, "Boorish behavior abounds," is a very clear explanation. I applaud Maxwell for telling it like it is.
Vernon Lynds, St. Petersburg