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 OPINION PAGE - FEBRUARY 23, 2000 - COMMERCE, GA

Editorial
The Commerce News
February 23, 2000

Some Good In 'Reform'
Gov. Roy Barnes' "school reform" bill appears destined to become law, and it has some aspects that may be detrimental to education, from the loss of teacher tenure and its effect on recruiting teachers, to the two new levels of bureaucracy.
But, as Commerce superintendent of schools Larry White points out, it has its good points too. The primary advantage of Barnes' initiative is the reduction of the teacher/pupil ratio throughout the school systems.
Achieving the reduced levels will be tough. The state education budget will expand to accommodate the lower ratios; local school budgets will be strained to provide supplements and benefits for the extra teachers. Many schools, including some locally, will have to build new classrooms. It will be an expensive proposition.
But this action more than anything else in the school legislation will bear fruit in the long run. Lower teacher/pupil ratios mean more attention for each student and more attention should translate to better learning. Whether children are the so-called "at risk" students or the brightest in the class, they benefit from having smaller classrooms where each student can get more attention, more help. Smaller classrooms will also help teachers do their jobs better, reduce their stress and contribute to a better work environment. All of that portends better things for students.
A new local board for each school, a new "office of accountability" at the state level and penalties for schools that don't measure up will all create more problems than they solve. The governor's plan will create a nightmare for administrators in every school system in the state and a horror for administrators and teachers in systems with more "at risk" children. But when all is said and done, Georgia's children should benefit from a lower teacher/pupil ratio.


Do Voting Homework
By the time this newspaper reaches its readers, the Michigan and Arizona primaries will be over and it is possible that the nation will pretty well know who the presidential nominees from each party will be. Al Gore appears to have the Democratic nomination all but locked up, but there could be a longer battle among the Republicans.
We are a long way from the November elections, but not that far from Super Tuesday. It's time for voters to distill to themselves exactly what the issues are as the nation prepares to elect a new president.
The nature of the presidential campaign is that each candidate will expend more energy trying to discredit the other than in defining his own position. It will be a challenge to sift through what is written, what is said and what we see to try to pick the candidate we feel most likely to resolve these issues. That, however, is our obligation as voters.
All too often, support for a candidate is based on emotions of the moment. Polls indicate voter support waxes or wanes with each day, often based on how a candidate performed in the most recent primary. Ironically, voters have a greater ability today than ever before to learn about a candidate's positions, beliefs and record. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio all provide reports of the campaign day by day. Internet sites of the candidates can provide information about their positions, and even a novice can use the Internet to read a week's worth of reporting about the campaign and the issues from any of the major news organizations.
It is our obligation to be informed voters, and it has never been easier to be informed about an election campaign. There is time before the March 7 primary to become well versed about the Democratic and Republican nominees, and a world of time before the November elections. All voters should invest the time needed to choose candidates based on the key issues and the qualifications of the candidates. Let's take voting seriously and do our homework before casting a ballot.

Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 23, 2000

The Internet:
Maybe It's Not
A Fad After All
It has taken me a while, as new things usually do, but I am slowly learning to appreciate the possibilities of the Internet.
While those around me have been sending and receiving email for years, buying everything from books to cars on-line and chatting with people all over the world, I've pretty much resisted the lure of e-everything.
I'm slowly catching up to the trends of the 90s, though, even as the double aughts are under way. I am now computer semi-literate and am learning to enjoy the web.
The highest and best use of a computer is for the storage and retrieval of data. I'll add communication in a nod toward the benefits of email, but the web's function is to disseminate information. That a lot of the information on the Internet happens to be strangers having sex is beside the point; the Internet is unsurpassed in giving access to information on EVERY topic known to man and a lot of previously unknown topics.
To my surprise, I now get most of my international news from the Associated Press and Reuters as posted on Yahoo. I get the top stories of the day from Georgia, the United States, Canada, Europe, England, Ireland, Latin America and Australia. I don't always read them, but often I do. I also read selections from the New York Times, still the premier newspaper in America. For other reasons, I access the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Petersburg Times, and occasionally, I tap into the web sites of three or four magazines. I've been able to indulge myself in full coverage of the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries from multiple viewpoints all at the same place.
You can't read a magazine or a Sunday newspaper without finding reference to an interesting web site. Recently, my sister gave me a clipping about a site on which 2,500 books in the public domain are posted, from the Bible to the Canterbury Tales. Jay Jackson gave me the URL of an EPD site that posts all of the fines and penalties levied against companies in violation of state pollution laws. I went through the MainStreet Newspapers site to get a virtual tour of Wrangell, AK, and to get a copy of a state law.
Every business seems to have a web page too, although why anyone would visit the web site of Crisco, for example, remains a mystery.
To enjoy the Internet, I must be able to use it quickly and simply, which is to say I want to spend very little time searching. My favorite sites are those of businesses with which I am familiar outside the web. I go online, find what I want, read it and occasionally print it.
As for the trash that's on the web, I seldom stumble upon it. It's like shopping at Sears; if I want a Craftsman wrench, I look in the hardware section, not in the lingerie department.
By email, I keep in contact with relatives to whom I would never write a letter or make a call. I found a long-lost friend, I've sent scathing and complimentary email messages, ordered merchandise, but mostly just kept up with family.
And I do it all for free with one of two free Internet services. Call me old fashioned, frugal, cheap. I get my money's worth out of the Internet, and it's growing on me.
You know, it may be more than a passing fad.


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