- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Post on New York state’s Board of Regents.

March 12

Never mind the Legislature’s vote yesterday to fill four seats on the Board of Regents. What New Yorkers want to know is this: Will the board uphold high standards - and hold teachers accountable?

Incumbents won three of the seats. But Regent James Jackson quit at the last minute, presumably because he lacked sufficient support. The winner, Josephine Finn, is a lawyer who runs spiritual Web sites and who was asked to run only days ago, well past the Jan. 31 deadline.

Such turmoil is unusual for the Regents. Because the Legislature votes as a whole, and because Democrats account for most of its seats, this usually means Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver picks the winner. But this year, lawmakers sought to pander to critics of the new Common Core standards - the teachers unions and parents whose kids did poorly.

As just one of 17 regents, Finn is not likely to change things much. But pressure on the board isn’t likely to abate, either.

Bottom line: If the Common Core rollout was flawed, as foes charge, it’s the Regents’ duty to ensure fixes. But they must also keep in mind they cannot please their loudest critics. Because the teachers union, in particular, won’t abide any regimen whereby teachers are held accountable - especially if standards and expectations are high, as they are under the Common Core.

Sure, the pandering by Republicans and Democrats alike was repugnant. But the ball is now in the Regents’ hands. We urge them to resist any watering down of standards.



The Syracuse Post-Standard on efforts in New York state to reduce layers of local government.

March 11

New Yorkers, it seems, want it both ways. We complain about how we’re being crushed by property taxes but shy away from making the hard choices that might reduce them.

The latest example is Elbridge, where the mayor’s proposal to dissolve the village into the town promptly was shot down earlier this month.

The village is in good financial shape now but stands to lose significant revenues over the next five years while facing some big expenses and a 2 percent tax cap, Mayor Hank Doerr says. Complicating matters is a legal tangle with the town over fire protection.

After staff writer Charley Hannagan’s story appeared March 3, village trustees got dozens of phone calls from residents who want things to stay just as they are. They like that their sidewalks are plowed, their trash picked up and Christmas decorations put up and taken down.

Similarly, many East Syracuse residents like having a police force dedicated to their village. In 2012, voters turned down a shared services agreement for police protection with the town of DeWitt. Their taxes rose 22 percent in 2013. Village officials have scheduled a do-over vote for April 2, though it seems that may have been premature.

It’s good that we’re talking about cutting government. But so far it’s just that - talk. Is the outcry for smaller government real, or is it the work of a vocal minority? If voters really want it, they should vote for it.



The Albany Times Union on sexual assault cases in the U.S. military.

March 9

The failure of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s long crusade to change how sexual assault cases are handled in the military is a loss not just for the New York senator, but for the men and women in the military.

It’s also a reminder of the sometimes maddening ways of the U.S. Senate, where a bill with not just majority support but bipartisan backing couldn’t even make it to the floor for a vote. Thanks in no small measure to members of Ms. Gillibrand’s own Democratic party, and thanks, once again, to the filibuster’s power turn a minority into a roadblock.

But realistically, even if the Senate had passed Ms. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, it was doomed in the House, where Speaker John Boehner and many of his colleagues are eager to defend the status quo.

That’s a status quo in which a survey found 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, yet fewer than 3,400 formal complaints.

Why? One-fourth of the victims said the offender was in their chain of command. Half the women who didn’t file a report said they had no confidence it would be acted upon.

Little wonder, in a system in which unit commanders, who often know the accused personally, make the call - the main thing Ms. Gillibrand sought to change by putting these cases in the hands of trained military prosecutors.

Little wonder, too, in a system where a nominee for undersecretary of the Navy makes the audacious statement that commanders need to weigh more than just evidence in such cases.

Congress did take steps in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 to try to remedy the problem and change the culture. It stripped commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, and required them to immediately refer sexual assault allegations to criminal investigators. It mandated a less than honorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault. It criminalized retaliation against complainants, and provided them with a lawyer. It put in place civilian review, from a service secretary, of cases in which a commander rejects a prosecutor’s recommendation for a court martial.

The changes may be having some impact. New statistics last week from the Pentagon show a 60 percent increase in the number of sexual assault reports last year, to about 5,400. Then again, that still suggests some 20,000 incidents went unreported.

Perhaps with commanders now said to be more accountable, the situation will further improve.

That’s for Congress - including the minority of senators who blocked Ms. Gillibrand’s bill, and Mr. Boehner and his colleagues in the House - to watch. And the top military officials who insist on these cases remaining in the chain of command. And President Barack Obama, who said if things don’t improve in a year, further action will be needed.

And especially Ms. Gillibrand, who we, and the men and women of the military, may look to again to fight the good fight.



The Middletown Times Herald-Record on the situation in Ukraine.

March 8

What’s most important about the Ukraine military standoff is that it hasn’t resulted in direct, armed confrontation. Given the high stakes and potential for superpower conflict, a shooting war must remain off the table as a way to resolve this crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems adamant that he will not back away from the military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula nor withdraw support for what he terms Crimea’s “self-defense forces.” There is little question that if Ukrainian military forces attempted to challenge Russia’s occupation, a slaughter would ensue.

Ukrainian forces corralled in their bases and on naval ships in Crimea are refusing to renounce their loyalty to Kiev, and their valiant stand is sufficient to make the political point that Russia’s aggression will not stand. The hard part is devising a Western response that gets the point across to Putin while leaving him a dignified way to reverse course and leave.

Putin might have a point about the unconstitutional nature of the massive protest movement that prompted a parliamentary vote for President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster. Even though his administration was rife with corruption, less than a year remained before voters could choose his successor at the polls.

A face-saving option would be for the West to work with Putin to organize internationally certified elections - provided Crimea votes as part of a sovereign, united Ukraine. (Let’s set aside, for a moment, the obvious contradiction that Putin feels so strongly about preserving democracy that he would invade Crimea, yet he stands firmly in defense of Bashar Assad, the unelected, anti-democratic, brutal dictator of Syria.)

To bring Putin around, he needs to feel some discomfort. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel correctly took the initial steps Wednesday by announcing beefed-up NATO air patrols in the Baltics, military training with Poland and a cancellation of Russian-U.S. exercises.

Travel restrictions for key Russian business magnates allied with Putin would get his attention very quickly. A cancellation of the upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, Russia, combined with restrictions on Russian hard-currency transactions abroad would send the ruble’s value plummeting and put severe pressures on Russia’s central bank.

Yes, Putin almost certainly would retaliate, as he already is threatening to do. But he has a limited ability to withstand sustained pressure while drawing heavily on Russian central bank reserves to keep his economy afloat.

The goal should be to drive this crisis home to Putin’s doorstep, forcing him to choose between domestic economic calamity and continued occupation of Crimea. To make Putin’s choices as clear as possible, major European powers must stop their equivocating and get onboard with sanctions. That won’t be easy or convenient, but it’s a far better option than allowing Russia’s aggression to go unchecked.



The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on changes in the Student Aptitude Test.

March 12

The iconic Student Aptitude Test has been intimidating and enabling students for almost 90 years.

It is one of the most reliable pathways into the college of one’s choice - and sometimes the biggest roadblock.

Now, SAT President and CEO David Coleman says they have engineered changes to make the test more current, useful and reflective of a student’s true chances for college success.

By now, most students, parents, teachers and administrators have read or heard about at least the most significant changes. The Press-Republican carried an article last Thursday that detailed some of those changes.

Starting in 2016, the controversial essay portion of the test will now be optional. Vocabulary words on the test will become more mainstream. The math segment of the test will focus on practical applications rather than a broad range of mostly outdated skills.

But among the most important improvements, as we see it, is that it attempts to give every student in America the same chance at success by offering free preparation exercises.

Up until now, SAT prep courses would run into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Those courses and practice books and CDs comprised a multi-million-dollar industry.

Parents who could afford it would spare no expense in getting their kids crammed full of information and tips that would give them a leg up on SAT day.

Students of poor parents had no such access, unless teachers at their school offered free prep classes, which only a handful around here did.

Coleman has forged a relationship with online prep veteran Kahn Academy to provide, free of charge, a review program for all students. All students now can be equally well rehearsed for the test, if they make the effort.

The idea was to make sure no one could say wealthy parents would be buying their kids’ way into college in competition with the “unprepared,” less affluent students.

By creating a more straightforward test, the so-called tricks to taking the SAT are minimized, if not eliminated. As Coleman said, “If there are no more secrets, it’s hard to pay for them.”

An example is the essay portion of the test. Students would be typically required, in 25 minutes, to expound on a theoretical problem presented to them. Prep companies would counsel students how to have an essay almost memorized and tailor it to the question.

Now, the essay part will be voluntary and will be based on a more familiar, historically based topic. No more memorizing, no more tricks. More equal opportunity for all those who opt to write an essay.

Some students, frankly, are better at taking big tests than others, regardless of their intelligence or aptitude. And that raises a whole other question about whether colleges should focus so heavily on SAT scores in determining acceptance.

But, for now, the SAT has taken steps to remove or at least limit the influence of affluence.



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