- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Post on the state’s teacher evaluation law.

June 17

Maybe one day New York will have a meaningful way to fire lousy public-school teachers. But plainly not in time for the kids now stuck in their classrooms.

Because the message out of Albany is no one there is ready to do any such thing.

On Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo said he was “cautiously optimistic” about a deal with lawmakers to delay or relax at least some parts of the teacher-evaluation law.

Passed in 2010, that law linked student test scores with teacher ratings that supposedly could get a bad teacher sacked.

Still, the teachers unions have succeeded in resisting accountability. Even after Cuomo “toughened” the rules, for example, 92 percent of teachers outside Gotham last year were rated “effective” or better - at a time when 69 percent of the students had flunked math and reading tests.

This year, the unions beefed up their opposition because low scores on the new Common Core tests put even more teachers at risk.

In response, Cuomo suggested “adjusting” the link between test scores and teacher ratings. Meanwhile, union shills in the Assembly (i.e., most of its members) want teachers held completely harmless. And Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos is likely to cave, too.

This has the feds threatening to withhold $292 million they granted to the state after New York promised to use Common Core curricula and link tests to teacher ratings. The US Department of Education’s Ann Whalen warned Tuesday against “breaking promises” and “moving backward.”

On Sunday, The Post’s Susan Edelman showed how tough it is to fire teachers. Now Albany wants to make it even tougher.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1phq2f0

The Times Union of Albany on a proposal to allow bigger all-terrain vehicles to operate in forever wild areas.

June 18

A bill before the state Legislature that would ultimately increase the size of all-terrain vehicles allowed in the Adirondacks has environmental groups rumbling as loud as, well, an ATV in the woods.

The Senate debate can be roughly seen as pitting what Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, called the “way of life upstate” against environmental concerns. Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said, “seemingly every environmental group I know” is against the measure. Yet the Senate passed it Monday, and it’s now before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Lacking in the legislative debate - and, indeed, the whole conversation on this bill so far - is the big-picture question: What is the appropriate use of our state’s trails, especially those in the Adirondack forest deemed “forever wild” by the state constitution?

Meanwhile, another bill would prohibit ATVs from the state forest preserve, the Long Island Central Pine Barrens and the Albany Pine Bush, citing environmental damage. This comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is highlighting outdoor motorized tourism like snowmobiling in the state’s tourism campaign.

Upstate needs tourism dollars. But will more big engines in the backwoods bring that growth, or put it more at risk? It’s a question that needs a more nuanced and broader view than this bill allows.

The ATV bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Watertown, and Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, would increase the allowable size of ATVs by 50 percent, from 1,000 pounds to 1,500, clearing the way for “side-by-side” utility vehicles to be used recreationally. These larger vehicles feature two seats and cargo space. They are approved for industrial and farm uses.

The bill notes that other states allow such vehicles on recreational trails, and points to the larger vehicles’ seat belt and roll bar safety features. What it doesn’t address is that the vehicles go faster than the smaller ATVs and weigh as much fully loaded as small cars. Nor does it mention that 10-year-olds would be allowed to drive them after passing New York’s ATV safety program. And while those 10-year-olds would have only their own lives in their hands on currently approved ATVs, they could have multiple riders on board the larger ones allowed under the new bill.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that about one-fourth of both ATV-related injuries and fatalities involve children younger than 16. Yet, inexplicably, the current bill fails to re-examine age limits, even on these trail behemoths.

The Assembly should put this bill on hold. Then, at a less frantic time than the end of session, lawmakers and stakeholders in the Adirondacks can join in a deeper discussion that addresses not just safety issues, but this central question: What is the right balance between the roar of engines and the quiet serenity of the forest preserve, which New York has protected for 122 years?

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1uCZTH0

The New York Times on U.S. policy toward Iraq.

June 17

President Obama has, so far, struck the right note on Iraq, where Sunni extremist militants are seizing territory and threatening the existence of the state. He has been cautious - emphasizing the need for political reform in Iraq and reaching out to other countries that could have an impact on its fate.

His opening to Iran has been the most controversial and potentially the most important move. Iran has the most leverage with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and its prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The United States has been negotiating with Iran for months over Iran’s nuclear program, but the agenda had not gone beyond that until Mr. Obama sent a senior State Department official to discuss Iraq with an Iranian official in Vienna this week. The two countries cooperated on Afghanistan in 2001 against the Taliban, and, in theory, they should be able to find common interest in stabilizing Iraq.

Mr. Obama has called on Mr. Maliki to form a broadly representative government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as a condition of any military action by the United States. The American ambassador in Iraq and a senior State Department official have been pressing that issue in Baghdad. Even so, Mr. Maliki on Tuesday refused to reach out to Sunnis. Maybe Iran can make him hear the message.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - the rebel group known as ISIS that is sweeping across Iraq - is also waging war in Syria, commingling those conflicts and fueling Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East. Mr. Obama and his aides have been consulting regional leaders, whose interests would be severely threatened by an Iraq in total collapse, whether they acknowledge it or not. Turkey, for instance, should shut its border to militants and to materiel flowing into Syria and Iraq. And Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other gulf states need to stop financing (directly or indirectly) ISIS, which began as an Al Qaeda affiliate, and other extremist groups.

President Obama has said Iraq needs support to “break the momentum of extremist groups” and that he is considering his options, including military action. If there is a case for military action, Mr. Obama still needs to make it.

Speculation in recent days has focused on airstrikes by drones or planes against militant targets; if they are ordered, officials say they are likely to be isolated and tactical, like American operations in Yemen, and Iraqi forces would have to follow up on the ground.

If Mr. Obama decides to take military action, he must make it clear that it would not be done to support Mr. Maliki’s government, but to disrupt the militants’ momentum while the Iraqi Army regroups.

In the meantime, the administration has to develop better intelligence on the militants’ movements. It plans to provide more weapons to the Iraqi Army, even though major units disintegrated as the militants swept through northern Iraq. American officials say there are still capable Iraqi units to build on, but that seems a risky bet.

Whatever action Mr. Obama takes, it must be grounded in a larger political strategy that considers the full spectrum of sectarian dangers that are roiling the region. On Monday night, militants reached Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, before being turned back. In a horrific show of sectarian reprisal, 44 Sunni prisoners held in a Baquba police station, controlled by the Shiite-led government, were killed by the police as the Sunni militants attacked the station.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1r7d7eU

The Middletown Times Herald-Record on student loan debt.

June 13

President Obama’s executive action Monday will ease the burden of college loan debt for potentially millions of Americans, and comes while Senate Democrats are working on other fixes for this growing problem.

College student loan debt is a drag on the U.S. economy. More and more graduates are saddled with huge loans that leave them unable to buy homes, start families and contribute to the overall economy.

The president is expanding a 2010 law that capped borrowers’ repayments at 10 percent of their monthly income. The original law applied to only some borrowers. Now, another 5 million borrowers will be eligible. Those graduates will have to hang in there; the relief will not be available until December 2015, to give the Education Department time to propose the new regulations and put them into effect.

The Education Department also will renegotiate contracts with companies that service federal loans and give them additional financial incentives to help borrowers avoid delinquency or default. That is in addition to the Education and Treasury departments working with the nation’s largest tax preparation firms, H&R; Block and Intuit, to make sure borrowers are aware of repayment options and tax credits for college tuition.

The matter of America’s crushing student loan debt and its effect on the economy has grabbed headlines. Whether students are borrowing too much in order to attend pricey schools rather than seeking cheaper options is a debate for another time.

Solving out-of-control student debt is mission critical for boosting America’s economy. Some 40 million Americans have student loans totaling $1.3 trillion.

Families can help by educating themselves on alternatives to expensive four-year colleges, including state schools and community colleges.

Other states are searching for solutions. In March, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a couple of bills designed to help students attend college without impoverishing themselves. One creates a pilot program at one or more community colleges to provide scholarships and wraparound support, including advising. The other launches a study of whether and how Oregon might provide free community college classes to every Oregon high school graduate.

Those are longer-term solutions. For now, we must find ways to help graduates who are suffocating in debt enter the mainstream economy. The answers are out there, and can’t come too soon.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/UM3KY3

The Utica Observer-Dispatch on teens texting while driving.

June 18

Good news on the teen front: A new study shows fewer of them are smoking, drinking and fighting. Unfortunately, more of them are texting while driving, which can be just as hazardous as the other vices. Maybe worse.

It means parents, police and others who care about keeping kids alive still have a lot of work to do.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that American teens are smoking, drinking and fighting less. But a study found that teens are texting behind the wheel more and spending a lot of time on video games and computers. While too much screen time can boggle the brain and should be monitored, texting while driving is a much more serious issue.

It’s a behavior that falls between life and death.

Students at Vernon-Verona-Verona Sherrill got a glimpse of that last week while participating in AT&T;’s “It Can Wait” campaign. Students sitting in a “texting-while-driving simulator” had an opportunity to try out their texting prowess while trying to navigate on a highway.

“We want them to do it here,” said simulator instructor C.J. Johnson. “This they can walk away from. This is what really shows them.”

One who walked away was Kelly Breckenridge, who was texting for a pizza when she was suddenly T-boned by a pick-up truck and subsequently was slammed into a parked car. It took about five seconds. In real life, the 18-year-old senior might not be graduating later this month.

The lesson was a harsh one, and convinced Breckenridge to join 5 million others across the country who have signed a pledge to stop texting while driving.

The education must continue. Statistics show that more than 200,000 accidents in 2012 were the result of texting while driving. “Driving While Intexticated” is now the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers. Parents harping on their kids to refrain from this dangerous behavior isn’t enough, especially since parents and other adults, too, are often guilty of doing the same thing.

That’s what makes efforts like the “It Can Wait” campaign important.

Police are right to crack down, too, because strict enforcement and tougher penalties can also be a deterrent. Texting-while-driving convictions now add five points to your license.

Young and new drivers guilty of texting while driving will have their license suspended for 60 days on their first conviction, with a 60-day revocation then for any additional conviction within six months after the initial suspension.

Less smoking, drinking and fighting in the teen ranks bodes well for their future. No texting while driving will be one safeguard to ensure that they have a future.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/UM7clg

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