Start with the finest teachers that the Rochester schools can attract, given budget constraints. Then add a whole bunch of kids from populations typically at risk for failure: from households of poverty; where English is a second language; minority families; and kids with special learning needs or abusive or neglectful homes.
Subtract the large portion of the curriculum that can't be measured on a standardized test: creativity, hands-on experimentation, long-term projects, current events, and cooperative work (in a word, all the best stuff, for both students and teachers.)
Factor in the genuine risk to teachers' health that results from this deficit. (I know that if my parenting job suddenly shifted from supporting my kids to mandatory abuse of them, I'd call in sick on a regular basis.)
Add the costs of teacher absences from the classroom, which are required by the state several days each year for training to administer and score the new state tests. (Students feel abandoned and confused and behave badly; the subs know their job is just to tread water and dodge spitballs or worse. No wonder the district has to pay top dollar for replacements!)
None of the above takes into account the taxpayer dollars that can no longer make it into the classroom in the form of additional supplies, equipment, full-time teachers, teacher training, or meaningful field trips. (Significant state funds are tied up in developing, printing, securing, distributing, administering, and scoring the tests, and publishing meaningless score reports.)
Result: soaring teacher absenteeism and a true deficit in learning --- district- and statewide --- which is nevertheless touted by the Democrat and Chronicle as "increased" test scores.
Parents and others who are fed up with this cockamamie new "Regents math" are calling for an end to state tests.
Legislators plan to hold hearings around the state this winter to hear the stories of families who have been impacted by the NYS tests. There is much that can be done, both before and during the hearings, to bring home to policymakers that learning is damaged by test-driven schools.
Concerned citizens are invited to contact "Putting Children First" (phone 585/872-4267 or e-mail PtnChildrenFirst@aol.com) for information on how to make their voices heard by the people who count.
Marcia Weinert, 1210 Severn Ridge Road, Webster 14580 (Weinert is coordinator of "Putting Children First.")
George Grella's verbose movie reviews are often haughty and inaccessible, and are usually better at putting me to sleep than informing me about current films. Perhaps Mr. Grella should consider modifying his style if he expects readers to maintain an interest in his opinions.
Francis O'Leary, East Avenue, Rochester
Didn't you know that County Executive Jack Doyle's budget cuts are intended to turn human-service providers into bartenders and prison ministers?
Why, they should name a drink after him: the Doyle punch. Take two parts lemon juice, two parts whiskey sour, one part almond extract, three parts crushed ice, one part recycled pulp from useless county contracts. Mix well in rusty blender.
That should effectively numb the brain cells we need to realize that these cuts will drive more and more psychiatric-care recipients into homeless shelters or into the more expensive penal system that will hog even more tax dollars down the road.
It should be obvious that Jack is neither a rocket scientist nor a doctor. He couldn't comprehend the Hippocratic oath of "do no harm." Maybe he should be standing in the street begging for alms wearing a hollowed-out pork barrel. Then I would tell him that he should have been smarter with his money.
Ian Spier, South Clinton Avenue, Rochester
I think everyone agrees that the Seneca Zoo needs major improvements. Modern zoos are using wide-open areas to show wild animals in the context of their natural environment. Typically, 100 acres is needed. There is absolutely no way that type of expansion can occur in Rochester.
The proposal to spend tens of millions of dollars on a minor physical expansion does not make any sense; when completed, it will not have the size or quality to attract large numbers of people. Political, historic, and esthetic reasons also have stalled this plan.
Rather than proceed with lawsuits and contentious debate, why doesn't the community create an innovative alternative that limits the physical expansion, keeps capital expenses to a minimum, but develops a unique zoo environment that can attract regional and national attention?
The concept I propose puts less emphasis on live animals in wide-open spaces but maximizes the education of patrons by giving them a vivid audio and visual experience of the animal kingdom, mixing art, interactive play areas, large photos, high-tech video, and a large, low-tech petting zoo. Such vivid, real-life observation of the animal kingdom would give patrons a more exciting experience than can be obtained from current zoo displays, where animals are in a natural setting but are much too far away to appreciate.
Place large colorful "animal art work" throughout the zoo, and create a large interactive play area for children using the art as the basis for play. Construct a mini-Imax Theatre, where real-life three-dimensional films of the animal kingdoms are shown.
Saturate the long roadway from St. Paul Street to the zoo entrance with all types of large animal art. Wire the zoo with speakers that transmit sounds of the animal world. Rent space for a large "zoo-themed restaurant" with indoor-outdoor seating. Sell naming rights to the zoo and have corporate sponsorship of special seasonal attractions.
Bring together the strengths and creativity of our community: high-definition image technology, local artisans, creative use of landscaping, all in a concentrated area. This would create a unique zoo experience that could have a regional and national draw. Don't try to duplicate other nearby zoos. Throw away current zoo plans, dismiss the typical cookie-cutter zoo consultants, and plan an exciting alternative that is unique to Rochester.
Dennis Michaels, Elmwood Terrace, Rochester