Your May 9 editorial, Political Demotion, correctly noted student performance in Florida is rising. However, it misstated facts related to the issue of social promotion in our school system.
The FCAT is a standardized achievement test. As such, it cannot "decide" to retain students. It is, however, the best tool we have to measure basic skill proficiency and identify students who may need help.
Educators in local schools interpret the data to determine which students are not prepared to succeed in the next grade level. The primary difference this year is, in order to promote a child who did poorly on the FCAT, educators must demonstrate (through another method) the student has mastered the skills in question.
We understand behind every test score is an individual child with unique circumstances and requirements. Some will achieve with a little extra attention and others gain ground through different teaching methods. Some will benefit from extra time in their current grade. Florida educators have known for years that the end of social promotion was near. In preparation, we have provided annual funds to support their remedial efforts. Most schools have used these funds wisely; others will now have to.
The tragic legacy of social promotion in Florida is clear. More than 13,000 high school seniors failed six attempts to pass a test measuring 10th grade competency. The options outlined by Education Commissioner Jim Horne indicate our open-ended support of those who wish to overcome this obstacle and strive for better opportunities.
Rising test scores in Florida mean more than lines going the right direction on a graph, validating our education reforms. They mean more children in Florida are learning.
-- Jeb Bush, governor, Tallahassee
A misuse of data
Re: FCAT scores soar higher this year, May 16.
The governor is comparing apples to oranges again. The "soaring" FCAT scores represent comparisons between two different groups of students. Even the data reported in the Times compares last year's third-graders with this year's third-graders, last year's fourth-graders with this year's fourth-graders, etc. A much more significant data comparison would be between last year's third-graders and this year's fourth-graders. Oh, and what about that thing called random variation? Do we even know if the differences reported between the 2002 and 2003 FCAT reading and math scores represents significant improvement? And let's remember that a single data point is no basis for making high-stakes decisions about anything. FCAT critics shouldn't back off. Not only is the test being misused, but so are the data from the test.
-- Rob McMahon, president, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, Largo
No more animosity
Re: Black families have no choice in Pinellas, May 14.
I agree with Bill Maxwell that the new policy for letting white students choose their schools while black students will continue to be bused is unfair. However, I take issue with Maxwell's statement that Americans have a "native racial animosity and instinct to group themselves along racial and ethnic lines."
I certainly have no "native racial animosity" toward any other race. Any tendencies we have to group ourselves along racial and ethnic lines have been learned by generations of such behavior. Any such animosity against other races has been learned. If we don't continue to strive toward integration - not just in the schools but in all aspects of our lives - myths, stereotypes, distrust and fear of other races and cultures will become even more pervasive. It is a good thing to be a part of other racial and cultural groups - to try and understand, and appreciate, why we are different, and how we are the same.
-- Susan Miles Whitaker, Tampa
End this useless ban
Re: A gun law Bush supports, editorial, May 12.
The assault weapons ban should be allowed to expire. It was a good experiment, but it had no effect on violent crime, and it's time to end the experiment.
You note that assault rifles are favorites of criminals. This should be no surprise, as assault rifles are the most popular segment of the gun industry, and have been for quite some time, despite the assault rifle ban.
As your editorial mentions, the Violence Policy Center notes that "at least 41 of the 211 law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty from 1998 through 2001 were killed by assault weapons."
That means that during that same three-year period, 170 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by something other than assault weapons. And you'll note that also during that same three-year period, the assault weapons ban had already been in effect for quite some time, proving that it is ineffectual at best.
The only thing the assault weapons ban does is prevent law-abiding citizens from owning the weapons of their choice. Law-abiding citizens will not knowingly buy illegal weapons, and will not knowingly modify weapons they own into illegal weapons. Criminals don't care, and will happily modify their illegal weapons however they see fit.
Furthermore, since the stated purpose of the assault weapons ban was to reduce violent crime, it has been a failure. Violent crime was already trending downward at the time the assault weapons ban was enacted, and had been so for over a decade. Violent crime has continued to trend downward until it is now at a 22-year low. Despite a few spectacular crimes splashed across the headlines, and fearmongering by a few security companies, crime in general, and violent crime in particular, are at their lowest rates in nearly a quarter of a century.
If Congress really wants to do something to reduce the rate of violent crime, then they need to boost the strength of the economy, because there is a direct relationship between the strength of the economy and the crime rate. A direct and provable relationship, unlike the assault weapons ban, which has no provable relationship to the crime rate.
Another thing Congress could do to reduce the violent crime rate would be to legalize recreational drugs, because the majority of the violent crime we have today is somehow related to the trade in illegal drugs. But that is another letter entirely.
-- Alan Petrillo, St. Petersburg
Voters, are you satisfied?
The recently concluded 2003 legislative session of the Florida Legislature raised your telephone rates, failed to provide enough money for our schools and failed to arrive at a budget. As a result, it was called into special session for probably 20 days at a cost of $40,000 a day in a state already strapped for money.
That is the Legislature the 2002 voters elected in the general election of that year. I hope those voters are satisfied with the election results. If you are not satisfied, you can change everything in next year's general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2004.
-- Michael J. Diglio, St. Petersburg
Traffic safety is our responsibility
During the three-week war with Iraq, an estimated 137 American military personnel were killed. As the death toll climbed, the media reported hourly on the tragic news. There was public outcry, as the media stumbled over themselves to speak with the fallen military personnel's family. During that same three-week period, an estimated 2,716 Americans were killed in traffic crashes. Where was the public outcry? Is it that nobody cares anymore?
Have we become a society that has adopted the philosophy of accepting the fact that 900 men, women and children, of all races, religions and economic backgrounds, will be killed in traffic crashes each week, and it just doesn't matter and there is nothing anyone can do about it? I have to think that if each day we had an airliner that crashed and killed more than 100 passengers, our elected officials in Washington would be much more responsive to the problem.
Current trends indicate that if we don't change our driving behavior, these death tolls on our nation's highways shall continue to climb, and not just because we are driving more. In addition, there are far more distractions inside today's modern vehicles causing drivers to take their eyes off the roadway. Our overburdened highway system seems to be in a constant state of repair or construction, adding to the danger. Most importantly, because of the number of traffic crashes occurring that require police to spend hours to investigate, our law enforcement personnel have become reactive agencies, as opposed to proactive enforcement units designed to reduce the number of traffic crashes.
The Tampa Area Safety Council suggests that we all need to be a little more patient with other drivers. Use your seat belts. Limit your in-car activities to just driving the car, and, by all means, stay alert, stay calm, and watch out for the other drivers. You can also contact your local Safety Council and see what driver improvement classes are available to prepare your child, or a loved one, from becoming a seemingly meaningless statistic.
Memorial Day is fast approaching, and the American Association of Safety Councils is predicting that 453 people will be killed during that three-day period. Let's all do our part to prove them wrong.
-- Joe Hinson, executive director, Tampa Area Safety Council Inc., Tampa
Thanks for food donations
Re: Letter carriers food drive.
On May 10, the National Association of Letter Carriers held its 11th annual one-day food drive. For the past 11 years, on the second Saturday in May, the letter carriers (your mailmen/mailwomen) in every city throughout the United States have conducted the most massive one-day food drive in the nation. In the first 10 years, more than a half-billion pounds of food was collected for local food banks and pantries, helping families throughout the nation. Last year alone, the food drive collected 62.7-million pounds of food. Of that 62.7-million, Branch 1477 led the nation with 1.2-million pounds of donated food.
This year again, and for the third year running, Branch 1477 Letter Carriers have collected over 1-million pounds of food. As president of the Letter Carriers Local Union, Branch 1477, NALC, representing the post offices of St. Petersburg, Largo, Pinellas Park, Indian Rocks Beach, Dunedin, Palmetto, Eflenton, Bradenton Beach, Englewood, and Punta Gorda, I wish to thank the citizens of those communities for their very generous support. I also wish to thank the letter carriers, other postal employees, and numerous businesses and civic organizations who participated and made this food drive so successful. Nationally, Campbell's Soup, Second Harvest, Saturn Corp., AFL/CIO, and United Way have all become sponsors, as well as Bill Keane, national cartoonist of the Family Circus who provides a poster each year. Locally, I wish to particularly thank Kash n' Karry, the Salvation Army, Clausen Brothers Moving Co., the Flyer publication and the Knight Riders Van club for their generous support.
Thanks to the generosity of our communities and the help of all those who participated, this drive will go a long way in restocking the nearly depleted shelves of our local food banks.
Now, they will be able to continue providing food for those less fortunate than ourselves, many with small children, who, except for the generosity of all who donated and participated, might otherwise go hungry. To everyone who participated in or contributed to this year's food drive, on behalf of Branch 1477, NALC, I say thank you.
-- O.D. Elliott, President, Branch 1477, NALC
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