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Don't abandon accountability in our schools

Published June 12, 2003

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott, June 9.

The protests against the FCAT are misguided. A high school diploma is not a right. It needs to be earned by demonstrated mastery of literacy and computational skills as well as a good understanding of history, literature, the sciences and arts. The FCAT sets an appallingly low minimum standard of literacy and arithmetic skills. Simply handing a diploma to any student who hasn't even reached the level of skill required by the FCAT will not remedy his ignorance, nor will it catapult him into a high-paying job, which he won't be able to do. Going to college would be a travesty for those who can't even pass the FCAT.

That A and B students fail the FCAT simply reflects the absurd grade inflation in schools in which students feel entitled to an A for simply showing up in class.

It is true that FCAT preparation takes away valuable instructional time. A broader set of performance assessments over time would be a more accurate measure of a student's achievement. FCAT scores should not be a consideration in setting school budgets. However, our future as a society depends on the skills and knowledge of our people. Abandoning accountability for achievement in the education of our young people would be destructive to society and demoralizing to those who hold worthless high school diplomas.

-- Henry Schwarz, Tampa

Why not promote education?

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott.

It is difficult to support the "black community" leaders regarding basic-level standards of education. When schools were segregated, they complained that their children did not have the same advantages as other students. Now that schools are integrated, they don't want to have to pass the same tests as other students. It is never a positive to "dumb down" any system.

The use of "social promotions" when students did not meet basic standards has been at the heart of a failed educational system. If English being a second language is a barrier, students need more English classes, not a lowering of the standards. We speak English in this country and to succeed, all students will need to read, write and speak and pass tests at a basic level.

PULSE's efforts would be better spent to promote education instead of trying to cripple Florida.

-- Lynn O'Keefe, Largo

Advancement must be earned

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott.

I don't really understand what those boycotting in protest of the FCAT test are trying to accomplish. Yes, the test is difficult, but if the children - regardless of their age or grade - are performing at their appropriate grade level they should not have a problem passing the test.

In contrast, if they are not performing at their appropriate grade level, they will not and should not pass or be promoted to the next grade, and certainly should not graduate. The main complaint seems to be that black and other minority children are failing the test in higher numbers than white, nonminority children. But why is this? The classrooms are integrated, and these children are hearing the same teachers teach the same lessons as their counterparts. If these children are not learning and performing up to the standards for their grade levels, then what good is being done by promoting them anyway? Will there be anyone to boycott the businesses that cannot hire them when they become adults and are barely literate or otherwise unable to be productive employees?

Perhaps these people who claim to have the best interest of the children at heart would better serve the children as well as the community by focusing on why they aren't learning instead of paving the way for them to be promoted without merit. Shouldn't these children - shouldn't all of the children - be taught that an education is their right, but that they must earn the privilege and the reward of moving ahead?

-- Alethea Licata-Hearin, Seminole

Put our officials to the test

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott.

Let us have a very simple solution to all the fuss over this FCAT testing. Each year when the test is given, it would be required that the governor, the members of the Legislature, the school board, the school administration, the teachers, and our mayor and city council all shall be required to pass this test.

Failure to do so would put them back to being a regular working person without any degree, since failing the FCAT seems to be the denial of any further education to a senior who has not passed. Do we think Thomas Edison would have passed or would we still be in the dark, the way this state now seems to want our many seniors who failed this test to be?

-- Louis Van Roy, St. Petersburg

Why omit Asian students?

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott.

The June 9 article gives a detailed breakdown of FCAT results for high school seniors by ethnicity. The breakdown ostensibly supports the contention that the FCAT hurts minorities because black and Hispanic pass rates are lower than those of whites. It is interesting that Asian minority student results are excluded from the data presented. Could it be because inclusion would detract from the contention of minority harm by showing a higher rate for Asians than for whites? I believe the answer is yes.

-- Donald H. Barnhill, Trinity

Boycott is a bad idea

Re: FCAT foes pushing boycott.

After reading the June 9 article, I must say I agree with the cause of the FCAT foes, but not their methods of achieving it.

Boycotting Zephyrhills water, Disney and the Florida Lottery (which provides Bright Futures scholarships for high school students), is not going to solve anything.

First off, boycotting industries means more stress for statewide businesses, which are already in hard times now. And are we forgetting that hard-working, tax-paying citizens operate these industries? So in return they, too, will feel the pressure. I am also willing to bet that these citizens also have children that were affected by the FCAT; therefore, what will all this boycotting really solve then?

Secondly, it is a complete waste of time to boycott Florida attractions. Florida's No. 1 moneymaker is tourism, and we're not talking local tourism. All of Florida's theme parks will likely be just fine without Floridians visiting them.

I agree that something needs to be done about the FCAT. A change is needed, but what good does it do to make Florida's industries suffer? It sounds ridiculous to me to boycott businesses that help the state grow. Especially when these businesses provide jobs and educational funding.

It seems there is a real accountability problem with this test. Every time a student fails, we blame everyone but the student. It is not the teacher's fault or Jeb Bush's fault if a student doesn't pass. The teachers are doing all they can. Society says high school prepares young adults for the "real world." If that's the case, then are we saying to our children every time there is a problem in the "real world" they should point their finger somewhere other than at themselves?

-- James Zervios, Clearwater

Deviously degrading education

Re: Bush signs, rips class size law, June 10.

Before the class size amendment was passed, Gov. Jeb Bush not only opposed it, but also said he had a "devious" plan if it passed. Now that it has passed and it is time to implement class size reductions, he says that teacher salaries will have to suffer as his choice of how to fund the program.

What he wants to do is take the state with one of the worst-funded education systems in the country, where teacher salaries already are competitively disadvantaged, and which is facing a massive teacher shortage in the near future, and degrading it even further. While the voters said they want education improved (knowing it would cost more), Jeb Bush wants to find a way to not spend more. And Bush's own philosophy of improving education through tougher standards cannot possibly be helped by reducing teacher salaries.

He said that teachers will have a different view of the class size amendment when they see their own salaries will suffer for it. (Is that devious enough?) But it is time for him to change his view on supporting education.

I also believe he should show leadership in this area rather than stick to an old economic plan. He is smart enough to find a way to enhance education rather than simply taking from one part of the education budget to pay for another.

-- Dan Chesnut, St. Petersburg

Schools simply need more money

Re: Bush signs, rips class size law.

This story begins: "Voters will reconsider their support for smaller classes when they see that many Florida teachers aren't getting a pay raise this year, Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday."

With this, our governor has shown us just what kid of a man he is. He might as well have used the playground cry, "You'll be sorry!"

If the "class size mandate is eating up most of new money being devoted to public schools," it doesn't take a genius to figure out we then need more money devoted to public schools.

The governor is bullying us because we voted for something in spite of the fact that we knew he didn't want it, and this is his best response.

Teachers, hang in there until the next election.

-- Doris Whelan, St. Petersburg

Parents know best

I write in response to your recent editorial criticizing the state for creating a pilot program of scholarships for students to attend a virtual school during their K-8 years (Cyberschool daze, June 1).

The only compelling argument against offering parents this opportunity is that the educational interests of their children would be better advanced if we didn't. Alternatively you might argue that although it would be better for parents to have expanded options, the cost to the taxpayers would be too great. Since you have no chance of making either of those cases, your editorial board is silent on them. Instead you produce a potpourri of ad hominem arguments aimed at homeschoolers,, the Legislature, etc. Even if everything you had to say were true, which it isn't, it is all irrelevant.

Properly concerned that the funds for the education of children are spent wisely and well, Florida has elected to put more and more of them in the hands of the adults most likely to be sure of that: the children's own moms and dads. Instead of small committees of public officials overseeing expenditures on thousands of children they don't even know, the funds have been offered to thousands of parents to oversee their expenditure on the one or two children whom they know and love. It makes perfect sense. The parents are likely to be the best guardians of both their children's interest and that of the taxpayers. They have the greatest motivation to make sure that those funds achieve their purpose and are not wasted. Some children will have a better chance at an education at a virtual school. Some parents will see that. Some newspapers won't.

-- Patrick Heffernan, president, Floridians for School Choice, Miami

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