Letters: Secretary Spellings, Adult Marching Bands

Melissa Block and Michele Norris read from listeners' letters and emails. Comments this week include responses from college educators to Michele Norris's interview with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. We also hear music from Atlanta's Seed and Feed Marching Abominable, one of a handful of marching bands around the country with a somewhat older membership.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

On Thursdays, we read from your email.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we'll start with response to Michele's conversation with education secretary Margaret Spellings.

NORRIS: I spoke to Spellings one year after creation of a special panel on higher education. Its mission - develop a plan for curbing costs, increasing access, and improving student performance at colleges and universities.

BLOCK: The discussion compelled a couple of college educators to write in.

Leslie Ferris of Lansing, Michigan, says she was pleased and alarmed after hearing the interview. She writes, "Since I teach at an open enrollment community college, I cheered at the call for more need based financial aid. However, I found the call for accountability troubling.

"I teach in a program that has a regular, thorough and longstanding assessment plan. From that perspective, it seems to me that the federal plan is working more slowly than we are. Furthermore, college educators have almost no control over the most important variable in the accountability equation - the students. Despite all the warnings we can provide, if students choose to participate in detrimental activities and in so doing fail to attend class or complete assignments, my institution and I are not responsible for the lack of academic success. The students are."

NORRIS: Spencer Kotkin(ph) of Chesterfield, Missouri, has a different perspective on accountability. He writes, "I rarely agree with the Bush administration, but I was glad to hear that Secretary Spellings is questioning just what the U.S. taxpayer is getting for its $120 billion investment. As a college professor for a dozen years, I can tell you that the answer is not much. One would think that everyone would demand more, but in fact, students, parents, departmental chairs and administrators demand less - less rigor, fewer essay exams, less material, less grief.

"However, I caution Secretary Spellings about asking for more accountability, as more accountability produces more administrators, more forums, more bureaucracy and less education."

BLOCK: Another debate over governance drew a number of letters from Texas this week. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported on an effort to build 18 new coal burning power plants in that state over the next four years. The plan has the backing of Texas Governor Rick Perry, but a coalition of Texas mayors, newspapers editors and environmentalists has been putting up a fight.

NORRIS: Ann McCready(ph) of Henderson, Texas, writes this, "I'm a resident of a rural county whose existing coal fired power plant is slated for expansion with outdated technology. And I'll repeat what I told our utility company representatives at a local hearing. After all that has happened with Enron, having our Republican governor fast track power plants to avoid environmental concerns is old school politics and an insult to Texans who look to the future."

BLOCK: We need to correct an error in another story that ran last week about new rules for particulate emissions from power plants. We said that the Edison Electric Institute didn't like the new standards because they aren't strict enough. In fact, the power industry group says the standards are too strict.

NORRIS: And an item in our newscast this week contained an error that bothered listener Najlah Amud(ph) of Overland Park, Kansas, among others. She writes, "Yesterday on my commute home I turned on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, as I usually do. I was just in time to hear Allah Akbar, or God is great, referred to as the Muslim battle cry.

"I have to admit that I had tears in my eyes for the entire way home. Before this point I had only thought of Allah Akbar as the beginning to a peaceful call to prayer or a small prayer to say when I see something beautiful, like the sunset or a field of wild flowers."

She continues, "I have always turned to NPR for an unbiased source of world news, but this news story left me with the feeling that one of my closest friends had turned on me just because of my religion." We regret that characterization.

BLOCK: Finally, a note from a listener who heard an omission in our story on the Ghetto Life Marching Band of Portland, Oregon. It's one of the handful or marching bands around the country with a somewhat older membership. Our story said the honor of being the oldest adult marching band belongs to the Second Time Arounders of St. Petersburg, Florida, 25 years young next year.

NORRIS: "Holy John Philip Souza, you've missed somebody," writes listener Kathy Gaylord. "The Seed and Feed Marching Abominable has been an Atlanta institution for 32 years. The band sounds really good for an outfit that looks outrageous and behaves that way too. We keep gaining young people but, yes, the people there at the beginning, including myself, have gray hair and are still marching."

(Soundbite of The Seed and Feed Marching Abominable)

BLOCK: We want to know what you think of our program. Go to NPR.org. Click on contact us at the top of the page.

NORRIS: And this, by the way, is the sound of the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable. You can see them in person this weekend if you're so inclined at the Walk to Defeat ALS in Atlanta.

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