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Cutting English teachers could cripple schools

Editor: Trimming the budget is one thing, but why is the Hillsborough County School Board considering cutting the number of trained high school English teachers? Do they actually believe teacher cuts will not affect student learning or test scores? Or are they just following recommendations from Dr. Sickles, district superintendent of schools?

At present, there are 288 county high school English teachers. But 43 to 110 English teachers could be displaced. They would be moved mostly into other subject areas, or even worse, into substitute positions _ thus taking them out of the classroom and away from the students whom they were trained to serve.

This 15 to 38 percent program reduction is being justified purely on the basis of economics. No consideration has yet been given to the fine academic record of the senior high Writing Enhancement Program (WEP), which has been in effect since 1982.

A longitudinal investigation of WEP's impact on Hillsborough County students found "significant improvement in overall writing skills" for all categories, including students in basic skills, regular, honors, and advanced placement high school English classes.

"The WEP has been effective in improving the writing skills of all students," stated the Kaney Report of 1984-87. "Even those students in basic skills classes have shown writing proficiency above the "minimal level. Students are making greater gains in composing, sentence formation, and usage. (The) curriculum should continue to emphasize these writing skills," the report added.

The report concluded: "The present Writing Enhancement Program (WEP) should be maintained (for grades 10-12). Consideration should be given to extending this program to the ninth-grade level."

Instead of expanding the program, the School Board now is leaning toward reducing the effectiveness of this special writing program by these proposed cuts.

With 20 percent fewer English teachers next year, are the remaining teachers supposed to grade the same number of student papers while maintaining the same degree of quality? Are they supposed to give the same degree of personal attention to each student, even though they will teach 25 percent more students?

The WEP has been a successful back-to-basics academic program. In a few years, writing is slated to become one part of the SAT college admissions test. Why tamper with this successful program at this stage?

Parents and students who oppose such a wholesale reduction of academics in Hillsborough County should let their school board know when it meets to discuss the WEP issue on June 11. Thank you.

Brenda Ross

Tampa

Writing program must be maintained

Editor: Hillsborough County is at a crossroad. We citizens can continue to demand high-quality educational standards, or watch our model Writing Enhancement Program (WEP) be dismantled to the competitive disadvantage of our high school students.

In 1982, under a state law promoted by state Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Miami Beach, the WEP was imposed for all Florida students in grades 10-12. This writing program required each student to write each week and receive a written teacher response. The result was a back-to-basics English program that other states and school districts saw as a model.

After three years in the program, graduates of Hillsborough County public schools scored substantially higher in writing skills, according to an impact study conducted by the county's own consultant, Kathryn Kaney Freijo. Countywide benefits also seemed apparent from average scores on SAT college entrance exams.

Hearing of the upward trend of SAT scores in 1985, Hillsborough school officials were delighted. The news was in direct contrast to a 17-year fall in SAT scores around the nation. The county trend on SAT scores seemed to continue.

Then came 1991, and a bruising budget year in Tallahassee bringing a funding deficitin education to Hillsborough County. Results?

County School Board officials now propose to undercut the county's own back-to-basics English success story. On June 11 at 7:30 p.m., the school board will hold a hearing in which it proposes to cut the number of high school English teachers by 20 percent.

Student loads for English teachers will be increased by 25 percent, under the proposal, and 43 to 110 high school English teachers will be displaced to work as teacher substitutes, or fill-in teachers in unrelated subject areas.

The board's incentive for this 2 percent personnel reduction is not academic, but strictly budgetary. Nobody attacks the success of the writing program or wishes it to be discontinued. Instead, opponents point to an estimated $700,000 in savings if 178 county high school English teachers can do the work next year that 288 teachers did this year. That's a big "if."

Until this year, the English teacher-student ratio of 1 to 100 was mandated in Tallahassee. Now, the first year in which this cap falls under the control of the local board, the board is being asked to water down its writing program.

Yet none of the county's non-academic programs, it is worth noting, has been asked to accept a 20 percent cut.

The 100-to-1 student ratio was granted to English teachers in 1982, because the teacher was required to read and advise each student weekly on his writing assignments. Student writing, it was known, took longer to grade and evaluate than short-answer multiple-choice tests, especially when the teacher must tell the student how to rewrite an earlier draft of his work (not a duty for teachers in other subjects).

Needless to say, if that 100-to-1 student-teacher ratio is increased to 125, each teacher will have less time per student, to the detriment of every student in our county; while the savings to the county will be minimal.

If your son or daughter has profited, or stands to profit, from this writing program,let the School Board know how you feel about this issue. Letters may be sent to Marion Rodgers, Chairman of the Hillsborough County School Board, SAC Building, 901 Kennedy Blvd. E., Tampa, Fla. 33602

As citizens, you have a right to speak out for your public school programs.

Richard Vander Veen

Tampa

Editor's note: This letter was signed by eight other Hillsborough County English teachers.

Emphasize bike safety

Editor: On May 21, I read where a young boy was riding across Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, on his bike, when he rode into the path of a car. He was thrown into the windshield and sustained massive head injuries. He is on life support and last I heard, his father was preparing to decide whether to remove him from life support.

As a person who also does a frequent amount of biking, it hits home really hard when something like this happens and angers me because there is so little education in bike safety, riding in traffic and especially in the importance of wearing a helmet when riding. Perhaps if this particular child had been wearing a helmet (I assume he was not since nothing in the article indicated he was) his injuries, although probably still very serious, would not have been life endangering.

More laws? I really don't believe they'll do much of anything unless people are willing to be educated in the rules of riding in traffic, and only if parents and all people who ride bikes learn how to do so safely and responsibly in traffic and become educated and informed on the benefits of wearing a helmet. There may well be hundreds of reasons that this 12-year-old boy was riding his bike across Nebraska Avenue and there are hundreds more kids riding across similar streets all over America. But the only reason this one boy is on the critical list is because this country desperately needs to be educated on the proper way to a bicycle.

Ron Thuemler

Tampa

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