January 12, 2013

Letters to the editor: School rankings math doesn't add up

As a former math teacher and school superintendent, I call on Edward D. Murphy and others (especially our elected officials) to forswear the use of state rankings when discussing education.

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A recent Portland Press Herald story noted that Maine eighth-graders ranked 13th nationally in math in 2011, but a reader says that “rank order can be and often is quite meaningless” unless other variables are taken into account.


For example, in his article titled "School policies ranking: Maine barely passes" (Jan. 7), he reports that Maine eighth-graders ranked 13th nationally in math in 2011. Gov. LePage calls this "drowning in the status quo."

Maine eighth-graders are taught that rank order is meaningless unless they also know the underlying distribution. If the distribution is tightly packed, then rank order can be and often is quite meaningless.

In the case of the 2011 eighth-grade math scores, according to the test website, only eight states have results that are higher by a statistically significant amount -- so Maine's rank is now ninth.

And among those eight states, such as New Hampshire and Colorado, poverty rates are much lower. For example, the population of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch is 41 percent in Maine versus 23 percent in New Hampshire.

Taking poverty into account improves Maine's rank to third -- exceeded only by Montana and Texas. And this pattern plays out in other subjects and grade levels.

Maine public schools are producing results we can all be proud of. Do the math!

Denny Gallaudet


Game boycott by NHL fans would hurt venue workers

I agree that the fans of the NHL suffered from the prolonged strike, and as some suggest, gave some thought to the idea that the fans should boycott and not return to the games. The problem with that approach is those who have been forgotten during the strike would suffer more.

No one in the NHL gave any thought to those whose livelihoods depend on their playing: the employees of the venues where they play, including the vendors, cleaning staff, ticket agents, security and countless others whose wages do not come close to what a hockey player, or team owner, makes.

How many of those people lost their jobs, cars or homes as a result of the strike? No one seems to care about that or them.

Maybe when the owners and highly paid players in any sport argue over the millions of dollars of revenue and who will get it what percentage of it, then go on strike, there should be a rule that assesses each owner and each player a fine every week while the strike lasts.

That money then could go to the workers in the venues where they play so they will continue to be paid while the rich are on strike trying to get richer.

Unfortunately, many of those in professional sports are in the "Yea me and the heck with everyone else" club.

Gary Phillips


Group gives private schools unfair athletic advantage

I am writing to you about a subject that upsets me and many, many other sports fans in Greater Portland. When is the Maine Principals Association going to level the playing field regarding public and private schools?

There is such an unfair advantage when a school has open enrollment and is taking some of the best athletes from the surrounding city's public schools.

I hear the arguments that it is the right of the students to attend the schools they choose and there is no "recruiting" going on, but you cannot tell me that a student who excels in a sport and wants an advantage to win a state title does not choose one of these private high schools (Catherine McAuley or Cheverus) purely for this reason and not academic ones.

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