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Everybody's Column

>State educational system needs a serious overhaul

This week, advocates and groups across the country are promoting National School Choice Week. This is a perfect time since New York State needs a serious overhaul of its educational system. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State address, we are first in spending and rank 34th overall in results. As a whole, American 15-year-olds rank 35th out of 57 countries in math and literacy, behind almost all industrialized nations. Obviously, we are failing our children in giving them the means to excel in the new global economy.

Part of the problem in New York State can be shown by some telling statistics on how we spend our money. The Empire Center's data show that we spend $19,000 per child on kindergarten to grade 12 education. They further report that the average teacher salary for New York is $71,370. The national average is only $54,179, which means we pay our educators an additional $17,191 for minimal results. This proves that spending the most doesn't guarantee the best outcomes. As a whole, we need to review what we are doing and reform our educational system to turn it around.

This is the perfect time to use free-market principles and investigate the use of more charter schools, voucher systems, tax credit programs or even virtual schools. Parents need to educate themselves on alternatives to failing school districts. Cuomo's competitive grant system shouldn't be the only option we consider.

Gregory P. Thrun

Americans for Prosperity, New York

Chapter, Grassroots Chairman

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>Politicians are crushing the life out of taxpayers

Knowledge is knowing how to dig a hole, while wisdom is knowing what to do with the hole. One only has to look at all of the failed, pending and proposed projects around Western New York to realize that government, at all levels, produces all sorts of holes but it can never figure out what to do with them. While politicians are content with digging holes to gain favor with the public, the leftover dirt is piled ever higher on top of the taxpayer.

Millions of years ago, huge glaciers of ice crushed the life out of everything below them. Now we have the same thing happening today as politicians, along with special interest groups and government unions, crush the economic life out of of everything in their path as their glacier of economic stupidity moves slowly to smother every aspect of the taxpayers' economic livelihood.

Matthew R. Powenski

Buffalo

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>Let's clean up our own act before we criticize China

Last week's visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao has once again prompted discussion of human rights and democratic reforms in China. In a thinly veiled speech, President Obama chided China for not doing enough on these supposedly key issues for the United States. Instead of criticizing China, Obama and the United States would be well advised to instead examine just how good an example we set for the rest of the world with regard to human rights and democracy. The record suggests that we do not have the moral authority to criticize or speak out until we clean up our own act.

For example, the United States supports a Saudi Arabian monarchy where women have no rights and are viewed not as persons but property. We don't press the Saudis to change their human rights policies. In Iraq, women have been reduced to property. Thanks to the United States, Saddam's once secular society is gone. It has been replaced by a dysfunctional, corrupt theocratic democracy dominated by men. In Afghanistan, the plight of women has been largely ignored by coalition forces. Did I mention the secret CIA prisons?

Here at home, the Supreme Court struck a lethal blow to democracy and fair elections by ruling in favor of corporations in the Citizens United decision. Winners of important national elections now will be determined by what big business wants, not the people. What about the Patriot Act and spying on our own citizens? How are these examples reconcilable with human rights and democracy?

It is true that China has a long way to go with regard to human rights abuses. However, China has 1.3 billion people. The United States has 311 million people. Have you ever wondered what life would be like in the United States if we had the same number of people as China?

Francis Gallagher

Wilson

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>Comparison of schools ignores critical details

Robert Samuelson's recent column regarding the rank of our schools against the industrial nations of the world finally states what American schools have been claiming. For the past two or three years, the media have been criticizing American schools because our performance by students in testing scores ranks 17th out of 34 nations in an overall rating.

Shanghai (which is not a country), South Korea, Finland and Japan are ahead of America. As Samuelson points out, we do a good job educating our children and the media have not been telling the rest of the story. How many of those countries have the diversity of students that America has? None of them. Do they include all children in testing, as we do under No Child Left Behind? Our public schools test every child and their scores are counted, and that includes children with learning disabilities.

They don't do that in other countries. In Europe, children are separated -- those who will go to university and those who will not. The students going to university are the scores that are reported. Again, our report scores include everyone. When comparisons are done, let's do it on a level playing field.

Raymond Carr

Cheektowaga

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>Rhetoric not responsible for shootings in Arizona

I am tired of hearing that rhetoric is responsible for the murders in Arizona. Rhetoric is not responsible. Jared Lee Loughner is responsible. He did not have the maturity or the intelligence to deal with a society where different viewpoints, and the expression of those viewpoints, is accepted and respected. The misguided actions of one individual do not determine who we are as a nation.

In our country, freedom of speech is one of our most prized and protected rights, as well it should be. Is the talk always going to be pleasant? Of course not. Emotions run high in political debate and many times extreme utterances are used to get important points across to a largely uncaring population. For our country to exist, all sides of an issue must be heard.

It doesn't matter whether you agree with a viewpoint or not -- the right to express and hear that viewpoint is what's important. The final, determining factor in the United States is what is expressed at the polls each year. No one is ever 100 percent happy with the results, and he shouldn't be. We are a nation of many different ideas and people and all of them should have a voice.

Jeanette Engel

Tonawanda

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