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Today's Letters: State's teacher bonus plan is unfair and divisive

Letters to the Editor
Published March 2, 2007


Special Teachers Are Rewarded program 

As a member of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, I am proud that our members voted overwhelmingly against the merit pay proposal in Pinellas County.

Although citizens in Florida may be wondering how we could turn down these funds, a few things need to be considered. Most importantly, the plan provided for raises for the top 25 percent of employees based on FCAT scores and employee evaluations countywide. Teachers who have the toughest jobs (teaching in low-income schools) would have had little chance of getting the bonuses, while those who teach in upper-income schools with great parental support would have gotten most of them.

This is simply unfair. In lower-income schools, parents may be struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent, leaving little or no time to monitor their children's schoolwork. This is not due to lack of caring or concern, but is simply because they are working two or three jobs to survive. Great teaching cannot make this playing field level.

In addition, the plan would have pitted employee against employee and would certainly exacerbate the problem of maintaining a high-quality work force at low-income schools. Teachers could simply opt to transfer to schools where there is a greater possibility of high test scores.

Finally, many more than 25 percent of our teachers are doing a great job. Low wages are contributing to a severe teacher shortage and this plan wastes money that could be used for raises across the board.

I sincerely hope that Gov. Charlie Crist takes another look at this ill-conceived program.

Shelley G. Fostert, Clearwater


It's not their money 

Pinellas declines $6.1M for teachers Feb. 28, story

This bowing to the wishes of the teacher union has become systemic with our Pinellas School Board. The board members need to be reminded they represent the educational interests of the county and all its citizens and to quit acting as the business agent for the teacher union.

While there are a few member exceptions, this board walks in lock-step with the teacher union.

That bonus money is not theirs to give away. It belongs to all of us who pay school taxes in Pinellas County. This board misled us in 2004 in obtaining a property tax increase to boost teachers' pay. It was something they obviously didn't need. When they come to us again, as they certainly will next year, it will be interesting to see how they address this chicanery.

That vote will provide us all with the opportunity to respond to having been tricked.

Donald O'Neill, Clearwater


Reject FCAT 

Pinellas declines $6.1M for teachers Feb. 28, story

Congratulations to the School Board of Pinellas County for rejecting the STAR reward system. It is a scheme for rewarding teachers on the basis of their students' FCAT performance.

In reality, the FCAT protocols suck the oxygen from lively school communities and interrupt the very process they claim to support.

I hope the public can come to understand that these exams completely disrupt the schedules and class patterns of schools for two weeks of every school year. I hope voters can come to express displeasure at the hours of teaching time and teacher talent these tests steal from the Pinellas County instruction calendar. I hope the public can come to understand the expense in loss of teacher hours and student instruction time these tests represent. I hope voters will come to understand and protest the costs in test materials and salaries for those who write, produce and mark the exams.

Understand and join our smart school board. Protest!

Marg Radens, Literacy Success Program, St. Petersburg


A failing test

FCAT does not adequately assess the students' progress. For example, if the student fails math, does he not understand word problems, can't do the computations, can't read at all, doesn't understand the directions?

If he fails reading, is it because he doesn't comprehend what he read, can't decode the longer words, doesn't have an adequate vocabulary in the first place?

The FCAT gives teachers none of this feedback. As a diagnostic test, it is useless. As a punitive measure, boy, does it work!

Nancy Schubart, Treasure Island


Walk in their shoes 

U.S. high schools still don't make the grade Feb. 28, a Washington Post editorial

Before all the experts come to collect their stipends as consultants to fix our high schools, they must first come and teach in the public schools for at least a year. They need to get a true sense of what teachers, administrators, parents and the community go through to get students through the year and through FCAT or ACT or SAT or AP or even one day at the local high school.

The author of this Washington Post editorial wants a "robust discussion" of how to fix high schools. No doubt a consultant or 10 will be hired to tell schools that students are apathetic and teachers are overworked and underpaid and that we, as a society, are afraid to fail students for fear of losing federal money and getting a bad grade for the school. Or maybe teachers are apathetic and are not able to keep up with technology.

Some of the facts are that some students do not try, do not value education as a means to an end, do not listen to parents, or have parents that do not speak highly of education, have multiple problems at home, or have no home, stable or otherwise. There are a thousand other heartrending tales that all might lead to a senior in high school failing to graduate. It is sad and maddening.

If educators stuck to a truly rigorous curriculum, multiple events would take place. Many seniors would not graduate on time for the first year. The underclassmen would see that they must work hard to get a passing grade to graduate. Assessment tests would not be necessary to evaluate schools' performance. Students would learn to be students and learn a subject and apply that knowledge to see possibilities in their lives. They might even thank a teacher.

Mark Teter, Lecanto


Teachers can't fix this 

Focus on the home Feb. 27, letter

This letter writer says what so many of us believe to be true but school and government officials are reluctant to admit: It all starts at home.

Our teachers are not teaching in schools - they are teaching in war zones. And everyone seems to think they are responsible for the scores of children who have no interest in learning. These children often disrupt the environment for the children who do want to learn. They treat the teachers with disrespect and threaten them verbally and with bodily harm.

It is not about the teachers. It is not about curriculum and FCAT. It is about parenting, or lack thereof. Look at the homes where many of these children come from. Look at their parents or, as in many cases, parent.

We cannot continue to stick our heads in the proverbial sand and expect things to get better. Stop expecting the teachers to fix it. As the letter writer states, address the problem where it begins - at home.

M. Greene, St. Petersburg


A threat to children 

Boy escapes, but abductor is at large Feb. 24, story

Fear must strike the hearts of all parents whose children must ride a bus to and from a Pinellas County school. As one of countless grandparents who collect children from a school and also from a bus stop, I was furious the other day when I arrived at the bus stop to meet a school bus and was greeted by my 8-year-old granddaughter crying "Where have you been? I've been waiting here a long time!"

I was 10 minutes early and horrified at the thought of what could have happened to her while waiting at the side of the road. Because I also collect two grandchildren at a nearby school, I am unable to arrive more than 10 minutes early.

When I phoned to complain about what could have happened to my grandchild, I was advised that there is no regulation concerning a driver having to keep to the printed schedule of arrival times for buses carrying children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The driver is under no mandate to keep a child on the bus even though the driver has arrived very early. Even a kindergartner can be left at the side of the road without any supervision.

I am outraged!

Pat Ellis, St. Petersburg

[Last modified March 2, 2007, 01:24:18]

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