- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Readers take head of teachers union to school

Michael J. McManus, in his column "Primer of character building" (Commentary, Aug. 12), provides an excellent retort to Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who in her Aug. 8 letter tells us again that vouchers are not needed because educational reforms are working ("Vouchers a 'sideshow' that hurts school reform").

Mr. McManus uses statistics to show that chances of "build[ing] children" are slim if they are not raised in two-parent families. He makes a strong case for marriage and for training for couples before marriage. Children of divorced parents and single parents are more likely than those in intact two-parent families to be on the road to trouble and jail.

Education requires a competent teacher, unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape and capable of reinforcing basic moral values; children who respect their teachers and whose parents motivate them to learn; and an adequate, safe environment where learning is paramount. Unfortunately, all these elements are declining in public education.

The primary problem with public education is the decline of marriage and the family. In Baltimore, the out-of-wedlock birth rate is obscenely high. Statistics show that children without a full-time father will disrupt classes, drop out of school, commit crimes and require welfare at a much higher rate than children of two-parent families.

Mrs. Feldman cites "real reforms that are helping to turn around public schools… . Urban school districts such as … Baltimore … are showing dramatic improvements in test scores."

I wish that were correct. Just last month, The Washington Post reported that the state of Maryland recently took over three Baltimore schools after seven years of warning about subpar performance. The state has contracted a private firm to try to improve the schools ("3 Schools Taken Over in Baltimore," July 5). Only 4 percent to 6 percent of the students had a satisfactory composite score on state exams. How could anyone honestly say this was a "dramatic improvement"?

Jo Ann Bell, a member of the state board of education from Prince George's County, was quoted as saying, "[W]e hadn't been successful enough to turn it around ourselves. And I simply didn't want to waste another year of these children's lives." There is no evidence that this move will be successful, however, and what about all the years of all the other minority students' lives who attended these schools and didn't get the education they were entitled to because of the procrastination and wishful thinking of the Maryland State Board of Education and educators such as Mrs. Feldman?

Eighty other schools in Baltimore, 12 in Prince George's County and one in Anne Arundel County are eligible for such a state takeover because of poor performance. That adds up to at least 96 schools in Maryland that are not providing the education students deserve. By what measure is this level of performance called a "dramatic improvement?" It is accelerating decline. Either Mrs. Feldman doesn't understand the situation in Baltimore or she is trying to mislead us. How can one believe her statements on education?

Schools will not improve until the stable two-parent family is resurrected.

JOHN NAUGHTON

Silver Spring

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See Sandra. See Sandra trash vouchers. But if American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Sandra Feldman hates the idea of parents being able to cash in public vouchers to attend the schools they choose for their children, she should love Gov. Jeb Bush's A-Plus reform plan in Florida.

It has worked so well that the state will issue no new vouchers for the 2000-01 school year. But if vouchers are a "sideshow," they have been the biggest influence on action inside the big tent, contrary to Mrs. Feldman's assertions.

Florida grades each public school on an A-to-F scale based on pupil achievement and other factors. A year ago, Mr. Bush signed the nation's first statewide voucher program into law, providing that when a school flunks any two years out of four, patrons may transfer to another public school or receive a voucher toward payment of tuition at a private school. Only two of the state's 2,500 schools initially got the double-F, triggering vouchers, but another 78 were in peril because they had gotten an initial F. Potentially, 78,000 Florida schoolchildren could have been eligible for vouchers this fall.

Amazingly, however, all 78 threatened schools raised their test scores enough to pass last spring. To accomplish this, they essentially went back to the basics and scrapped the progressive, teacher-as-facilitator model so beloved by the education establishment of which the AFT is a part. Not until there was a credible threat of competition from vouchers did schools take that action.

If such a threat is all it takes, this is a sideshow Mrs. Feldman should love. More likely, though, she's worried about parents actually using their public subsidy to select from a wider array of schools, including private and parochial ones. But if reduced class size is the panacea she and the AFT claim it is, she should like vouchers in action because one effect of full-fledged choice would be to lower class sizes in public schools.

DON SOIFER

Executive vice president

Lexington Institute

Arlington

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Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is doing nothing but protecting her own interests with her comment that school vouchers are nothing by a "sideshow."

Why should we believe her? If parents had the guts, not just the money, they would pull their children out of public schools. Public schools have evolved into propaganda machines controlled by two unions. Their members indoctrinate children and leave them with a vacuum for learning, all the while complaining that they don't get paid enough and that their classes are too big. Where did the teachers go who taught for the love of teaching?

My brother pulled his only child from public schools and entered him in a private Christian academy that only had 120 students from grades one through 12. The older students mentored those in the lower grades. They all brought brown-bag lunches (no hot lunches). They had no gym or fancy labs. This was no "white flight" school: Thirty percent of the students were from a minority. There was respect for teachers and students alike. Anyone who was not there to learn was asked to leave. The tuition was only $1,400 a year, and the graduates attend college.

Why is public education lacking in morals and benefits? Just look to the unions and the government for your answer. Parents should rise up and form private alternatives to public education and let public schools die of their own weight of indifference and greed.

CHARLES BYRD

Louisa, Va.

Measuring the expense of converting to metric

In an interview extolling the virtues of converting to the metric system, Valerie Antoine, executive director of the U.S. Metric Association, miscalculates both the ease of the conversion process and the need for making the system compulsory ("System's advantage is its simplicity," Aug. 8, World).

No study, including any by Congress, has ever validated her claim that the simplicity of the system can lead to immediate or eventual cost savings. In fact, the cost of converting federal highway signs alone could exceed $820 million, according to estimates by the Federal Highway Commission.

Though most governmental agencies have not produced similar cost estimates for themselves or the industries that they oversee, one could infer that the total costs of conversion easily would reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars. This is especially true when costs to re-educate workers who regularly deal with weights and measurements are included.

The fact that the European Union will require that all incoming products be measured in the metric system as of 2009 is not a compelling reason for the federal government to force all individuals and industries to convert. If there is an economic incentive to do so, firms will make metric measurements available to global trading partners without the coercion of the federal government. This is evidenced by the two industries Miss Antoine references, as both the clothing and grocery sectors have decided it is economically advantageous to provide metric measurements. The private sector is full of profit seekers, and it is irrational to assume that those who depend on overseas sales would allow a "competitive disadvantage" to persist.

The decision to use the system should be made as a matter of individual circumstances, as the federal government lacks the institutional knowledge to make such decisions for everyone. For these reasons, Miss Antoine is ultimately misguided in her fervor for Congress to pass a bill forcing Americans not only to adhere to her centrally planned and controlled system of measurement, but to pay for it as well.

MAURICE A. THOMPSON

Associate policy analyst

National Taxpayers Union

Alexandria

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