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Class size remains important at all grade levels

Re: Class size effort is a learning process, Feb. 19.

As a high school teacher for the last 17 years, I consider myself an expert who disagrees with the university professors cited in your article. They say there is no evidence to support the claim that students in upper grades benefit from smaller classes. I say, "Hogwash!" I also say it doesn't take a doctorate to know that the fewer kids any adult is in charge of, the more individual attention each of those kids is likely to receive.

But for those who need concrete evidence of why smaller classes in high school matter, consider this. In 1989 when I started teaching, we English teachers had a maximum of 100 students. This was due to the state-mandated Writing Enhancement Program, or WEP, which required students to write every week and for teachers to keep a portfolio/record of their writing in order to measure progress. But within a year or two, this program was cut, our numbers of students increased, and we were no longer required by the state to assign weekly writing. Today I have nearly 50 percent more students, as I teach five classes with an average of 30 students per class. My workload has never been greater, and, consequently, today's students are not writing as much.

Anyone who thinks this is good for education needs to have his head examined, starting with those so-called experts, followed by Gov. Jeb Bush, who cited their research in his opposition to the class size amendment, but who, interestingly, continues to ignore the research regarding the misuse of standardized tests like the FCAT. That's one area where the experts and nonexperts (i.e., classroom teachers) clearly agree. Perhaps if we redirected the hundreds of millions of dollars now being spent on FCAT-based education programs, we'd get back to basics, starting with common-sense class sizes at all levels.

Sarah Robinson, Leto High School English teacher,

Pinellas representative for Florida Coalition for

Assessment Reform, Safety Harbor

The ratio is relevant

Re: Boot camp vs. class size stories, Feb. 19.

It's a little ironic that alongside the "boot camp" story, which had a picture of five guards on just seven offenders, was a "class size" story. In a related story we learn that one Pinellas middle school has classes averaging 35.4 for one lonely teacher. We also read about educational research saying class size does not matter above the lower grades. Ridiculous!

Class size at any level effects individual attention, discipline, morale and dropout rates for both students and teachers. Ask any experienced teachers. They will tell you even one more student can be the "straw that breaks the camel's back." Improving the classroom environment could seriously reduce the need for "boot camps," in the long term, and more than pay for itself.

Henry L. King, Dunedin

We must not condone boot camps

Stop the boot camps immediately! The inhumane activities revealed in the news stories are damaging the lives not only of the teenagers who are under the power of the adults, but also of the adults themselves. There are no benefits to society in training children to become sullen and fearful, or adults (drill instructors) to become cruel and degrading.

Philip Zimbardo's study of this kind of humiliation at Stanford University in 1971 was stopped after only six days. It was obvious then, as it is today, there is nothing constructive in a "boot camp" mentality.

The death of that one child, and the dispute about the video, and the coroner's report are all horrifying. But there is much more at stake. A civilized society can not condone boot camps.

Mortimer Brown, Lutz

Some innovative thinking at last

Re: Building reform into a flagging high school, Feb. 20.

At last! Exciting, innovative thinking on at least one level - high school. We have known for many years that smaller schools and smaller, more intimate classrooms are an important part of a successful educational system. Congratulations to John Leanes, principal of St. Petersburg's Boca Ciega High School, and the Bill Gates Foundation.

Virginia R. Gildrie, St. Petersburg

Insurance is about sharing risks

Insurance is not that difficult a concept to understand. You pay money to help somebody somewhere else recover from a loss. In return, they help pay you when you suffer a loss. The idea is precisely to help pay for somebody else's loss so you don't have to pay for your own all by yourself.

To argue that we should not have to pay for California's earthquakes while Californians should not have to pay for our hurricanes is to misunderstand the whole idea. The finer we micro-dice the various risks that surround us all into highly specific types of insurance for each tiny risk category, and only charge those few who are subject to the tiny risk in question is to move in the direction of "every man for himself" and not having any insurance at all.

Andrew Long, Clearwater

Eating the elephant

I have watched the "homeowner insurance crisis" unfold over the past two years with a lot of interest. I was expecting the business and political executives to show the leadership needed to bring order to the insurance market. All I see is a continued cry for someone to do something. Of course whatever is done has to affect someone else.

There is only one way to eat an elephant and that is one bite at a time. If we are going to eat this insurance elephant, every one of us is going to have to take a bite. This will include increased rates, increased deductibles, lower limits, a reduction of available insurance for new buildings, displacement of residents back from the coastline, inspection of older dwellings to see if they are even insurable, and inspection of other properties to see if they can be made safer from wind and flood damage. This list can go on and on. The next hurricane season is coming, so we had better get to the table and start eating.

Kevin Holecko, Trinity

Cool to the warming worries

Re: Warm memories of cold times, Feb. 19.

I rarely agree with Robyn Blumner, but I share her memories of cold New York winters (in my case, Buffalo), so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this column. At least until I slammed into the last three paragraphs. According to Blumner, the president may be responsible for "the destruction of the earth as we know it."

Last time I checked, smokestacks still had scrubbers and new cars still had catalytic converters. If the Bush administration has done anything to diminish pre-existing environmental or pollution standards it has gone unreported in the St. Petersburg Times. What the administration has done, along with 95 senators, is resist draconian measures to resolve unsubstantiated catastrophic climate change concerns with massive wealth transfers to Third World countries. That's what Kyoto was about.

If "Florida's best newspaper" is ever to elevate itself above the level of the Classics Comics version of the Los Angeles Times, it should exercise a little intellectual honesty and allow its readers to decide in a real debate on global warming and its effect on climate change.

Timothy S. "Mac" McDonnell, St. Petersburg

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