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Teacher critics fail to consider forces outside the classroom

Most critics of public education today have never experienced a day in a classroom as a teacher. A recent Another Voice column discussed teacher transfer requests in Buffalo, and criticizes the teachers union.

If you knew that the future of your job would be influenced by the success or failure of your students, wouldn't you hope to teach in a low-crime, low-poverty community? Many factors outside of school can affect a child's success in school. The greatest determinants are known to relate to economic status and family structure.

Ten of our country's premier educational researchers in a distinguished Economic Policy Institute report caution against relying on student test scores for evaluating teachers.

Recent international comparisons of students in 60 countries have shown that 15-year-old American students perform approximately at the average level in reading and science and lower than average in math. But noted critics charge that the real underlying problem is that there is more poverty in the United States than in most of the countries in the comparison.

As usual in these comparisons, Americans in low-poverty schools look very good, even in mathematics. They would be ranked third in the fourth grade among 36 nations, and sixth in the eighth grade among 47 nations. This is important because while other developed nations have poor children, the United States has a much higher proportion and a much weaker safety net.

Teachers in high-poverty Buffalo have a formidable task. Now they anticipate being evaluated partly on their students' test results. They deserve encouragement, appreciation and cooperation. Parents can help by sending well-fed, healthy, well-cared-for youngsters to school every day. Would raising income levels also raise those test scores?

The fundamentals of good education involve the home, the community and the culture as well as the classroom.

Lenore Tetkowski

Grand Island

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Grain elevators require some creative solutions

It seems many people want to tear down the ugly, out-of-date, historic grain elevators. I had an idea to enhance them: would it be too tacky to paint them like books on a shelf?

The book titles and authors would be the names of our local authors and their book titles. For example, Mark Twain, author of "Huckleberry Finn" (heck we have the original manuscript in our main library); Tim Russert and Joyce Carol Oates just to name a few.

It would be interesting to see what other readers think.

Joan Gortzig

Snyder

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Rails to trails push should be supported

It was great reading Gerry Rising's Aug. 14 piece on rails to trails. I have biked the Pat McGee Trail in Little Valley a number of times, most recently with my husband, who rides a recumbent trike because he is a below-the-knee amputee. Biking is one of the few activities we can enjoy together.

Last summer, I made it a point to visit a number of trails in Western New York, among them the Canalway Trail, the Clarence-Newstead Trail, the Allegheny River Trail, the Friendship Trail, the Victor-Auburn Trail and the University at Buffalo Bike Path. They were all great fun! Unfortunately, each visit required that I put my bike on my vehicle and drive a considerable distance to enjoy these wonderful linear parks.

The proposed Erie-Cattaraugus Rail-Trail, which would run from Orchard Park through West Falls, Colden, Concord and Springville to Ashford, would not only fill a huge void for safe biking in the Southtowns, it also would most certainly bring positive economic development to each of these villages.

Anyone who has ever visited or driven through these towns can easily imagine the recreational and economic benefits this 27-mile trail would bring. In these tough economic times, it's hard to comprehend why any of these towns would reject the quiet, positive economic growth this trail would bring. It's simply the right thing to do for these communities and for the region!

Deborah H. Fenn

Orchard Park

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America must spend money on its citizens

As I watched NBC's "Meet the Press" on a recent Sunday, I could not believe my ears. Michele Bachmann responded to a question from David Gregory regarding the extension of unemployment benefits by saying that the country is broke. According to Bachmann, the United States is out of money and therefore cannot extend benefits for unemployed Americans.

I simply do not understand her reasoning in view of the fact that we continue to send billions of dollars to foreign countries, the most recent being the possible backing of a $12 billion dam in Pakistan. Not to mention paying full salaries to politicians after leaving office plus health care for the rest of their lives.

The question begs that if the United States is so broke, why are we still supporting foreign entities? Don't back the dam and put that money into unemployment, or better yet into projects to repair our infrastructure, thus putting people to work.

I have read many opinions in The News recently that reflect my sentiments, so I know I'm not alone. Do "we, the people," really have to take to the streets to change things? Perhaps so, since voting sure doesn't work anymore!

Paul Noreck

Buffalo

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Mayor needs to focus on city's noise graffiti

Recently, I watched Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown hold a press conference touting the arrest of graffiti vandals who struck the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

For me it only highlighted our government's myopic definition of graffiti since, for months, I have had to listen to a bunch of graffiti vandals spray our neighborhood with "noise graffiti" emanating from the riotous use of their high-powered motorcycles in the parking lot of the Buffalo Public Schools West Hertel Academy.

Practically every evening from 6 p.m. until dusk we are punished with high-pitched engine noise, squealing tires and clanking metal as the motorcycle front wheels hit the pavement after doing numerous wheelie stunts.

Little has been done to stop it. I won't even go into the lawsuit liability if anyone inadvertently or deliberately gets hurt using school property as a motorcycle playground.

I realize that maintaining a civilized society is a thankless job for many in government who are generously compensated to do just that but I would hope that our Mayor Brown will, at least, hold a conference call to put an end to this noise graffiti.

Matthew R. Powenski

Buffalo