BACK IN 1998, the folks who run the Children's Scholarship Fund of Baltimore surprised everyone but themselves when 20,000 kids from low-income families applied for 400 scholarships to the city's parochial and private schools.
The amazing thing was that they did it without a great deal of publicity and with no newspaper or television advertising. Final tabulations showed that 44 percent of eligible Baltimore families applied for the scholarships, financed in part by a small group of businessmen who wanted to prove that city children in public schools would switch to parochial and private schools given the chance and the wherewithal.
That was nearly twice the national average of 24 percent.
The fund is back again, quietly announcing a Jan. 15 deadline for a new round of 500 scholarships, to be awarded by lottery at the end of January.
Having learned lessons the first time around, says fund director Suzanna Duvall, the program is inviting only public school students to switch this year, and it's restricting eligibility to kids entering kindergarten through third grade.
The first round of scholarships went to pupils through the eighth grade, and 40 percent of the scholarship winners switched between private or parochial schools.
The fund is hoping to raise $2 million for the new scholarships, to be matched by money from the national scholarship fund, headed by financier Theodore J. Forstmann and John Walton, a member of Wal-Mart's founding family.
Duvall says the fund wants to tap into community organizations and individuals this time around. Funding for the first scholarships came primarily from the city's major foundations and businesses.
Duvall furnished statistics for the first class of scholarship winners, now in their third year. Of the original 400 kids, 305 are still in the program, 158 of them at Catholic schools, where the average tuition is $3,351. Almost all the rest went to religion-based schools, but nine students are at four independent college preparatory schools, where the average tuition is $11,253.
The average family income of scholarship winners is $23,903 this year, and the average scholarship is $1,430.
Information for applying: 410-366-FUND.
This award means exactly what it says it means
Each year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) gives out a "Doublespeak Award" to organizations and people who use public language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing or self-contradictory.
This year's prize, given out at the Baltimore Convention Center Nov. 18, went to the U.S. Defense Department for its "creative use of language in public pronouncements" regarding the Bush administration's proposed missile defense system.
After several failed tests of the system, NCTE noted, the department had to resort to "considerable linguistic ingenuity" to defend it. The Pentagon did this, NCTE said, by simply redefining the meaning of "success" and "failure."
The NCTE presented its 2001 George Orwell Award to Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber for their book Trust Us, We're Experts!: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future, which details language abuse by the food, chemical, tobacco and oil industries.
Community college professor honored
It's good to see an award for good teaching going to a community college professor.
Sylvia Sorkin, a professor of computer science and mathematics at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus, is the 2001 Maryland Professor of the Year, an award given out by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Sorkin has been a professor at Essex since 1988.
Book donors can attend Seuss event for free
Children who donate new or gently used books to Baltimore Reads will be admitted free to the Maryland Science Center Saturday for "Seuss Day," celebrating Dr. Seuss' whimsical rhymes and memorable characters.
A Seuss exhibit at the center runs through Jan. 31.
College puts its money where its basketballs are
This month's award for wretched excess in college sports goes to Duke University, which has given its men's basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, a lifetime contract. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Krzyzewski earned $588,000 last year, $162,000 more than Duke paid its president.