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THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2010

A13

OPINIONS DANNY R. GAYDOU — Publisher — 222-5818 PAUL M. KEEP — Editor — 222-5508 119th year, No. 1

ED GOLDER — Opinions Page Editor — 222-5613

EDITORIALS

More days in school Gov. Granholm sparks important discussion about Michigan’s shrinking school year

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ov. Jennifer Granholm has launched an instructive discussion about the number of days children spend in school. The state has been headed in exactly the wrong direction on this point, trimming classroom days even as educational experts have made it clear that more days and a spread-out school year better serve youngsters. If Michigan is going to be competitive with other countries, much less other states, it will have to correct that math. The emphasis should be on doing what’s best for school children, not following an academic calendar made for a time when young people were expected to spend summer months working on the farm. Right now, Michigan law requires a minimum of 165 days of school. In the 2012-13 academic year, the number will increase to 170. In 2002, the state had a 180-day requirement. But lawmakers made a mistake by instead mandating 1,098 hours. That enabled districts to shorten school years, which is just what happened. The Center for Michigan did a study last year that found fewer than 2 percent of state school districts were in session for 180 days or more in the 2007-08 academic year. More than 40 percent of districts met for fewer than 170 days. Many districts didn’t meet the 1,098 hours standard because of snow days and other class time reductions. In fact, while 180 days is the national norm, it’s no gold standard. School children in countries that are our global competitors outscore American fourth and eighth graders in crucial math and science rankings. There’s a strong relationship between the countries that best us in the classroom and those that demand more time there. Consider some of the nations that did better than the United States in math and science, according to the 2007 International Mathematics and Science Study, the most recent study available. Those countries include

WHY IT MATTERS  Michigan students must be able to compete in an increasingly global economy. Japan (which has a 243-day school year), South Korea (220 days), Hong Kong (195 days), England (192 days) and Hungary (192 days). Gov. Granholm made her observations about an expanded school year during a visit to a Lansing classroom on the first day of school this year. “Other countries and other states are requiring more of their students, and we’ve got to do the same,” the governor rightly pointed out. “Parents ... understand that they want their kids to be able to be successful in college and in life, and if that means more time learning, so be it.” Following the long summer break — a break created for an agrarian age — teachers typically spend four to six weeks just getting students back up to speed. That knowledge drop-off is known as summer slide, and it’s particularly steep among lowerincome students. The disadvantage accumulates over the years, studies show. Expanding the school year would address that problem. So would spreading out the current school calendar more evenly, with the goal of making sure students don’t spend such a long period of time outside the classroom. These suggested changes raise immediate logistical objections from school administrators and teachers, even though most recognize the value of an extended and morespread-out year. Questions of funding and teacher contracts will have to be addressed. But those obstacles should not eclipse doing what’s right for Michigan’s students, not when a quality education and global competitiveness are more important than ever to their economic future.

MARK RUSSELL SAYS

Lately, several prominent columnists have stated, ‘today’s economic problems are structural not cyclical.’ I have no idea what that means, but it sounds knowledgeable, so I shall steal it.”

structural-cyclical thing has to do with workers’ skills “notThe matching available jobs. In Congress, this mismatch is a tradition, which continues in November.” — Tribune Media services

THE PUBLIC PULSE Transplant process seems backward The story about Kerry Hutchins dying because of a shortage of lungs available for transplant, plus the low number of organ donors in Michigan, raised this question for me (“‘This isn’t how it was supposed to end,’” Press, Sept. 2): Why don’t we assume everyone’s organs are available for donation unless the person has filed an objection with the Secretary of State? I think we have the process backward. There may be legitimate reasons why someone would not want their organs used, but the majority of people have no objection. It is not clear what the net effect would be on health-care costs if there were an unlimited supply of organs for transplant, but protocols can be developed to control transplant priorities if the transplant costs become unsustainable. The significant financial and human costs of the shortage of organs make this process worth addressing. If you doubt this, talk to a person on dialysis. CARL E. VER BEEK/Grand Rapids

Miles carries vast experience We are writing in support of Pat Miles, the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. Pat has lifelong roots in the Grand Rapids area, having attended both local public schools and Aquinas College. His work background is diverse, ranging from employment in a furniture factory to that of a business attorney. His community experience, too, has been extensive, as awards from a variety of local and state organizations attest. We view Pat as an independent, 21st-century thinker and problemsolver, who would work in a nonpartisan and collegial way on economic and policy issues for the benefit of all. For these reasons, we strongly support his candidacy for the U.S. Congress. DICK AND THALIA STIFFLER East Grand Rapids

Vets have rights in their own home This is in regard to the veterans smoking in the Home for Veterans

WRITE THE EDITOR The Press welcomes letters in three ways. Write: Public Pulse, The Grand Rapids Press, 155 Michigan St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 E-mail: pulse@grpress.com - no attachments, please Fax: 222-5212 All letters are subject to condensation and editing and should not exceed 200 words. The Press will not acknowledge receipt of letters. Space is offered for comment, not publicity. Writers must furnish their address and phone number. Writers are allowed one letter each 60 days.

(“Lighting up at the vets home,” Press, Sept. 3). I will have to admit I am not in favor of smoking, but in this case I certainly can’t see why they can’t be allowed to smoke in their home, after all it is their home. It sounds like the designated porches have worked just fine in the past. The vets should be able to have as much comfort as possible. DEANNA GARRETT/Middleville

Faith necessary for knowledge Stephen Hawking, British physicist and mathematician, says that the universe didn’t need a creator (“Hawking: Universe didn’t need creator,” Press, Sept. 3). Anselm, who was archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: “...unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” This is an important law of reason. Jesus Christ said, “In the beginning, God made them male and female.” He had in mind Adam and Eve. The trouble of Hawking is that he, along with all atheists and evolutionists, do not believe what Jesus says. HENRY VANTIL/Hudsonville

DeVos home didn’t rate front page Just read your front page article with regard to Dick and Betsy DeVos’ newly constructed 22,000 square feet of a so-called vacation home (“Home, super-sweet home,” Press, Sept. 8). Why this deserves front-page attention is beyond me. I’m sure their standards of grandeur will allow their family’s place to be a “gathering place for many

generations.” Our current governor has her failings, but to think Dick DeVos could have been ours is not only comical but scary. Considering the world-wide recession we are experiencing, have these folks lost all sense of reality? STEVE FREEMAN/Cannon Township

Smoke-free air enhances dining Michigan has now been smokefree for four wonderful months and I couldn’t be happier! As a frequent customer of Grand Rapids’ many restaurants and bars, I’d describe myself as “extremely satisfied” both with the efforts made to comply with the changes and my overall experience as a customer. My experience is made that much better now that I can take a deep breath. A great big thanks to Michigan for supporting cleaner air! MISTY CALLANAN/Grand Rapids

Small businesses need Pat Miles Pat Miles is the candidate for Congress who can best represent all of us in Grand Rapids. He is a resident of our community who has chosen to return here after law school to work rather than to leave the community. His 20 years of experience working with small businesses gives him the background to recognize and work for government policies and actions that will help Main Street and all of us in the process. Small businesses need lower taxes, research and development tax credits to generate innovation, and new technologies and investments in conversion to a clean energy economy. West Michigan small businesses can and should be a growing part of this new economy. And we all need an end to tax breaks for big corporations that are shipping jobs overseas — jobs that can be accomplished by West Michigan workers. Pat Miles has the maturity, knowledge, skill and community connections to be an effective member of Congress. He is determined to work to end the gridlock paralyzing Congress. Let’s send him to Washington to represent West Michigan and accomplish progress in West Michigan style. ANN M. COOPER/Grand Rapids

Troops shouldn’t be sent to aid corruption in Afghanistan WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

EUGENE

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ASHINGTON — Just how corrupt is the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan? It should be clear by now that President Hamid Karzai doesn’t want us to know. He’d prefer that we just keep sending our troops and our dollars, and not ask too many questions. Karzai’s government announced this week that American and allied advisers, dispatched to Kabul to help investigate extensive and endemic graft, will no longer be allowed to do any actual investigating. Karzai’s chief of staff told The Washington Post that the government is still determined to eliminate corruption, but intends to do so “within an Afghan framework.” And what a framework it is. Karzai is evidently upset that foreign advisers helped build a case against one of his high-ranking aides, Mohammad Zia Salehi, who is charged with soliciting a bribe — $10,000 plus a new car — from a money-exchange firm. In return,

ROBINSON OPINION according to the charges, Salehi was supposed to derail an investigation into allegations that the company, called New Ansari, had illegally shipped $3 billion in cash out of the country. Most of the funds ended up in Dubai, where many of the wealthy Afghan elite have settled. Salehi was arrested, but Karzai intervened to have him released from jail just seven hours later. Karzai has said that the use of wiretaps to build the case against Salehi was a violation of “human rights principles.” I wonder what other standard investigative techniques don’t fit within the “Afghan framework.” A serious, sustained probe of high-level Afghan corruption might hit even closer to home for Karzai and his family. His brother, Mahmoud Karzai, is one of the

biggest shareholders in Kabul Bank, the nation’s largest financial institution, which almost collapsed this week amid allegations that it was essentially being looted by politically connected insiders. Mahmoud Karzai lives in what the Financial Times describes as a “beachside villa” in Dubai. President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the most powerful political figure in the Kandahar region — and also, according to persistent allegations, a major player in Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade. He denies any involvement in the opium business, and Hamid Karzai vouches for him, so that’s that. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was in Washington this week to consult with President Obama, told The Washington Post that he has repeatedly urged Afghan officials to crack down on corruption. “All these stories about irregularities and corruption are damaging for public support for our presence in

Afghanistan,” he said, displaying his mastery of understatement.

Sacrifice of money and lives At this point, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying to prop up a government willing to tolerate — and, allegedly, eager to profit from — corruption on an epic scale, including vast commerce in illegal drugs. It’s also hard not to conclude that billions of dollars sent to Afghanistan by U.S. taxpayers — intended for worthy projects such as roads and schools — have been stolen by wealthy, well-connected power brokers who spend much of their time luxuriating on the beaches of Dubai. I’m not naive. Anyone familiar with the history of American foreign policy knows that this isn’t the first time the United States has lavished guns and butter on a corrupt regime. We did it all the time when policymakers believed we needed allies, however unsavory, who would serve as bulwarks against communism. But

the way we supported, say, the old Duvalier kleptocracy in Haiti is different from what we’re doing in Afghanistan, where our generosity is not just in dollars but in young American lives. This is more like our embrace of the corrupt government in South Vietnam — and we all know how that turned out. The Afghan government will never be able to win the nation’s allegiance if officials are seen, with justification, as being more intent on stealing than leading. U.S. and allied officials say that Karzai understands how important it is to end the corruption. The Afghan president’s actions, however, suggest otherwise. As for Rasmussen’s warning, he’s a little late; public opinion has already turned against the war. But now that we understand how things work, we could make our Afghanistan mission vastly more efficient: Bring the troops home and just send duffel bags full of cash to Kabul, Kandahar and Dubai. E-mail: eugenerobinson@washpost.com


GRP public service entry #4