Many ways exist to address public schools’ problems

 

I would like to add another perspective to the Press Herald editorial (“New high school plan needs more explanation,” Feb. 22) and Charles Lawton’s column (“Maine must measure its wants,” Feb. 7) calling for increased high school graduation rates.

They both correctly state the career and economic advantages to citizens who earn high school and college degrees.

As a sheriff, I see the picture from another angle: I know firsthand the sad reality that high school dropouts are more likely to turn to crime.

A report by Fight Crime: Invest In Kids showed that high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested, and more than eight times more likely to be incarcerated.

That report also stated that while staying in school even one year longer reduces the likelihood that a youngster will turn to crime, graduating from high school has a greater impact.

As graduation rates go up, violent crimes decrease: a 10 percentage point increase in graduation rates would reduce murder and assault rates by about 20 percent, preventing more than 20 murders and over 900 aggravated assaults in Maine every five years.

The answer to increasing graduation rates is not always what one might expect. Research has shown that high-quality early education is the best-proven way to improve graduation rates. Pre-kindergarten helps change the odds that at-risk kids will be ready for kindergarten and succeed in school, moving them forward to graduation.

All Maine communities need to take steps to increase high-quality early education, which in turn will increase graduation rates and keep our communities safer.

Mark Dion

Sheriff, Cumberland County

Portland

 

In a time of great financial strife in the education system and with government presenting new standards to raise the quality of education to the young adults in America, I find myself confused with the education world.

I myself have a degree in teaching but cannot teach because the salary of a beginning teacher is not enough to cover living expenses. Also, the number of teaching positions is not enough in Maine to retain quality teachers.

Who would want to teach in this economy, where every year teachers’ jobs are being cut?

All teachers should embrace standards for teaching students. It makes them come up with more creative ways of teaching. They are just standards you have to teach, no one states how to teach them. No one is taking the power of your classroom from you.

Lastly, with all the financial woes in school budgets, and the continual failure of the state to keep up with the budget, the question is where to get money to save jobs?

I have your answer: corporate sponsorship. It’s a tax write-off, a good way to enhance teacher pay to make them more satisfied workers without raising property tax.

You also put resources back into the classroom at no cost to the taxpayer. Any person who runs a business knows that the investment in the future is a big investment.

It’s no different than alumni associations giving money back to their schools. Why shouldn’t people give back to the community? Why shouldn’t we be responsible for our schools? Stop blaming the government and take care of what is ours.

Tonya Pellegrino

Portland

In 1942, Mark Van Doren published “Liberal Education,” a book in which he pointed out that there was no subject such as education: that is, as there is a subject called mathematics or chemistry or history or French, etc.

Education as a subject is an empty space in knowledge surrounded by and supported by vacuous words. The recent column in the Press Herald March 4 by a professor of education at the University of Southern Maine substantiates that description.

Reading her diatribe (or was it a plea?) was like trying to eat wet sawdust. Her piece would not pass freshman composition.

If you can suffer enough of her labored language, you may come to discover that what is on her mind is the fact that the new proposal for restructuring the academic menu of USM, as looney as it sounds, has one therapeutic change: The College of Education is to be split into two parts.

Perhaps this split will lead to the atrophy of that useless, mind-numbing, anti-intellectual enterprise, and would-be teachers and practicing teachers seeking better pay would no longer be required to endure the thralldom of education courses.

L.M. Burke

Long Island

One of the most basic tenets of sound educational funding is that a state should work to level the playing field of educational opportunity for all of its students.

Obviously some communities have greater means to provide the “extras” that other communities cannot afford, but for the state of Maine the goal should be to seek equality of educational opportunity for all of our students.

Many legislators, the governor and the Maine Department of Education are not living up to that responsibility. They have exacerbated the lack of educational opportunity for kids in a number of communities in Maine by the imposition of penalties on their districts for not reorganizing.

Not only is the state taking money from students in certain districts — many of them poor communities — but it is redistributing that funding to students in other districts, many of which are wealthier and many of which were basically exempt from the reorganization process.

The funding gap is thus further widened not only by the fact that communities are penalized, but also by the fact that when those funds are redistributed, the funding gap becomes wider by a margin even greater than the penalty.

How can it possibly make any ethical sense to consciously create further imbalances in educational opportunity for kids?

At this point in the political process, it will take courage for legislators, especially those in districts receiving the benefits of these penalties, to say, “Wait a minute; this is not right,” and to find a fix that is fair to all of the kids in Maine.

I hope there is a commitment to all Maine kids and the ethical will to act on that commitment.

Michael S. Weatherwax

Assistant Superintendent of Schools

Fivetown CSD/MSAD 28

Camden

 

I am a senior citizen and have lived in Maine since 1972. My boys went through Cape Elizabeth High School, and one went to MIT. He said he was not well-prepared for the courses there.

I have taught at Southern Maine Community College and at the Root Cellar, plus being a substitute teacher in the Portland school system.

If one would look at education on a global basis, the United States is falling behind other leading nations, and we have the least number of school days.

The model of school systems has been the same for years. Now, with the economy down, we are forced to lay off many teachers. This is a travesty. Education should not be at the whim of the economy. We ought to have excellent education whether we are in a recession or not.

I believe we need to explore a new model for funding education so that the students have a great education experience always.

Cutting language teachers in a global economy is just plain stupid. In New Brunswick, all of the better jobs require French.

Turnpikes are funded by tolls paid by people who use them. Should schools be funded like toll roads? It is one suggestion. How many education people in Augusta will be laid off?

This is a very serious matter, and I hope there is a solution soon.

Thomas Heels

Scarborough

 

I just got through reading a Wall Street Journal article from March 5. This article announced the finalists for the “Race to the Top” funds.

The federal government has $4.35 billion to give to schools, but only if they “win” this contest.

While Maine was not on the list of finalists, that’s not what is upsetting to me. What is appalling is that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think the way to make schools better is to give money to only some states.

This is the federal government, isn’t it? Aren’t all states part of this country, in which the federal government is supposed to serve?

I understand that Obama and Duncan want to make schools better. It’s not going to happen, though, when schools are laying off teachers and cutting programs and services because they have no money.

Schools in Maine (and around the country) are in big trouble. Keeping a share of the $4.35 billion away from the majority of states is a ridiculous move. In the end, it is expected that fewer than six states will “win” a share of this money. Duncan was quoted as saying, “Most of them (the other finalists) will go home losers.”

Is this what we want from our government? Is this the message we want to send to our students?

Mandy Russell

Old Orchard Beach

 

Health care debate has backers, opponents fired up

 

If Congress, by employing shameless shenanigans, is going to insist on managing the health care of all Americans, members should first take the Hippocratic Oath and “do no harm.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, “We need to pass health care (legislation) so we can see what’s in it.” Apparently no one wants to be accused of spoiling the surprise by telling us what this legislation would make the law of the land before it actually is the law of the land.

President Obama tells us the reason his health care legislation is not supported by the American people is because we don’t understand it. How breathtakingly patronizing. And they are both telling us our only choice is between passing their bill and the status quo. Not true.

The White House and the speaker are desperately trying every procedural gymnastic and heavy-handed maneuver they can come up with to pass their version of health care reform without actually taking a vote in the House so members will not be held accountable for their “non-vote.”

However, their constituents will figure it out. Is this what the president calls “courage”?

Jan Martens Staples

Cape Elizabeth

 

So, 10 percent of Mainers have no health care coverage at all. Twenty-five percent of Mainers qualify for MaineCare coverage because they cannot afford to purchase private insurance.

People who are purchasing their own coverage are facing one more in a string of yearly double-digit price increases, worsening the “death spiral” of being priced out of the market. People who have employer-sponsored insurance live in dread of being laid off and losing their coverage, similar to the folks at Ciambro’s Brewer plant.

People without insurance coverage go to emergency rooms such as the one at Eastern Maine Medical Center, which has just announced the layoff of a hundred employees. And people with secure jobs and employer-sponsored insurance see yearly efforts by their employers to shift more of the cost to the employees.

In this climate, does the paper’s CEO, Richard Connor, use the bully pulpit of his Feb. 28 opinion column to urge our two Republican senators to rise up from thier inaction and get to work finding solutions to the very real problems facing the people of Maine and the rest of the country?

No, indeed. He instead inflicts on the readers yet one more of his now tediously familiar anti-Obama rants. We get the picture. Mr. Connor is a Republican. He is angry the country elected Obama as president instead of the Supreme Court appointing another Republican to the job.

He prefers to see Obama fail more than he cares that any of the problems facing our country get resolved, and he has plenty of company in Washington.

But really, if he has nothing substantive to add to the public discourse, couldn’t the rest of the editorial board get together and send him off to play golf?

Ann Morrill

South Portland

The unending health care debate means that Congress has “spent” a year bickering and sparring one another while health care bills mount up, insurance rates blow off the roof from coast to coast, and thousands of Americans become disenfranchised from basic needs.

From where we are sitting, there are two major blockages in the system that a compromise should clear: First, trade tort reform for a public option.

If you add to that the ability of those seeking competitive rates to buy across state lines, that could reduce insurance costs, create competition with insurance pricing and, more importantly, get rid of the former state and federal “public servants” who are piling up at the lobbying trough at the expense of everyone!

You know who you are, and so do we!

Loretta M. Turner

Biddeford

 

If I were on a committee with a specific task to accomplish and there were other members of the committee openly opposed to that goal, I would not want them present at the meetings since they would work hard to prevent the committee from doing its task.

It is apparently for this reason that the Democrats held closed meetings in preparing health care reform and excluded Republicans.

Sen. Olympia Snowe has complained about this situation. Since she is a member of the “Party of No,” it is understandable why she was generally not welcome at such meetings.

Perhaps she ought to resign from the Republican Party and become an independent. In this way she could attend the meetings, remove herself from the “naysayers” and represent all of the people of Maine and not just some.

William J. Leffler II

Kennebunkport