- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2000

Student testing should include the teacher factor

Standards of Learning (SOL) testing is a classical political artifice for covering a pervasive failure of federal and state governments to sustain the public schooling excellence that served to elevate this nation to industrial, technological and military dominance in the mid-20th century.

As reported in The Washington Times ("First 2 Gilmore years were smooth sailing," Metropolitan, Jan. 10), Gov. James S. Gilmore III rhetorically asked, "what do you go back to" if SOL testing were abandoned? The valid response is teaching excellence, and SOL testing will not get our public schools back to that.

The dumbing down of public schooling nationally has been certified, publicly and specifically, by the American Council on Education, as reported in The Times ("Report targets teaching teachers," Oct. 26). It primarily faults teaching colleges, and rightly notes that "teacher quality [is] the single most important variable in student achievement gains."

It therefore is absurd to presume that student achievements can be credibly evaluated, absent knowledge of the teaching quality embedded in each class or group of students being SOL tested.

The most obstinate obstacle to elevating the quality of public schooling is the national unionization of teachers. Tenure of teachers invalidates the historic convention that school principals, or even districts, can be held accountable for broadly elevating teacher performance.

Unless this obstacle can be neutralized, our nation will continue on its way to becoming like most others, wherein public schooling is for "commoners," while the elite are educated in private schools.

SOL testing will have no validity, or merit other than political cover, until the teacher quality in each test group is factored into the results.

Conventional presumption that college degrees validate teaching qualifications has been overtaken by the American Council on Education assessment that dumbing down of teaching colleges has preceded dumbing down of public schooling.

Accordingly, the only way that SOL testing can serve its purpose is first to test all practicing teachers consistently and correlatively.

Mr. Gilmore's bombast ill serves the goal of restoring public schooling quality, and can only aggravate the controversy already swirling around SOL testing.

MYRON (MAX) ECKHART JR.

Alexandria

Sex-change operations are only skin deep despite claims otherwise

Your article about the Boulder, Colo., bill to give transgender persons extra protections leads me to a comment ("Boulder, Colo., votes to protect transsexuals," Feb. 3).

The idea that someone can change his or her sex through cosmetic surgery and chemicals is accepted within the law. But is that true?

Emasculating a man, pumping him with estrogen and giving him breast implants create the appearance of being female, but not one XY cell in his body has been changed to an XX cell; he has never had female procreative organs (that possibility disappeared about the 12th week of gestation); he will never have any more than superficial features of a female.

When my wife had a tuck, she looked 10 years younger. But did it make her 10 years younger? Will pasting horns on a horse make it a bull? I am convinced that it does not.

Neither does transsexual surgery change anyone's sex.

THE REV. LEONARD A.

SCHNEIDER

White Plains, N.Y.

'Democratic' India needs to free thousands of political prisoners

President Clinton said that he is visiting India next month because "it is the biggest democracy in the world" ("Clinton aims to 'engage' India during March visit," Feb. 2), but according to Amnesty International and human-rights groups, thousands of Sikh, Christian, Muslim and other political prisoners are being held in Indian jails without charge or trial.

Many of these Sikh political prisoners have been held in illegal custody since 1984. Why are there political prisoners in a democracy?

Last month, Mandeep Pal Singh Sodhi, a 27-year-old Sikh, immolated himself in front of the Assembly building in Uttar Pradesh to protest the brutal torture and tyranny that have been inflicted on his family by the police.

According to the Hindustan Times, the police have illegally detained his brothers on false charges several times. They have been tortured repeatedly. This is just part of the Indian repression of the Sikh nation. The Indian government has murdered more than 250,000 Sikhs since 1984. It also has murdered more than 200,000 Christians in Nagaland since 1947, more than 65,000 Muslims in Kashmir since 1988 and tens of thousands of Assamese, Dalits, Manipuris, Tamils and others .

Allies of the Indian government have murdered priests, nuns and missionaries. They have burned down Christian churches. The police broke up a Christian religious festival with gunfire. This is not the way things are done in a democracy. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is right when he says that for the minorities of South Asia, India "might as well be Nazi Germany."

Mr. Clinton said that "we haven't been working with [India] enough," but India does not want to work with us. Last year, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes presided at a meeting with the ambassadors of China, Cuba, Russia, Libya, Serbia and Iraq. This meeting was designed to build a security alliance "to stop the U.S."

In 1998, India voted against the United States at the United Nations more often than any other country except Cuba and North Korea. It supported the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

When Mr. Clinton visits India, I respectfully urge him to use his influence to secure the release of all political prisoners and to help India live up to its status as a democracy by allowing self-determination for the people of Khalistan, Kashmir, Nagaland and all the other countries seeking their independence from Indian rule.

GURMIT SINGH AULAKH

President

Council of Khalistan

Washington

Ethiopian attacks 'deplorable acts' committed by Eritrea

The Washington Times article "Eritrean theft bars U.S. aid" (Jan. 25), accurately describes Eritrea's deplorable behavior in misappropriating U.S. food assistance destined for drought-affected people in Ethiopia.

No amount of obfuscation by the government of Eritrea, as demonstrated by its ambassador's letter to the editor ("Eritrea defends use of grain shipment," Feb. 1), can conceal the theft of food aid or ameliorate the damage caused by this act.

Your readers should be aware of the following acts: Eritrea stole U.S. food aid destined for Ethiopia; Eritrea has barred aid agencies from operating in Eritrea for almost two years; Eritrea refused to admit that it stole the food aid and to account for it, even when confronted by the U.S. government; suffering in the region was exacerbated by Eritrea's military attacks against Ethiopia in May 1998; and, perhaps most importantly, Eritrea refuses to cooperate in its ongoing talks with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), thus increasing problems for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia caused by drought.

The theft of 45,000 tons of U.S. food aid was one in a series of deplorable acts by Eritrea. Eritrea also blocked Ethiopia's trade route to the sea, in contravention of standing bilateral agreements and accepted international practices. Eritrea also confiscated from the ports of Assab and Massawa properties worth millions of dollars, owned by private and public businesses in Ethiopia and in violation of bilateral agreements between the two countries. The theft of food aid was clearly a preliminary step in Eritrea's preparation for its invasion of Ethiopia.

Under increasing pressure from the United States, Eritrea is grudgingly attempting to resolve its dispute with USAID. Negative publicity, coupled with the deprivation caused by its military operations and drought, is forcing the Eritrean regime to deal with its deplorable actions and duplicity, a duplicity that causes Ethiopia concern in all areas, particularly the Organization of African Unity-led peace talks.

Despite Eritrea's actions, I want to emphasize that Ethiopians recognize and appreciate the assistance that the United States extends to them in times of need. They commend any effort to expose Eritrea's continuing refusal to account for and make restitution for the stolen food aid a posture that exacerbates the suffering of Ethiopians and Eritreans.

BERHANE GEBRE-CHRISTOS

Ambassador

Ethiopian Embassy

Washington

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