- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

How to measure student success

The announcement on Tuesday that high schoolers’ SAT scores nationwide rose to their highest levels in years should provide little comfort to parents and taxpayers (“SAT math scores hit 3-decade high,” Nation). Changes in the SAT make comparisons to scores in past years inaccurate and misleading, and the tests are intended to reveal student aptitude, not mastery of subject matter.

Of much greater concern should be high dropout rates, which have remained unchanged since the 1970s. Fewer than half (and as few as 16 percent) of students are proficient in reading or mathematics, and no progress has been made in making classrooms free of drugs, violence and the unauthorized presence of alcohol. More than half of U.S. high school graduates fail to read well enough to qualify for jobs requiring more than manual labor. American students score last or next to last in international science and math competitions.

The country’s public schools cry out for real reform. Why not allow parents to choose the schools their children attend and require schools to compete? Nothing else has worked so far.

JOSEPH L. BAST

President

Heartland Institute

Chicago

Word play

In his Commentary column on Wednesday, “Language gendarmerie on patrol,” Paul Greenberg unjustly demeans groups such as English First that wish to protect and unify American civic life by requiring all public discourse to be in English when he likens them to the insular and haughty French Ministry of Culture, which wishes to prevent individual foreign words and phrases from entering everyday discourse. His analogy is both snide and inaccurate for several reasons.

No reduction in the acquisition of words and phrases is either implied or required in the designation of English as the official language of the United States. Instead, such designation serves to unify us as a people and prevent expensive and impossible requirements such as former President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13166, which required that all public services be provided at all times and in all places in a babel of 187 or more languages.

Groups such as English First are working to oppose already mandated government interference in our civic lives — making the U.S. government more akin to the French Ministry of Culture than the groups Mr. Greenberg wishes to impugn. Because of mandates such as EO 13166, government interference, one might argue, ensures there is less “natural selection” of words and phrases enriching American lives: People who keep their native languages do not share in the common civic or social life of the nation; their insularity isolates them and their languages and prevents language sharing.

Government mandates such as EO 13166 kill “natural selection” when they arbitrarily attempt to regulate the spontaneous life of the United States.

Regulation like this makes “language gendarmerie” of the U.S. and French governments, not groups such as English First, which has no quarrel with the natural selection and enrichment of the English language by the people themselves.

PEGGY SHEKEM

Springfield

Read my lips: no new taxes

I read with dismay the Wednesday editorial “Chichester’s high-tax folly.” It is amazing that we have politicians who don’t seem to comprehend the basic principles of economics.

Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee chairman, John Chichester, wants to raise the state’s taxes. If only we could get Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for governor here. He could expand his news conference enumeration of the taxes a Californian is subject to upon rising to brush his teeth and being dunned for a water tax.

The biggy that affects Virginians (and possibly no other states’ residents) is the tax paid at the breakfast table as a food tax on the toast, the butter on the toast, the cup of coffee, the cream for the coffee, the sugar, the eggs, the bacon, the oil to cook the bacon and eggs and, of course, the heat to cook the breakfast and the water to make the coffee. The taxpayer gets a break regarding the 4 percent tax on the food items, whereas his toothpick and paper napkin come in at 4½ percent.

Mr. Schwarzenegger would be helpful here to roll back the car tax as he intends to do in California. My 2003 car, in its second year, will still cost me $801 for 2003. Thank goodness for former Gov. James Gilmore, who reduced taxes to the current rate.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also mentioned his support for California Proposition 13 and cited a relieved homeowner who indicated that she could keep her home. I, like many others, am on a government pension that increased 1.3 percent last year. Our real property taxes went up 14 percent. Our local member of the county board publicized that she had reduced property taxes. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, apparently she doesn’t know that property taxes are the combination of the tax rate and the assessed value. Such is the point Mr. Schwarzenegger made: The tax gain from increased assessment value accrues after a sale is made, a la a capital gain for stock — and not on an annual basis. Again I say, government officials should have a required course in economics.

Let me add that the money-grubbing state of Virginia has no limit on property tax increases such as that notorious state of Massachusetts (often referred to as Taxachusetts) that has a limit of 2½ percent per year, or California, which has a limit of 2 percent per year. I do understand that a bill to limit Virginia property taxes to 5 percent failed to pass during the past legislative session. Also, I add that California has the same fiscal year as Virginia, but collects the first half-year tax Dec. 10, versus Unfairtax County, which collects on the last workday in July — and the second half in California is by April 10 versus the local Dec. 5.

Virginia, with high government employment, has an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent versus the national average of 6.1 percent — so who is wasting the enormous tax take in Virginia? As Fox News states, we give you the facts, and you decide. Let us hope we do just that in November. Throw the rascals out if they don’t take a pledge to hold the line on taxes.

JOSEPH P. CARRIGAN

Fairfax

Transportation security?

It is ironic that the Bush administration’s Transportation Security division of the Homeland Security Department is determined to intrude unconstitutionally on our privacy and severely limit our civil liberties (“New screening system gets bipartisan slam,” Page 1, Tuesday) as part of its mission to maintain aviation security.

While all air passengers go through an elaborate charade which includes screening, x-raying and removing their shoes. the cargo that is loaded right beneath their feet on every passenger flight is never screened.

What good is all the rigorous personal screening, as well as the proposed invasion of our most private records, when saboteurs are given a clear path to wreak havoc by merely packing up their bombs and explosives as freight cargo, loaded without examination onto passenger planes?

ALICE SLATER

President

Global Resource Action Center for the Environment

New York

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