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    Letters to the Editors

    Holding students back just hurts them

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 17, 2002

    Re: Johnny can't read? Then Johnny can't pass, Feb. 10.

    The accountability machine rolls on with reckless disregard for the well-being of children. Fueled by political rhetoric and an uninformed public, it is like a wildfire with no rain in sight. Retaining children in their grade is one of the most heavily researched topics in education, and the findings are pervasive and unambiguous. Retaining students one grade doubles the chances they will not graduate, and retaining students twice virtually guarantees they will not be sitting in the stadium on graduation night.

    Retaining students has a negative effect on their achievement in later grades and produces a negative attitude toward school. Retention increases the likelihood that students will drop out, negatively impacts self-esteem and isolates them from their peer group. Furthermore, retention is applied to racial and ethnic groups disproportionately, and you would be hard pressed to find an incarcerated individual who had not been retained.

    In the words of Peter Sacks, author of Standardized Minds, ". . . the magnitude of the deleterious effects of flunking children are enormous, greater than virtually all other conceivable correlations that can be studied in education. The strength of the association suggests that grade retention may cause -- rather than simply be associated with -- a child's later problems in school." Do we really want to retain 30 to 40 percent of our students based on a single test score?

    Retention does not help your children it only punishes your children. Betty Coxe, Florida's Deputy Education Commissioner knows the truth about retention, yet she supports legislation that would have forced school districts to retain 47 percent of Florida's fourth- graders. Shame on you, Betty.

    Retaining children is not about local control and it is not about accountability. It's about gaining ground politically, re-election campaigns and distracting us from the miserable condition of our state's economy.
    -- Ray Gadd, supervisor of psychological services, Pasco County School Board, Land O' Lakes

    Bush's questionable plan

    Re: Johnny can't read? Then Johnny can't pass, Feb. 10.

    After reading this article, I had a lot of questions for Gov. Jeb Bush. The most important one being, what is the plan for learning disabled and developmentally delayed children, and all the other children who may struggle with reading for whatever reason? He obviously is unaware of all the other factors outside of the classroom that contribute to a child becoming a good reader. Certainly those children will not have the same plan.

    I suppose Gov. Bush would look pretty silly in a few years when the 16-year-old fourth-graders are demanding larger desks. Although they would probably have dropped out by then, and/or have been placed in schools for children with behavior disorders, due to the continual reminder that they are "failures."

    I was once again reminded of how little respect Gov. Bush holds for educators, when he said that now "school districts won't give up on teaching our kids how to read." Does Gov. Bush really believe that teachers and administrators just stop teaching when a child is struggling? It's frightening to know that someone as ignorant as the governor is doing his best to become the sole decisionmaker in our children's education. It's even more frightening to think that he truly believes that calling children, teachers and schools "failures" because they don't pass some standardized test is a measure of something important.

    What's important, is that we don't set up a system that inhibits freedom of thought and creativity for both teachers and students. What's important, is that while we are mandating the teaching of tolerance and cultural diversity, we practice what we preach, and stop trying to fit everyone into the same slot, or call them "failures" when they don't measure up to one test.
    -- Brenda Wallis, Dunedin

    Make sure they can read

    Re: Johnny can't read? Then Johnny can't pass.

    I'm glad to hear Gov. Jeb Bush wants to get tough on the education system. Stopping social promotion is the best thing that could happen to children who do not measure up to their grade reading level. These children should be held back as long as it takes for them to learn to read. The ability to read is the most basic tool everyone needs.

    Children who never learn to read get frustrated and bored with school and eventually drop out. How can teachers feel good about their profession if their students are getting through school with an inferior education? Get back to basics, reading, writing and arithmetic. They make productive citizens.
    -- Ruth Vinson, Holiday

    Aid policies need updating

    Re: What is America getting back for its foreign aid? Feb. 10.

    Bravo! Susan Taylor Martin has done it again, taking a long, deep, balanced look at American aid to Israel and Egypt -- a subject which hitherto has been practically untouchable. Why? Chiefly because of the strong Jewish-American presence in the media and the accusations of anti-Semitism that politicians, in particular, fear to arouse.

    Initially, the aid to the fledgling, Jewish state was essential to its development and protection. Today, the modern state of Israel produces adequate revenues of its own and our aid simply multiplies the strength of an already strong military state, which allows it to hold its Palestinian neighbors captive.

    Aid to Egypt was a bribe to keep its peace treaty with Israel, although the funds are important to Egypt's economic development. Both treaties need to be updated.
    -- W.H. Riddell, Tampa

    The value of aid to Israel

    Susan Taylor Martin's column questioning our nation's return for its foreign aid was somewhat one-dimensional in its analysis of the value of aid to Israel. Of particular concern, too, was that it was incomplete in examining its value.

    Martin has overlooked, for example, the development of the Arrow missile defense system so valuable to us at this time. Of course, Israeli intelligence regarding terrorist groups has been invaluable. Ignored, too, is the technology and medical breakthroughs Israel shares with us.

    We would urge Susan Martin to put her skills to work in a more serious examination of the value of aid to Israel. Certainly, there is a reason that virtually every one of our presidents and both parties have supported such aid since the birth of this tiny democracy. At any rate, more careful research would reveal that we indeed get our money's worth in return for aid to Israel. While we don't oppose aid to Egypt, the return is not on the same level.

    Finally, Israel has indicated a desire to be free of U.S. aid, and were the current situation not so threatening, it would take steps in that direction. Meanwhile, let us reward our friends and punish our enemies.
    -- Norman N. Gross, president, PRIMER (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting), Palm Harbor

    Plight of working women

    Re: Study on glass ceiling is worthless science, by Robyn Blumner, Feb. 10.

    A woman is still paid only an average of 73 cents for every dollar a man gets. Besides, the goal isn't just to earn virtually the same salary for comparable work. "Follow the money" is good advice.

    Blumner says that when women do the unaccounted-for, pro bono care-work for their families, they should not expect the gender-equal benefits from the workplace that she obviously enjoys. Her bias is apparently that paid employment is the Proper Role for All Women, all else is irrelevant. She says that if women lose out on promotions and raises to the freebie time spent in this Catch-22 "Mommy Track," that's really just too bad -- you brought it on yourself!

    She seems unaware that many women must work outside the home and in it, and take unpaid care of the children, the house and the family's illnesses. Many do not have the luxury of saying no to these dual, largely uncounted roles so denigrated by privileged women with perfect nails. None of these nonwage-earning women working these hard jobs gets compensated for them as they do in many European countries. Nor will they if Blumner has her way.

    Columnist Blumner is the Clarence Thomas of America's Working Women.
    -- Sandy Oestreich, North Redington Beach

    No confusion on detainees

    Re: Hedging on the detainees, editorial, Feb. 10.

    I do not understand your confusion on the issue of the detainees. It is perfectly clear to me that the administration is trying to do everything it can to protect our people and others around the world by capturing and interrogating these people. I am also sure that these people are being treated fairly and enjoying better living conditions than they have in the past.

    To the extent that we can improve our information on their activities and plans, we will all be better protected. A terrorist is not a prisoner of war; a terrorist is not a soldier. A soldier is trained to fight other soldiers not kill innocent women, men and children. Our soldiers have a creed of honor; terrorists only have a creed of hate, deception and, yes, evil. There is no comparison.

    It is time that you and others of your ilk look at the larger scope of this problem, put your personal bias aside and support this effort.
    -- Jack Griffin, Palm Harbor

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