January 19, 2013

Letters to the editor: Listen to teachers, not to reform group

Your story on the StudentsFirst report on Maine's schools ("School policies ranking: Maine barely passes," Jan. 7) ignored key facts about that organization, its founder, Michelle Rhee, and the true nature of its report.

Michelle Rhee
click image to enlarge

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., addresses staff and guests at a charter school in Opa-Locka, Fla., in 2011. The fact that a school reform group founded by Rhee gave Maine’s education policies a low ranking needs to be put into better context, a reader says.

2011 File Photo/The Associated Press

Anyone reviewing the facts about StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee and the academic performance of schools rated by StudentsFirst will see this report as nothing but right-wing privatization propaganda.

A Nov. 17 report by Salon.com shows StudentsFirst to be a right-wing organization pushing the American Legislative Exchange Council's corporate reform agenda to privatize public schools and destroy teachers unions.

The Huffington Post reported Jan. 4 that StudentsFirst lost all top management who claimed Democratic affiliation. Considering that in the 2012 elections, StudentsFirst spent nearly $1 million on campaigns to eliminate collective bargaining and local school control, and that 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans and tea party members, that's not surprising.

Rhee's claims to have created "turnarounds" in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have come under considerable scrutiny: The Washington, D.C., schools had a test cheating scandal during her tenure as chancellor that was not investigated. The Washington Post has reported (Feb. 8, 2011) serious challenges to Rhee's claims in Baltimore.

StudentsFirst's report ignores any measure of student achievement. The report is solely about the management of public schools among the states.

So what evidence supports the use of StudentsFirst's grades as a guide to Maine's education policies, as Gov. LePage and Commissioner Stephen Bowen demand? StudentsFirst gave Louisiana and Florida A's; Massachusetts and Connecticut received a D-plus and D respectively.

Yet when ranked by student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, Louisiana and Florida are among the worst schools, and Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the best.

So, does StudentsFirst really care about students, or privatization?

David Lentini

North Berwick

In my humble opinion, the main reason we have dysfunctional education policies in this state is that the teacher's voice is almost absent from public discourse about how to transform education. The discourse is dominated by the people who tend to know the very least about teaching and learning: the politicians.

Teachers are handy scapegoats for problems that the rest of us don't have the wit or the will to solve. So politicians draft legislation that creates the illusion of improving our educational system, when in fact the system is being dragged down by policies that are punitive and anti-education.

Being a teacher today requires the courage to stand against this twisted logic. The system will change when educators rise up, demand change and show what's possible.

That's already happening -- teachers around the country have refused to collaborate with the worst excesses of current legislation. However, more of them need to insist on the right to join the national education debate. They need to oppose the insidious plot to privatize everything and drain resources away from all public institutions. And "we the people" need to support them in these efforts!

Rise up, teachers. We are counting on you. We need you.

Yvonne Graffam

Gorham

City's Rand Road remedy puts end to traffic hazard

I'd like to commend Mike Bobinsky and the Portland Public Services Department for their quick action once I notified them of the dangerous situation at the railroad tracks on Rand Road.

Over time, deep dips were created by traffic on both sides of the tracks, to the point where cars would straddle the center line to avoid the heavy bounce caused by the dips.

This led to cars jockeying for the center in a subtle game of "Chicken," which had a huge potential for disaster.

The tracks are now flush, and the "games" have stopped. Great job!

Brian Peterson

Westbrook

Mobile counselors are ready 24-7 to assist mentally ill

In Tux Turkel's initial article of Dec. 9 in the Maine Sunday Telegram for the series titled "Deadly Force: Police and the Mentally Ill," he writes in a compelling manner about the incidents over the last 13 years of individuals who have died as a result of police action after these individuals were seen or reported to be a danger to others.

The story depicts a stark reality. Each paragraph builds the story line so completely that one could walk away from the article believing that persons with mental illness or histories of mental illness bring themselves to the brink of this kind of disaster regularly.

What was missing from the article was any mention of services in the state of Maine that are available to persons in crisis and their families 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The toll-free number is 1-888-568-1112.

The instances noted by Mr. Turkel of desperation on the part of the individuals and their families is made more poignant when one realizes that on some level, either the system of support in the state has failed them, they have not known what resource is available and how to access it, or they have not felt they could or should use the resource. Mobile crisis workers are available to collaborate with local authorities when responding to such crises.

If the response from individuals in crisis comes from a place of violence and aggression -- which may stem from fear and desperation -- and if the response from the police comes to a place of drawing weapons, the incidence of such deaths will continue to increase, and people with mental illness will continue to be regarded as too dangerous to respond to in any other way.

Call the statewide crisis line at 1-888-568-1112. We can help.

Rita Alfonso LaBarbera, LCSW, CSP

clinical supervisor,

Sweetser Mobile Crisis Intervention for Cumberland County children and families

Portland

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