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    Letters to the Editors

    School grading offers valuable lessons

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 23, 2002

    Re: Arrogance in education, editorial, June 16.

    Arrogance is certainly a vice. But writing off thousands of our children as essentially not worth educating -- or not worth educating well -- is decidedly worse.

    Your editorial claims that Florida's school grading methodology "produces predictable results." Not true. While many "F" schools do indeed have high-poverty and high-minority demographics, many other schools with the same types of students nevertheless manage to do well. This is exactly what liberal critiques of reform do not predict.

    "F" schools like Gulfport Elementary do indeed face challenges, but not "unique" challenges. North Twin Lakes Elementary in Miami, for example, has more than 90 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, and 98 percent of its students are minorities. Yet it has earned an "A" for two years running after first earning an "F" and a "D."

    Without school grading, we would never know that North Twin Lakes is succeeding, nor be able to learn from North Twin Lakes to help schools like Gulfport. In fact, without school grading, your editorial board would presume that North Twin Lakes is actually struggling, based solely on the skin color and socioeconomic status of its students. That would be incredibly defeatist.

    Instead of celebrating success and resolving to replicate it, your editorial shoots the messenger by bashing the FCAT, then twists funding data to obscure the truth that "F" schools receive more money on average than "A" schools, and finally belittles our "Assistance Plus" teams for even attempting to help "F" schools like Gulfport turn things around quickly. Blindly opposing all elements of educational reform and accountability is not responsible criticism.

    Every child can learn. Low expectations or no expectations for poor or minority students do not do them any favors. Our challenge must be to make every Florida public school exceptional. It can be done. It is being done even now.
    -- Jeb Bush, governor, Tallahassee

    Success built on hard work

    Re: Arrogance in education.

    While I agree with the main points of your editorial, I would like to correct one factual error.

    Asserting that the results of Florida's system of grading schools are, to some extent, predictable, the editorial describes the challenges faced by students and teachers at several schools around that state that received poor grades. "By contrast," the piece continues, "Stanton College Preparatory School in Duval, which accepts only students with high test scores and even higher academic ambitions, received an A."

    We at Stanton are proud of our "A" school, but it is not true that we accept only students with high test scores. In fact, the school does not control much of its own admissions process. Any student in Duval County may apply to attend Stanton through the Duval County Public Schools' office of magnet programs. Applicants are selected through a district-level random lottery to fill available spaces each year. Only students applying for Stanton's International Baccalaureate program (such as Pinellas County operates at St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor University high schools) are screened for test scores and grade-point averages, and these students make up only about one-third to one-fourth of the school's total enrollment.

    When Stanton became an academic magnet school in the early 1980s, it was prohibited under the terms of a desegregation lawsuit from setting and enforcing admissions standards for its general population. Although the district has since been declared unitary and has been removed from court supervision, our admissions policy has not changed.

    Because of this largely random selection, Stanton has many students who would not meet the requirements to take Honors or Advanced Placement courses at our district's neighborhood high schools. Yet at Stanton they take those courses, and many of them succeed. Your editorial implies that their success is a foregone conclusion; I contend that it is due to the hard work of our students and faculty. We may not face all of the obstacles endured by the other schools the editorial mentioned, but our work is a challenge nonetheless.
    -- Jeff Grove, drama teacher and Aesthetics Department chair, Stanton College Preparatory School, Jacksonville

    Don't cling to the past

    Re: Arrogance in education.

    How sad that the editorial board's opinion is that the education system that served the state's children so well in the past should not be changed. That is what your June 16 editorial seems to be saying . . . don't change the way things have been done in the past.

    The St. Petersburg Times complains about Gov. Bush's emphasis on education and has decided that it's wrong. You even headlined your editorial Arrogance in education and quote school board members who think they know how to do the job better than professionals at the Department of Education. The arrogance is for school board members, most of whom have never taught a day in their lives, to think that they know it all.

    What I want to know, having served as a school board member, is when were the school boards going to make a difference in the education provided. It's pretty obvious that they haven't done it in the past. Just look at the record.

    Say what you will about the A+

    Plan. Up until now, school boards and superintendents have not paid more than lip service to the lower quartile of the students in their systems. (Just check class sizes for those classes full of lower quartile kids.) Now, with the publicity surrounding the A+ Plan and "F" schools, the emphasis is shifting in school districts all over the state to providing a basic education to all students, just as the Constitution says. Anything to avoid an "F" designation.

    Quit making excuses for failing schools and hold school boards and superintendents accountable for all schools in their districts. That's the best and fastest way to get rid of a culture in educational leadership that accepts the continued failure of children in our schools.
    -- Bob Goff, Seminole County School Board member, 1996-2000, Palmetto

    Waiting for denunciations

    Re: How can Islamic scholars sanction suicidal tactics?, by Sohail H. Hashmi, June 16.

    Thank you for publishing professor Hashmi's article; it is one of the most important pieces I have read on the sources of Islamic terrorism, and the failure of Moslem religious leaders to speak out forthrightly in condemnation of it.

    Professor Hashmi points out that suicide and murder violate fundamental norms of the Moslem faith -- and can never be justified by political (or other) objectives. The actions of the suicide bombers, whose terrorist actions involve both these mortal sins, should therefore call forth unequivocal denunciation from the political and spiritual leaders of the Moslem world.

    We are all waiting to hear them.
    -- Barry Augenbraun, St. Petersburg

    Speak out, candidates

    Re: Gubernatorial candidates better make their mark, by Philip Gailey, June 16.

    Bravo! The candidates are wasting precious time in getting the message out to Florida voters that Jeb can indeed be defeated this fall. In fact, if one gives the average voter credit for having at least an average level of intelligence, it won't even be that difficult to defeat him. He has millions of dollars for advertising, which sugar coats and distorts his record. We, the voters, aren't stupid but we may (on occasion) be gullible.

    Come on lady and gentlemen, help us out here. Start making yourselves heard. You are running for public office so start getting a lot more public. You want us to have confidence in you as our leader? Then start leading. Now. Most of the tourists have gone away, and we have a little free time to pay good attention to you.
    -- Kelli Hart, Sarasota

    Real fatherhood

    Re: The devolution of Dad, June 16.

    Let's get real: We're talking television dads here, which, like most things on television, bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever. The Times had a wonderful opportunity (as well as a full page) to put Dad front and center, and, well, bombed. Most of the dads I know spend time with their kids -- after they (and Mom) have put in a full day's work, taken care of a few bills, prepared supper, and cleaned up from breakfast that morning.

    There really is no TV appeal for the real dad -- it's not fun and exciting at all; rather, it is incredibly challenging, hard, but immensely more satisfying than any of the lives of the TV dads.
    -- James Hargreaves, St. Petersburg

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