- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Jan. 16

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on terrorism:

By slaughtering a dozen staff members and contributors of the French satirical, and very coarse, weekly Charlie Hebdo, Islamic extremists thought they were putting an end to the publication they considered blasphemous to their religion - and many others as well.

Say what you will about Hebdo, it is an equal and enthusiastic offender.

The terrorists achieved the opposite of their aim. At a cost of considerable bloodshed, including their own, the terrorists have achieved the long-term survival and financial health of a thin tabloid of limited appeal that may have been doomed to fail in any case.

Although Charlie Hebdo claimed a circulation of over 65,000, independent sources put it at 45,000, this in a city of over 2.2 million.

On Wednesday, the magazine had an initial print run of 1 million and there was still demand for more of the issue whose cover featured a snarky cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, who by many Islamic traditions is never depicted.

Soon the novelty will wear off and so will the feeling of being a defender of the free press by subscribing to a paper that survives on shock value, generally a depreciating asset.

To be frank, Hebdo had the humor level of newly minted teenagers snickering in an alley.

It was gross enough that America’s mainstream cable networks, generally not thought of as delicate shrinking violets, refused to show its contents on the air.

Thanks to a pair of crazed religious fanatics, Hebdo now has something it heretofore lacked and because of its often obscene content seemed unlikely to get - deep-pockets mainstream backing.

The French press has raised over $600,000 to keep Hebdo going, a consortium of publishers has kicked in another $300,000, a sum that a foundation financed by Google has pledged to match, and two French TV giants and the influential newspaper Le Monde vows “its team will bring together all necessary means to ensure that Charlie Hebdo continues to live.”

Not bad for a magazine that runs heavily to cartoons of world and religious leaders having sex with each other in exaggerated and imaginative positions.

Nice going, terrorists.

In a week, the names of the killers (look them up, if you care) will be a trivia question but thanks to their lethal handiwork Charlie Hebdo will achieve what passes in the publication world for immortality.




Jan. 21

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on standardized test scores:

Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to temporarily scale back the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations is a reasonable reaction to the shifting landscape in education politics in Tennessee.

The change, made in response to teacher concerns, is a tactical redeployment of the governor’s educator evaluation policy, not a headlong retreat. Reducing the emphasis on test scores while sorting out the use of Common Core standards and developing evaluations that are fair to all teachers is a prudent step at this point.

The bill authorizing the change was one of three filed last week as part of the governor’s legislative agenda for the first session of the 109th General Assembly. The proposal grew out of a summit Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell hosted in September and subsequent meetings statewide involving more than 150 educators.

Haslam’s proposal would dial back the use of student achievement data from English and math examinations from 35 percent of teachers’ evaluations to 10 percent in 2016. The weight given student scores rises to 20 percent in 2017 and back to 35 percent in 2018. The bill also would lower from 25 percent to 15 percent the weight assigned to student achievement growth for teachers in grades in which tests are not administered and for teachers who do not teach the tested subjects.

Teachers have complained, with some justification, that using test scores is unfair to those who do not teach subjects that are tested. The evaluations are used to assess teacher competency and help determine whether they keep their jobs or school assignments.

Complicating matters is the debate over the use of Common Core State Standards. The state has employed the standards, which were developed at the direction of governors and state education chiefs, since 2010. Last year, however, the Legislature voted to nix new student examinations that measure their progress on meeting the standards. With opposition to Common Core mounting, especially from conservatives alleging federal overreach, Haslam has called for a one-year review of the standards in an effort to fend off a possible legislative scuttling of them.

The delays mean that students once again will be tested this year using exams not meant to measure progress against the state’s standards - a situation akin to learning how to operate a computer but being tested on using a typewriter.

A new test is under development for use next year, but the delay shortchanges students and likely would have a negative effect on the evaluations of many teachers if Haslam’s bill fails.

The governor has shown leadership by his insistence on maintaining higher standards for students while finding ways to make teacher evaluations fair and effective. He has listened to criticisms and made policy adjustments without sacrificing principles. Reducing the emphasis on test scores while sorting out the use of Common Core standards, rolling out tests appropriate for students and developing evaluations that are fair to all teachers is a prudent step at this point.




Jan. 15

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on state health crisis:

We smoke too much. We weigh too much. We don’t get enough exercise. That, in a nutshell, is a sobering description of the health of most Tennesseans.

Our health rankings among the states stink: 45th in overall health, 46th in tobacco use, 47th for obesity and 49th for physical activity.

“Forty-five is not just a number,” Tennessee’s Department of Health commissioner said. “If we don’t change, it’s our future.”

These statistics aren’t just something to tut-tut about. Poor health costs us money, lots of money, in hospital care, doctors’ bills and other areas.

“Unhealthy employees are less productive and need more sick days, which reduces their efficiency in workplaces,” the CEO of Nashville’s Chamber of Commerce said.

“There really is a health crisis in this state,” the vice chancellor of health affairs at Vanderbilt University said.

Our crisis stems not from some unknown virus for which we have no cure, but from everyday lifestyle choices that we make.

Unfortunately, some want to politicize the situation. They see Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed health insurance expansion plan, called Insure Tennessee, as somehow related to the Affordable Care Act and therefore highly objectionable.

“This has nothing to do with Obamacare,” the CEO of St. Thomas Health said. “It’s a way to get billions of dollars of taxes that Tennesseans are paying that are going to less-effectively designed programs in other states, and bring them back here.”

The main problem is that the cure for Tennessee’s health problems is for people to change their style of living.

That’s one of the hardest things in the world to do. But we must.





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