Let’s drop the either/or nature of the debate

Both April 24 commentaries on testing were right, and both wrong. The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, as Gary Marvin Davison showed, are valid; preparing for them should reinforce instruction, not distract from it. But the MCAs are good for school accountability, not so much for student diagnosis. They tell educators how to tweak the curriculum next year, not how to help this student now.

Katherine Koch-Laveen was right that testing is not free but wrong when she said there is no evidence that it improves achievement. Her analogy with feeding hogs was cute but irrelevant. Hogs don’t eat because they will be weighed or because it is in their long-term best interest to gain weight. Students will work if they know something is on the test and if they believe it is in their best interest. Feedback from tests, even the MCAs, helps students know where they are.

Labeling testing a failure because it hasn’t closed the achievement gap is shooting the messenger. Teacher-built, classroom-based assessments are valuable, but can’t deliver the message about the gap. And adding a couple more days of instruction at the expense of formal testing implies that those few days will do something the other 175 days failed to do.

To quote Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Both writers will agree with me and Yeats on that.

Ronald Mead, Minneapolis

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From this vantage point, Obama has done well

An April 24 letter concludes that President Obama is too “appeasing.” Fascinating. Obama did end an illegal, costly and pointless war in Iraq. But this just seems smart, not appeasing. He also beefed up the war in Afghanistan, previously underresourced by his predecessor — hardly the act of an appeaser.

He violated Pakistani sovereignty to kill Bin Laden and has killed Al-Qaida operatives with drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa. He managed to support the liberation of Libya without committing ground troops but, of course, is faulted for a “cover-up” in Benghazi for what was an obvious and atypical case of incompetence on the part of his State Department.

He’s kept us off the ground in Syria for myriad good reasons, beginning with the absence of a clearly defined ally with whom to work.

In my view, Obama has been selectively aggressive but judicious in his intervention. Would the letter writer have us on the ground in Libya, Syria, Pakistan and maybe even Iran to stop the evil of Islamic terrorism? If so, Obama has my vote!

John F. Hetterick, Plymouth

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Perhaps the burden is being overstated

The April 21 article “Plan to hike alcohol tax stirs spirited standoffs” did a good job describing the issues being discussed in the Legislature. Let me add a couple of observations:

First, under proposed legislation, the credit against the tax will increase to 50,000 barrels per year. At 331 beers per barrel, that’s about 330,000 beers per week tax-free. Is Summit Brewing hinting at an increase in the credit? If so, it should ask for one. The larger policy question is: When does a small brewer become a big brewer and start paying the excise tax to offset alcohol-driven harm?

Second, information concerning profitability in the alcohol industry is hard to come by. A friend in the business told me that his margarita sells for $6 and that the liquor content costs 60 cents, so a 7-cent increase makes no difference for him. Wine, craft beer and tap beer also are good moneymakers.

The argument in the article that the impact of the tax will be doubled by the time it gets to consumers is made with no proof. It’s just an assertion, like the other claims of economic hardship if the bill passes.

Bill Messinger, St. Paul

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The U is a victim of its own utopia

I must admit, I have been amused by the heat the University of Minnesota is taking over its abundance of $200,000-a-year administrators. From the perspective of this conservative alum, it looks like the U is now the target of the collectivism it has been teaching for decades.

We recently saw it in the health care field. According to the collectivists, health care is a right. If a person can’t afford it, then the taxpayers have to pick up the tab. When the taxpayers can no longer afford it, the balance must be paid by the doctors, hospital administrators and industry entrepreneurs, who must reduce their compensation in service of the collective.

If health care is a right, then education is surely a right, right? That means it must be provided free to those who can’t afford it. After the taxpayers have paid as much as they can, the university administrators are the next to take a hit. It doesn’t matter what the market would pay them; the only relevant issue is how much the collectivists think they should receive.

When the collectivist “utopia” has been achieved, professionals, executives and entrepreneurs will work in service of the collective, for wages and benefits determined by the collective. Wealth will be concentrated in the hands of the politicians, activists and bureaucrats, just as it was in the old Soviet Union.

You have to give the collectivists credit; they never give up. Welcome to the Recycled World Order!

Gregg J. Cavanagh, Maple Grove