Don't allow vouchers to drain school resources

Published April 26, 1999|Updated Sept. 29, 2005

As we witness the rush of our governor and state Legislature to grant vouchers to students from "failing" schools, all we can do apparently is sit here and shake our heads in wonderment.

Has not one of those officials ever considered all those students who do not test well? What will be the results of students and teachers involved in test-taking, knowing that the "grading" of that school will rest upon the final scores? How many hours will be wasted in preparation for the tests that might well be used to teach a child how to use his knowledge to think, make decisions and, later in life, to acquire more knowledge?

Let me tell you about the last class I taught in Pinellas County. At third-grade level, I had 28 students. (Why did I have that many?) To those of you who many years ago were in classes of 30 or 40 or more, I can truthfully say that the students I taught in 1952 bear not much resemblance to those of today. Of the 28 children, only 7 were living with both their biological parents. The rest were in one-parent or step-parent situations. Although these pupils were in a third-grade class, I was teaching every level from kindergarten through fourth grade. No matter what the reason was for this wide range, the children were there to be taught.

I could see some future problem students as early as age 8 or 9. I can still see the faces of two or three boys, sometimes deep in depression, other times striking out in anger at me or their classmates. Each needed my individual attention, but what was I to do with the other 27 students while I tried to reach and help the one? It was not only boys who needed my attention _ there were many little girls with dark circles under their eyes, sad expressions on their faces, school work not nearly matching their capabilities. After all these years, from 1977 to 1999, I am sad to think of all the needs I didn't have time to meet.

So, until the powers that be have provided the schools with smaller classes, the books, the funds to hire top-notch teachers, a seventh period for high school students to pursue the arts and special classes that give a full-range education, as well as delivered the message that all this really matters, may I ask, "How dare you take the funds for public schools and pass them on for use in private and religious schools?"

Ruth B. Jones, Pinellas Park

Unanswered questions

I'm trying to figure out what problem vouchers will solve with respect to improving the education of Florida students. Or should I have said improving the "opportunity" for some Florida students to get a better education.

From what I have read, albeit not an exhaustive analysis, it seems that much of the information being doled out is anecdotal and is bereft of any of the hard facts needed to make an informed decision on what is being proposed. In that spirit I have my own questions in order for me to understand why lawmakers would waste the windfall funds through various tax free "give backs" and not spend it on upgrading the educational system. Why would they be satisfied with about average teacher salaries (28th in the nation) and below average student performance (March 1999 Department of Education study).

What problems will the vouchers resolve with respect to student performance other than giving all or only underachievers at failing schools an opportunity to go somewhere else? (characterized as "better schools").

Why do some students at failing schools do well? Could it be that some students are motivated? Why don't we try to understand the roots of that motivation and motivate the failing students?

How could we justify giving public funds to schools that do not have certified teachers or programs? How do we justify giving public funds to religious institutions? If there are no across-the-board standards at these private schools, how is their performance measured?

How big a budget is necessary to administer the voucher program? Where will the funds come from?

On another note, why not consider Teacher Vouchers? What I propose is sending better teachers/administrators to failing schools and offer them vouchers. This would bring the solution to the problem and in my mind be less disruptive to the existing system and provide the failing schools and students a better chance for improvement.

Sheldon A. Schwartz, St. Petersburg

Voucher plan is unconstitutional

Gov. Jeb Bush is pushing hard for his scholarship grant/voucher program. It would give public tax dollars to parents to enroll their students in private schools of their choosing when their local school has been adjudged to be failing.

Such a program is clearly illegal and unconstitutional. The Florida Constitution provides that "no revenue of the state. . . shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." This provision was approved specifically to prohibit public tax dollars being spent on private schools." Why? Because we have learned from the past that segregated schools divide people and create a society that is torn apart emotionally, economically and physically.

But more important than the legal question is the damaging effect passage of the bill will have on our kids and society. How can we think of passing a law that will allow young people to attend a school with no standards for teacher training or education? Or a school with no standards for what is taught and how it is taught? Or no accountability for achieving the results the school was supposed to achieve?

How can we think of passing a law that would take monies from the public schools when too many students are attending schools in portable, makeshift buildings without enough textbooks and materials, in classrooms with too many students and all too frequently with qualified teachers in short supply because of inadequate pay! In short, we are asking the wrong questions and, therefore, seeing the wrong solution.

If we want the "biggest bang for the buck," we should make a real commitment to lowering class size to no more than 20 and increasing teacher pay to attract and retain the very best teachers possible.

Gerald R. Goen, president, Greater Tarpon Springs

Democratic Club, Tarpon Springs

Hold the students accountable

Re: Vouchers: cause/effect or correlation?

We need to step back a little and decide whether low socioeconomic status is the cause of low test scores and other academic problems or whether they just happen more often together (in fancy words: "correlation/causation confusion"). In all that I have read about our education problems, I have yet to see anything that suggests that student behavior might be the cause for low grades and test scores.

Assume for a moment that John and Jack are on the bottom step of the socioeconomic ladder. John skips school when he feels like it (which is most of the time), seldom turns in even hastily done homework and spends the little time that he is in class disrupting the class. On the other hand, Jack seldom misses a school day, carefully prepares his homework and takes notes in class. Now, what do you suppose the grades and test scores of these two students will be?

Perhaps we need to quit giving kids excuses for academic failure and place the responsibility for learning on their shoulders. Students responsible for the consequences of their own behavior! What a concept!

Alyce Broshe, Tampa

Don't indict Greek heritage

As an American of Greek descent who lives in Tarpon Springs, I felt compelled to respond to the April 8 column by Mary Jo Melone, A brutal act, small town's cross to bear.

Melone's misguided effort to establish a religious correlation with the vicious acts reportedly committed by three members of our community is nothing more than an irresponsible attempt to sensationalize an already tragic event. Her implication that our community's objection to the Times' repeated connection of our Epiphany celebration to the incident on Anclote Road is financially motivated is not only inaccurate, it is insulting to the entire Greek community.

It is true that the Hellenic culture _ our common language, food and religion _ binds us together. As with any strong ethnic background, it provides a sense of pride, individuality and strength for all of its members. It is also true that our entire close-knit community, similar to any large family, experienced feelings of sadness, anger, embarrassment, disbelief and pity when we first heard reports of the attack. Our community as a whole, however, also questioned the media's repeated inclusion of our religious beliefs and celebrations in its coverage of the incident. When a member of the Jewish faith commits a crime, is the fact that he was bar-mitzvahed newsworthy? Is a Catholic boy's receipt of Communion deemed relevant by the media when he strays? The answer is clearly no! In fact, the religious belief of an individual is rarely, if at all, mentioned in a chronicle of that person's misdeeds. Why, then, was Mary Jo Melone intent on making the connection?

I agree that the deplorable acts these three individuals are accused of cast a dark shroud over our entire community. Their actions clearly represent a failure in our congregation's attempt to successfully promote the principals of our religion and culture, specifically to those three men. Melone's attempt, however, to prosecute our entire culture for their actions during its most sacred and spiritual week is inexcusable. Although our heritage plays a significant role in the development of our moral balance, it is only a part of what makes us individuals. As with any family, we will continue to experience both triumphs and tragedies in this regard. Our culture and religion establish guidelines that promote a moral and ethical world. They can no more guarantee an individual's adherence to those guidelines than a code of ethics can insure objective journalism.

I beg to differ with Mary Jo Melone: Tarpon Springs is different from other towns and cities. In spite of the tragedy that occurred within its boundaries, it will continue to be a unique, multiethnic, multiracial and united community _ and it shall overcome.

Joseph J. Kokolakis, Tarpon Springs

Pulitzer coverage lacking

Re: Pulitzer coverage.

I have been subscribing to your newspaper for the past six years and overall believe it is excellent. However, I was disappointed at the recent coverage, or lack thereof, of the annual Pulitzer Prizes. On April 13 you listed all the winners in the newspaper categories. At the end of the article you said that prizes "were also awarded for literature, drama and music." But you never mentioned any of these winners.

Most of us are unable to read the journalism articles that won because they appeared in newspapers to which we do not subscribe, and they were written months earlier. But we are able to read, through purchase or a library, the books that won.

It really would have been helpful to have listed these in your article.

Richard A. Councilman, Palm Harbor

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