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State needs to free teachers, students from tyranny of testing

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
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State needs to free teachers, students from tyranny of testing

Since my wife and I are both retired public school educators (school psychologist and teacher/administrator), we receive the NYSUT [New York State United Teachers] magazine. In the February edition, we see that the union has belatedly taken a stand against what it is calling the “Common Core chaos.”

In an article about the unhelpful state Education Department “modules,” Sylvia Saunders cites Saranac Lake Superintendent Diane Fox speaking to her school board, quoting from a state-suggested unit for first-graders: “By the end of the unit, first-graders should be able to locate Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia and to explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the use of canals to support farming and development of the city of Babylon.” Mesopotamia? First-graders? Her board members laughed in disbelief, but it isn’t really very funny.

The overemphasis on testing being foisted upon our schools by state and federal governments is having dangerous repercussions for both students and their teachers. Students we know, even the very young, are experiencing increasing anxiety (and sometimes illness). And we know so many very good teachers who just can’t wait to retire. We all know college-educated parents who can’t help their kids with homework.

Neither of us would recommend that talented young people we know major in education in this climate. How sad.

Yes, the Regents have agreed to delay some implementation. And now Gov. Cuomo, accurately sensing a potential voter uprising, is organizing his own panel to “study” the problem.

We have some recommendations for the Regents and the governor: First, get rid of most of this time-consuming and paranoia-producing testing (and the state educational commissioner who seems obsessed with it). Then, take back all the billions now going to test producers and publishers and spend it on ensuring that intelligent, talented and dedicated teachers have adequate time and resources. Finally, show them your respect and trust them to do their jobs.

Linda and Richard Lewis

Glenville

What Keystone Pipeline apologists didn’t say

I am a bit surprised that the Gazette would run a puff piece from the oil and gas industry’s major longtime lobbyist, Jack Gerard, and the principal of another lobbying firm, Gen. Jim Jones [Feb. 16 Gazette].

Indeed, Jim Jones was National Security Advisor to President Obama, for only one year, and based on his distinguished career in the Marines. Whether he jumped or was pushed from the Obama administration I don’t know, but he became a lobbyist almost immediately, and for the fossil-fuel industry.

Their plea for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline overlooks a lot of interesting facts.

1) This is not our heavy crude or bitumen that will flow from Alberta’s tar sands, it’s Canada’s and the China’s. China and its state-owned oil companies have a major stake in the Alberta tar sands.

2) The heavy crude will not be refined on the Gulf Coast for our use, but for shipment abroad. A lot of it will go to energy-starved China.

3) Construction of the pipeline will not be an employment bonanza; the jobs will be temporary. Maybe 50 permanent jobs will be the end result.

4) These lobbyists completely overlook the massive environmental destruction taking place in Alberta’s tar sands. Mercury contamination of vast areas around the mining operation is the latest shocking discovery. The boreal forest in northern Alberta is being destroyed.

5) Mssrs. Jones and Gerard don’t even mention climate change as a necessary factor in pipeline decision-making.

I sincerely hope that our president puts his money where his mouth is, and denies requests to build the Keystone XL pipeline. And the Alberta Clipper pipeline, and any other attempts at more intrusion into the United States of tar sands heavy crude.

Patricia Rush

Schenectady

Bridge wall much ado about nothing

The current hue and cry regarding the aesthetic appearance of the Western Gateway Bridge between Schenectady and Scotia is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Whether there is a railing on one side and a wall on the other or vice-versa is immaterial. We seem to have forgotten the purpose of a bridge, and that purpose is to enable vehicles to cross the Mohawk River without getting wet.

In my opinion, a bridge is eminently more efficient than using a ferryboat or swimming the river, regardless of what the bridge might look like.

Surely there are more important things to concern ourselves with than that.

Michael G. Decker

Schenectady

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