A Mr. X Moment
Having just experienced a "Mr. X moment" a few days ago during a school reunion wherein during the course of some political discussion I proudly stated my confidence in President Bush's leadership, I felt the disapproving stares and stunned silence among some startled attendees. Indeed, the chill was easily sensed ["Mr. X's Neighborhood," Mr. X, Opinion, November 22, 2004].
I later shared this moment with a more like-minded colleague to get his perspective on this. After relating to him how suddenly the atmosphere changed toward me upon my declaration of support for Mr. Bush to this group, he likened their reaction to being the same as any "fundamentalists" of any various religions, who need answers for everything, and who have inculcated answers for anyone who dares to challenge their established beliefs.
By describing the "politically correct," left-of-center, liberal, Bush-haters essentially as the same people they are most eager to scorn, I felt as if he hit on a most salient point. Intolerance based on ignorance is bad enough, but when practiced by those who deem themselves enlightened, it is downright benumbing to anyone attempting to state an opposing valid perspective. How is it possible to penetrate an orthodoxy so steeped in its own ego?
Ph.D. Holders Poor Teachers
Regarding Paula Sutter Fichtner's "Dressed for Success" [Opinion, January 5, 2005] on the surfeit of Ph.D.s in humanities and social sciences: Many such doctorates are acquired in education schools whose academic standards have been tainted by political/ideological agendas that have harmed our public education system. I am speaking particularly of the field of reading/literacy where our children's capabilities have been in decline for years. A 40-year emeritus professor colleague has confided to me that, in recent decades, any thesis favoring phonics and critical of whole-language would be automatically rejected.
In 1999, The Literacy Council conducted a computer-driven study of factors affecting the performances of Long Island school districts, and found advanced teacher education to exert a strong negative effect on pupils' Regents exam successes. A sophisticated spreadsheet program was engineered to analyze all 98 Long Island school districts with enrollments of 100 or more that administer Regents exams. Using data from both the Census and the New York State Education Department's Web site, the program generated "predictions" of district "performance," defined as their percentages of students passing all eight Regents exams, averaged over the past 5 years.
Letting the computer repeatedly re-compute, while assigning weighting factors to the "inputs" (class size, etc.), the program achieved an astounding overall prediction correlation (R) of 0.977, far higher than any known efforts heretofore - roughly equivalent to a prediction accuracy of 97%. Input data included average class size, expenditures per pupil, years of teacher experience, etc. As the computer sought to optimize its overall prediction "R," it computed for each input a partial correlation "r," a number showing the strength and direction of that input's influence. Standing out above the herd with an 'r' of +0.245 was the Census item giving the Percentage of Adults with Bachelor's Degrees or Higher. (Though this item may align as much with ZIP codes as with school district boundaries, its predominance was undeniable.) The next two positive influences were Attendance Rate at +.074, and Median Years' Experience of the Teaching Staff at +.073. The most startling finding concerned the "Percentage of District Staff with Doctorates or Masters-plus-30-Credits:" That item's 'r' was the strongest school-related factor: -0.106 - but carried a negative algebraic sign. Thus, the more graduate credits acquired by a district's teachers, the worse its pupils scored on regents' exams. Copies were sent to all of the Regents, but they have gone ahead with the requirement that all teachers acquire master's degrees nonetheless.
CHARLES M. RICHARDSON
South Setauket, N.Y.
Menacing Delivery Bicyclists
Harris Silver's article skirts the real problem of bicycles in Manhattan ["Stop the Bike Ban," Opinion, December 30, 2004]. Because they do not carry any identifying license plates, and because policemen are not posted on every city street, most accidents do not even get reported.
There may not be a need for recreational cyclists to register, but the need for commercial bikes to carry either a license number or the name of the business making deliveries is critical to pedestrian safety.
That delivery cyclists are in a hurry, that they do not obey traffic signs, that they do not stop at red lights, that they go the wrong way on one-way streets, that they often have no lights, that they are not deterred from breaking the law because they cannot be caught, is obvious to all Manhattanites.
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