Punishing teachers won't solve problem
Maybe we are missing something, but rating teachers based on tests taken by students who are chronically absent just doesn't make any sense. If absentees don't learn, the problem isn't bad teaching, it's their absence. Lots of people in Buffalo are insisting that the teachers must agree to such ratings, but we haven't heard a single rational argument or shred of evidence to support the notion that absentee scores are a useful measure of quality teaching. Nor has the State Education Department made a case.
All we hear is that teachers must sign on or the city schools will lose money. The teachers union is right not to acquiesce to this absurdity. As Donn Esmonde's column on March 11 made clear, punishing teachers will not solve the problems in our school system. We in Buffalo, and the state and national governments, need to take a wider view of the causes for the problems we face.
Agree to requirement with ability to file suit
Though penalizing teachers for poor performance on the part of absentee students seems absurd on its face, I think I understand Albany's insistence. It seems to me that all parties in an educational system have a responsibility to take sensible steps to keep each other honest. I believe that giving teachers a pass on their absentee students fails the sensibility test: it burdens the teachers with disincentive to impel their most trying students to attend school. A well-intentioned attempt to assure effective teaching would inadvertently make it more difficult for teachers to muster the energy to help their most vulnerable charges.
The children of students the system didn't succeed in engaging in the past would grow up to become the parents of more children the system couldn't engage. In an economy with decreasing capacity to sustain schools that produce adults who are a drag on that economy, that prospect is a dead end.
In order to protect Buffalo teachers as well as possible while sparing our children the effects of the monetary loss threatening the district now, I suggest the Buffalo Teachers Federation agree to Albany's requirement, but in a manner that doesn't preclude a class-action suit in the future. Class action or not, I think the union will use its legal fund effectively whenever it gives vigorous support to individual teachers who believe they've been evaluated unfairly, because forcing the district to bear legal costs to defend its practices related to attendance will compel the board to give attendance issues the attention they require.
I believe that over time, and especially because urban systems throughout the country are struggling with similar issues, fairer evaluation processes will evolve, attendance initiatives will improve and teachers will experience the satisfaction of better educating all their students.
Use two-step process to evaluate teachers
I suggest a two-step process. First, teachers are evaluated based on the performance of all of their students, as requested by the state. Next, students are categorized into two groups: low attenders (absent more than 25 percent of the time) and high attenders (the rest), which should please the teachers union. Even a college student taking elementary statistics could determine whether there was a significant difference in performance between the two student groups. If there are no performance differences between high and low attendees, the teachers of that subject should at the very least be sent for remedial training. The other teachers could be rewarded on a scale commensurate with their students' performance.
Certainly the details could be worked out, but a win-win solution should not be that difficult to obtain.
Judith E. Larkin
Professor of psychology
Canisius College, Buffalo
Dedicated volunteers should be able to sit
On March 2, my son and I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful performance of "Les Miserable" as guests of my dear friend and her daughter at the magnificent Shea's Performing Arts Center. We arrived at least 20 minutes before show time. The lobby was extremely crowded with happy, excited patrons milling about.
As our foursome proceeded to find our assigned seats, we were politely and professionally assisted by several courteous and friendly ushers who may have already blown out their 60th birthday candles. Naturally, we thanked them for their help in being our own personal GPS.
After we were seated, I turned to my 16-year-old son and told him that while I expected him to be respectful to all people he encounters, he should be especially polite and grateful to the ushers because most of them are volunteers. I further explained that they were allowed to see the shows for free, unless it is sold out, in a gesture of thanks for their devoted services.
Little did I know that I should have given my gratitude speech to the president and CEO of Shea's. He was quoted in the March 14 News as saying, "I can't be more blunt to say that [being there for their own entertainment] is not a reason for volunteering. Some just don't want to conform, and I'm sorry about this, but while I'm here our focus is customer service, period."
My friend and I agree, as customers, this is not how we feel the wonderful volunteers should be treated. We appreciate all the volunteers offer in time, travel and achy legs and feet in order to make our theater experience more enjoyable. Volunteers should be allowed to view the play when their duties are not required and the show is not sold out.
Nobody is forced to usher at Shea's
I would like to present another side of the story on volunteering at Shea's. Many of the disgruntled ushers have bad attitudes because things have changed. These changes have been explained many times, yet they continue to complain. All issues in The News article have been addressed, but now it seems that the route to go is to try to embarrass Shea's.
The annual volunteer training session is necessary to meet fire codes. I have seen volunteers rudely gripe out loud as staff are trying to brief us about the new season and changes. The evacuation of a large facility in case of a fire is something that must have a refresher session yearly. Non attendance could risk public safety. These people rightly have been let go.
Every performance, Shea's management thanks us for our service, stressing how important we are to the impression the patrons take away. As to not being able to sit when seats are available, the touring companies actually "own the house." If they want to give Shea's permission to let the ushers sit in available seats, it is their call, not Shea's.
We have often seen many ushers seated in sections that are in front of or along side patrons when it is clearly stated where we can sit when seating is allocated for us. These ushers do disturb the paying patrons when they come and go during the performance.
If we don't get a chance to see the performance, we all hear the beautiful music no matter where we are in the theater.
I am proud to usher at Shea's. Volunteering is done for many reasons. Are they volunteering for themselves or for the organization and to help people? Remember, no one is forcing anyone to usher.
Shea's is a jewel in the Buffalo community. Personally, I feel that the ushers who are so disgruntled and dissatisfied might not be the people Shea's would want to represent it anyway.
If pension is poor, then work elsewhere
There seems to be a lot of controversy over the passage of the Tier VI pension plan for "yet to be employees" to fill "yet to be open positions" in the future state work force.
For those concerned about "yet to be employees" having the future of their families stripped away from them, they should be reminded that this is still a free country, and they can spare themselves the agony of that future by choosing to work in the private sector. If the Tier VI plan is so inadequate that it fails to attract a work force, maybe the state can outsource the work and spare the taxpayers the burden of future pension liabilities.
New York's officials never share the pain
Why does only the little guy get cut? I just wanted to put my 2 cents in. I can understand Gov. Andrew Cuomo getting his pension package passed in the dead of night by state lawmakers. They agreed to cut pensions for new workers by 40 percent. Why didn't they also agree on cutting their pensions by 40 percent? Their pensions are the ones out of line. They cut the little guy all the time, but always take care of themselves. They should take a cut, too.
It's time for U.S. to leave Afghanistan
Imagine if the United States were occupied by a foreign army. After 10 years of uninterrupted carnage, we learn that a sergeant in the foreign army shot and killed 16 innocent U.S. citizens. Nine of them were children; one was a 3-year-old girl. The sergeant killed many of the victims with a single shot to the head before he piled together 11 of the bodies and set them on fire. Tell me, what would our reaction be?
Stop forcing elephants to perform circus tricks
The photographs of "the spectacular Shrine Circus" on the March 16 picture page were disheartening at a minimum. In particular, the photo of what could possibly be an 11,000-pound elephant balancing herself on a ball that could hardly fit her four feet, with a circus performer sitting on her back, was sickening and heartbreaking to me. The elephant's face and eyes tell the whole story.
It is beyond my comprehension how intelligent people can find amusement and entertainment from the captivity and training of wild animals to perform completely unnatural acts for a circus's profit. There's much injustice and lots of wrongs in the world, but the mistreatment of animals is especially foul to me.
Elephants are known to be intelligent, extremely social, self-aware, communicative mammals that are born to roam in the wilds of Africa and Asia, not experience the confines of a circus existence. Animals do not possess the autonomy of human beings. If circuses need to be, let them be filled with acts based on human skill where people can determine for themselves if they want to train to perform out-of-the ordinary feats. I know I am not alone with these sentiments.
Carolyn C. Koelmel