ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Post-Star of Glens Falls on New York state's teacher evaluation system.
If we want the quality of education to improve, it starts with great teaching.
So the implementation of teacher reviews this year was a great step forward. It will allow administrators to set the bar high, and give teachers — both young and old — a road map to improve throughout their careers.
We realize there will be growing pains in the coming years, and that an evaluation is only as good as the evaluator makes it, but state educators have taken the first step.
There are already some growing pains. We are specifically concerned with the program's transparency.
This is a tricky business, because we realize releasing performance reviews on each individual would not only be unfair to the teacher but counter-productive to the process, especially when it comes to young teachers.
Keeping teachers' identities hidden from the general public is paramount if the process is going to work.
The state decided only the parents or guardians of current students will be allowed to see the evaluations of their current teachers. That means regular taxpayers who pay the salaries of educators will have no information about what kind of job the teachers do.
That doesn't seem right, either.
The state said it will release some general information about the evaluations, but has not said what that will be or when it will be released.
The formula will put each teacher in one of four categories:
— Highly effective.
We suggest the state require each school to release how many teachers are rated in each category. So if 90 percent of a school's teachers are either highly effective or effective, you could surmise the teaching is pretty good at that school.
That overall snapshot of the school is far more important than any one evaluation.
This should be a pretty easy fix, and the state Education Department should make those statistics available immediately.
The second problem we see is the state has made it too hard for parents and guardians to get the information.
To find out how your son's or daughter's teachers were evaluated, you must first make a request in writing to the principal and then meet with the principal.
Who has time for that?
Most schools require contact information in the form of a telephone number, address or email address. Parents or guardians should be able to request the evaluation in any of those forms and get it immediately.
Requiring formal written requests and unnecessary meetings with administrators who have far more important things to do, is just mucking up the process.
Since the state has judged parents should have the information, it should also make that information easy to obtain.
The state should correct both of these problems immediately.
The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on the natural gas pipeline proposed for Lake Champlain.
Some people across the lake don't want Vermont Gas Systems to build a pipeline that would supply International Paper's Ticonderoga mill with natural gas.
The utility has proposed a pipeline extension from Middlebury, Vt., to the paper mill located just across Lake Champlain from the Green Mountain State.
That irked some Vermont officials and residents, who don't want the pipeline passing through their pristine communities to serve an industry in another state.
The reaction takes us back to Vermont's "we're small and special and unique" cliché, which New York state tourism officials have been hearing for years, especially when they want Vermont to pay its share of joint tourism projects.
Vermont used to issue Lake Champlain maps that showed the entire lake to be in their state. That gives you an idea of what they think of their neighbor to the east.
The most extreme reaction to the pipeline extension plan came from the chair of the Cornwall Town Select Board, who sent Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin a letter attacking the project.
He said the IP mill was profitable without the use of natural gas in its operation, that the emissions reduction would be slight and that any cost savings would just benefit International Paper's corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.
The guy seems to think he knows a great deal about the inner financial workings of the Ticonderoga mill.
The bottom line is that without the approximate $15 million in annual savings from the use of natural gas, the mill may not be around some day in the not-so-distant future.
The Ticonderoga mill is the most expensive to operate in the IP group, and the papermaker has already closed mills in Corinth and Erie. It is imperative that the local mill be able to take steps to reduce its operating and energy costs.
What industry doesn't need to reduce its energy costs? The boilers at the mill now burn fuel oil and tree bark and would be converted to use much cleaner natural gas.
Vermont, being an environmentally conscious state, should be commending IP for wanting to save energy and reduce emissions.
IP is the largest private employer in Essex County, with 600 employees, some of whom live in Vermont, not to mention the logging contractors from the Green Mountain State who supply the mill.
And the pipeline expansion, which IP would finance, would benefit Rutland, Vt., because it would enable Vermont Gas to extend natural gas south to that city. The company says it could not otherwise afford the extension.
Close the mill and watch the area around it become a ghost town in a short period of time. The ripple effect would take out many small businesses. Vermont would certainly suffer, as well.
We think it's time for Vermonters to put partisan considerations aside and support the IP pipeline extension.
The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Congress and the 16-day partial federal government shutdown.
Since our early days as a nation, Congress has been good for a laugh.
— "In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress." -- John Adams, second U.S. president
— "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain
— "The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." -- Will Rogers
Events over the past few weeks in Washington have served up even more fodder for the comics. But the reality of how far our elected officials have fallen makes it difficult to crack a smile. Indeed, public approval of government has never been lower.
Despite the jokes, there was a time not long ago when Americans actually liked their leaders.
John F. Kennedy averaged an approval rating of 70.1 percent. Think about that a second. Put 10 people in an elevator, ask about the president, and seven would agree he was doing a fine job. And get this: In March 1962, Kennedy's approval rating hit 83 percent. That means those seven folks in the elevator persuaded one to change their mind, leaving just two perpetually grumpy naysayers in the group.
Can you imagine this happening today?
President Barack Obama is averaging 49 percent approval to date. Not so bad, all things considered? Hardly. Richard Nixon, who endured the Watergate scandal, resigned from office with an average approval rating of 49.1.
Gallup polls show that Congressional approval hovered between 37 and 56 percent from 1974 to 2001. Since then, ratings have eroded, bottoming out during the recent shutdown. An Associated Press poll last week showed Congress' approval rating at 5 percent — with 83 percent of people saying they disapproved. Go back to that elevator. If you were among the 10 folks aboard and you said you liked Congress, eight passengers would likely throw you out at the next stop.
So what did Kennedy have going for him that today's politicians lack?
"Elected only 15 years after the end of World War II, the 'can-do' approach Kennedy carried into office with him captured the spirit of the era," wrote Alvin S. Felzenberg in a National Review essay that examined Kennedy's popularity. "When Kennedy was president, the vast majority of people still looked upon government more as a solution to their problems than as a cause of them."
It was a time of hopeful optimism.
It's still there, folks. America may not be as divided as you think. Another poll, this one by NBC and Esquire made public last week, suggests there are many more Americans in middle of the political spectrum than on the extreme left or right — they just aren't as loud.
The survey found that Americans remain patriotic and proud, with "a strong majority (66 percent) saying that America is still the greatest country in the world, and most (54 percent) calling it a model that other countries should emulate."
"Just because Washington is polarized doesn't mean America is," Robert Blizzard, the lead pollster for Mitt Romney in 2012, told NBC.
So it's OK to be upset with Congress, it's been the punch line forever and will be one for years to come. Just don't get too caught up in the name-calling, the taunting and the extremes. Keep your faith. Work to benefit your community. Listen to each other.
Despite the circus in Washington, we're still the best place on Earth.
— "The 1928 Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see His way clear to bless the Republican Party the way it's been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking." -- Will Rogers
The Buffalo News on the affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court justices have an opportunity to correct a wrong-headed decision by voters. The issue at hand is whether Michigan's voters violated the Constitution by forbidding race-conscious admissions at the state's public universities.
Michigan's Proposal 2 was a response to a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of race as one factor in law school admissions as part of the effort to ensure diversity in the classroom. But Proposal 2, approved in 2006 by 58 percent of voters, amended the state constitution to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment.
In the case now before the court, affirmative action advocacy groups have sued to block the part of the law concerning higher education. The decision could ripple across the nation. California has a similar ban on the use of racial preferences. Laws in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Washington also could be affected.
A decision to uphold the 2006 vote in Michigan will present a direct threat to diversity in college classrooms.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts said that it is "open to debate" whether preferential treatment actually benefits minority groups. His comment and the soft volleys he and his conservative colleagues sent Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch could be seen as predictable, and may signal how the court will rule. They left their toughest questions and scathing rebukes for those arguing on behalf of plaintiffs challenging the ban.
One of the four liberal justices, Elena Kagan, recused herself, presumably because she had worked on a case as U.S. solicitor general. That makes overturning the Michigan ban even more of an uphill fight.
Affirmative action is a controversial subject that generates strong opinions on both sides. The goal of diverse classrooms is a worthy one. Diversity helps create good citizens by allowing students to interact with others of completely different backgrounds. The controversy is over how to achieve that diversity.
While test scores are important in college admissions, many other subjective factors are considered. Such things as volunteer work, essays, alumni parents and high-level recommendations all tend to work against less-privileged candidates, including minorities. The use of race as one factor in deciding admissions is an attempt to level that playing field.
Affirmative action was never meant to be a permanent part of college admissions. It is an attempt to provide a leg up to groups that still suffer the aftereffects of discrimination. In her decision in the 2003 case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote, "The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."
Little has changed in America over the last decade to invalidate that decision. Diversity in classrooms remains important enough for race to remain as one factor in admissions.
The New York Times on the Obama administration's problems with its health insurance website.
President Obama rightly acknowledged on Monday that there is "no excuse" for the horrendously botched opening of the federal Web site consumers are supposed to use to sign up for health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. Unless the problems can be fixed soon, they threaten to undermine the ability of the health care exchanges to help enroll some seven million uninsured Americans in 2014.
The administration created the Web site so the buck necessarily stops with high officials — Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and President Obama himself — who allowed this to happen. The administration attributes the problems partly to unexpectedly high demand from people eager to compare insurance policies available in their states and partly to technical glitches that blocked or slowed people from submitting applications and erroneous data being sent to insurers. Why the administration failed to anticipate the high demand has never been explained. Nor has it clearly explained the nature of the technical problems — or who in government or among the private contractors is primarily responsible for them.
The problems with the site have frustrated millions of people trying to get information and coverage. In response, the administration has put forward a two-part approach to coping with Web site failures. It has added information technology experts from inside and outside the government to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to overcome the technical glitches. Second, it has expanded and publicized alternative ways to find out about health plans and costs — like increased staffing at call centers that will help people enroll by phone at all hours of day and night, counselors (called navigators) in each state who will help people enroll in person, and applications that can be downloaded and mailed in.
Mr. Obama also made this important pledge to all consumers who tried to apply through the federal Web site and got stuck somewhere in the process: "In the coming weeks, we will contact you directly, personally" to recommend how to complete the application, shop for coverage and pick a suitable plan.
It's now up to his office to make good on these promises, and there is no reason to believe it can't be done. The health exchanges in several states appear to be working better than the federal site. And even with the federal site's problems, some half-million Americans have successfully submitted applications through state and federal exchanges, the first step in the enrollment process.
Many Congressional Republicans are eager to exploit the start-up problems as evidence that health care reform is doomed to failure and ought to be delayed. They ignore the fact that Republican-led states contributed to the start-up problems by refusing to set up their own exchanges and dumping the task on the federal government.
Even so, carrying out the law and making the technology work is the responsibility of the administration — as are the swift repairs required to ensure that millions can actually sign up for the coverage they need.