Re: More forms. That should stop those fake schools, by Howard Troxler, Aug. 20:
In response to Commissioner of Education Jim Horne's remark, "One of the things I'm trying to do is flush out schools that aren't schools," Troxler says, "Apparently, nobody thought of [that] until now."
Well actually, somebody did. As director of scholarship programs for the Florida Department of Education Choice Office, I attempted, repeatedly, to establish procedures to monitor the eligibility of non-public schools participating in the various scholarship programs, as required by law. And repeatedly, my efforts were quashed by Department of Education leadership with some variation of the same phrase, "Do whatever Pat (Heffernan) and John (Kirtley) will agree to."
To their credit, Mr. Kirtley and all of the Children First America affiliated scholarship funding organizations came to the table whenever asked and worked diligently in collaboration with the Choice Office to develop procedures to comply with the law's mandate.
Dr. Heffernan and FloridaChild, however, did not.
What happened when the Palm Beach Post requested our list of "approved schools" for the Corporate Tax Credit (CTC) Scholarship Program, a list we did not have, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel, less than a month earlier? What happened when I caught an employee cutting the dates off of faxes from Heffernan to make it seem we were maintaining a list of schools participating in the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program? Did we fix it then? Did we make an effort to "flush out schools that aren't schools"?
Nope. I was told to be "discreet" and to "not send any more e-mails about the CTC program." Eventually, after filing a whistleblower complaint regarding the alteration of documents I witnessed, I was reassigned.
-- Bob Metty, Tallahassee
Measures of success
Re: Feds: Your schools still need work, Aug. 9.
Thank you for recognizing many of the great academic gains we have seen this past year in Pinellas County schools. In your article, we heard from parents and principals alike who strongly support our schools.
This article poses an important question: How could the federal system paint such a different picture compared with the state system? While both the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the state's A+
Plan rely heavily on students' FCAT scores, each accountability system measures school improvement differently.
The NCLB accountability system is a pass/fail system. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurements target the performance and participation of various subgroups based on race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability and English proficiency. The performance of each of these subgroups is then compared to a state goal, which is based on 100 percent of all students achieving proficiency by 2013-2014.
Ninety-five percent of each subgroup and of all students must participate in the state assessment system. If any one of the subgroups fails to meet the participation requirement or fails to make AYP, then the school is deemed not to have made AYP.
school grading system utilizes a point system and awards those schools with standard curriculum students a grade based on points earned. Schools are awarded one point for each percent of students who score in achievement levels 3, 4, or 5 on the FCAT. Schools earn additional points for each percent of students who make learning gains in reading and math. Special attention is given to the reading gains of students in the lowest 25 percent in each school. Schools earn one point for each percent of the lowest performing readers who make learning gains from the previous year.
Both of these accountability systems inform parents, educators and the community about different facets of a school's performance. Both can be beneficial for students by encouraging improvements in our educational system. However, no single measure, on its own, can provide a complete picture nor fill the need for active parents involved with their children and their schools.
Pinellas County schools will continue to strive for improvement under each of these accountability systems as well as independently from these systems. Any way you measure it, Pinellas County schools are committed to highest student achievement for each of our students.
-- Nancy Bostock, member, Pinellas County School Board, St. Petersburg
Re: The teen, an alderman and Ten Commandments, Aug. 17
I find it mind-boggling that the proponents of public Decalogue displays question how even the nonreligious could be against the precepts of the Ten Commandments, as if the morality contained therein was entirely self-evident. Not every commandment involves a moral truth as universal and as patent as "thou shall not kill." On the contrary, the first several Commandments demand a particular type of relationship with a specific God. A monument to a sacred text that prescribes modes of worship, when placed on public land, represents overt government endorsement of a certain religious viewpoint.
Such an endorsement is antithetical to the separation of church and state embodied in the First Amendment.
-- Christian M. McNamara, Tampa
Reading into the First Amendment
The lead article in the Aug. 17 Times (The teen, an alderman and Ten Commandments) concerned a young man's questioning the Ten Commandments monument in a local park in Frederick, Md. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city on his behalf. This is only one of several such cases before the courts.
The main argument the litigants propose is that the particular action to which they are objecting is a violation of the First Amendment or of the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, modern-day secularists are in a campaign to amend the Constitution by substituting a figurative "wall of separation between church and state" for the literal language of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment simply says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." An establishment of religion has always meant an exclusive arrangement created by the government, giving a preferential status under the government to one favored religion.
There was no intention in the minds of the men of the first Congress who wrote the First Amendment that the government should not aid religion, only that no one religion ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others. This is evident by the fact that these men of the first Congress, just after expressing their purpose in the language of the First Amendment, went on almost immediately to set up chaplaincies for Congress and in the Army and to ask the president to call a day of thanksgiving to almighty God for his blessings on the young republic.
If the First Amendment was to prohibit any government aid to religion, how do we account for the fact that not only all presidents and all congresses used public money in aid of religion and religious education, but every state in the union has used state tax-supported facilities and personnel, cooperating with religion and religious education? Various ways of spending government money to promote religious activity in the United States have been expanded and carried on from 1790 to the present.
I doubt very much that the men who wrote the First Amendment would be very upset to find the Ten Commandments monument in a local park.
-- W. Thomas Larkin, bishop emeritus, Diocese of St. Petersburg, Clearwater
Too much faith in science
Re: Believe it or not, faith is a divisive issue for America, Aug. 17.
Nicholas Kristof highlights very effectively the increasing polarization of our society based on religious beliefs, but he fails to acknowledge one of the root causes of this phenomenon: the simplistic, naive, and absolute confidence of our culture in scientific results.
Science and faith are not necessarily antagonists. The first represents an ongoing effort to provide an explanation of observed phenomenons through experimentation; the second represents a Gestalt of the world and of our personal role based on some form of revelation. The findings of science cannot be absolute; they represent stages of a never-ending process, aimed to open new areas of exploration and new hypothesis. Kristof himself seems to ignore this distinction when he poses acceptance of evolution as a litmus test for acceptance of scientific findings. Evolution is a credible theory, to which I personally adhere, but it is not a proven fact, and it is perfectly legitimate for scientific-minded persons to doubt or to reject it.
Our society has witnessed the birth and the deaths of new psychological medical and social theories every year, all of which were sold as articles of faith (think of management of anger, repressed sexual experience, the value of diet in preventing cancer, etc.). Why should it be surprising that people are disappointed and confused by the lack of reliability of scientific theory to provide guidance to their own life?
-- Lodovico Balducci, Tampa
Trying to marginalize the faithful
Re: Believe it or not, faith is a divisive issue for America, Aug. 17.
I could not disagree more with Nicholas D. Kristof's arrogant, bigoted and poisonous article about faith and America. Despite his reassurances to the contrary, it was apparent that the sole purpose of his article was to denigrate the beliefs of Christians and to marginalize them as a social group. He could not have been any clearer: If you hold to the tenets of the Christian faith, then you can be neither intelligent nor reasonable. If you deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith, you are not a Christian. If you deny the virgin birth of Jesus, you deny his deity. If you deny his deity, you deny his perfection. If you deny his perfection, you deny his ability to satisfy the requirements of a holy and offended God for a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for sinful man. And if Kristof has trouble with the virgin birth, what is he going to do when he gets to the part about Jesus being raised from the dead?
Aside from his quoting only biased Bible scholars (for there are many scholars and even intellectuals who disagree with the statements made), he seems to be disappointed that more in America don't believe in evolution. Evolution has neither been proved scientifically (reproduced and observed in a controlled environment), nor historically (the fossil record is completely void of hard evidence) as the explanation for the origin of life. Perhaps the theory of evolution is just a desperate belief for those who are determined to have no need for, or accountability to, the morals established by a holy and mighty God; whose very creation screams of His existence. If that is the case, there will be no excuse on the day of judgment (another Christian belief) for such a suppression of truth.
Surprisingly, I do agree with Kristof regarding the polarization in our society. But I believe that it is brought about by those who wish only to force their unbelief upon others, silence the protected rights of the opposition through marginalization, and plunge America into a godless future where corrupted man establishes the morals and the one with the most power establishes the rules. How un-American can you get?
-- Robert Marcley, Palm Harbor
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