Phonics isn't enough to develop the skills good readers...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 03, 2002

Phonics isn't enough to develop the skills good readers require

I'd love to know reporter Liz Bowie's source for her startling assertion that "balanced literacy" is "a catch phrase for whole language" ("Phonics text for reading questioned," Feb. 24).

While "balanced literacy" refers to the program of instruction now advocated by many former proponents of "whole language," the two approaches are certainly not the same. Whole language, in its early days, operated in part on the assumption that learning to read is as natural, and requires as little explicit instruction, as learning to talk.

Educators now know that readers use -- and need instruction in -- three important systems of information: the grammar of the language, the meaning of the language and the relationship between letters and sounds. Balanced literacy provides instruction in all these areas, rather than only in letter-sound relationships (as phonics does).

Phonics teaches you to "sound out" unfamiliar words; good readers know that other strategies include skipping the mystery word and finishing the sentence to see if context suggests a meaning that phonemic knowledge can then be used to verify.

Balanced literacy can help develop these skills; phonics shortchanges students.

Sutton Stokes

Baltimore

Baltimore shouldn't dilute a reading program that works

Baltimore's public schools are to be commended for their leap in test scores since 1998 ("Phonics text for reading questioned," Feb. 24).

Understanding what you read comes with reading fluency, which is achieved through structured, systematic, sequential and multi-sensory phonemic and phonetic instruction, not "balanced literacy."

With money invested in a proven textbook series and test scores on the rise, it would be irresponsible to dilute the current reading program.

Leslie Bachmann

Richmond, Va.

Report didn't recommend continued utility rate caps

The column "Time to pull plug on deregulation" (Opinion * Commentary Feb. 26) contained a significant error about the Office of People's Counsel's "Report on Electric Choice."

We have never advocated continuation of caps on residential electricity rates, and our report did not make such a recommendation. We have told the General Assembly that extending price caps would violate the restructuring agreements with Maryland's investor-owned utilities. The key is not to impose unfair burdens on the utilities, but to make sure consumers continue to pay fair prices for electricity.

Our report highlights post-1999 developments, including volatile wholesale electricity prices, possible market power abuses, financial difficulties of energy marketers and the general lack of interest by suppliers in residential electricity customers. We suggest that the General Assembly evaluate the electric choice program in light of these developments.

I understand both state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Jr. and Del. John A. Hurson are willing to undertake such a review.

Michael J. Travieso

Baltimore

The writer is people's counsel for the state of Maryland.

Penchant for secrecy shows scant faith in democracy

The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and obfuscation -- seen in the case of military tribunals, Vice President Dick Cheney's claim of executive privilege over Enron's input to the White House, and now an aborted attempt at distorting information through the "Office of Strategic Influence" -- should be extremely disturbing to all freedom-loving Americans.

Being put in office by the Supreme Court rather than by the electorate does not excuse the Bush administration from treating our country like a democracy.

John D. Venables

Towson

Fighting global warming can boost our economy

President Bush has taken a defeatist attitude on climate change by claiming that efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions are inherently costly ("Bush outlines plan on global warming," Feb. 15).

To the contrary, many means of climate-warming mitigation could help our economy and create jobs. One of these, which senators should push for in the energy bill, is to increase average fuel economy standards for both cars and light trucks to 40 miles per gallon.

As shown by the hybrid vehicles on the market that get more than 60 miles per gallon, we have the technology to reach this goal sooner rather than later.

The higher up-front costs of this technology would be more than offset by savings on fuel. Such savings could mean $1.6 billion annually reinvested in the American economy rather than sent overseas to OPEC, and create a quarter-million jobs.

Richard Klein

Owings Mills

Sept. 11 attacks reveal nothing but barbarism

You always have to be slightly suspicious of a writer who calls his own opinions "more sobered and reasoned" ("Sad to see America's ego intact," Opinion * Commentary, Feb. 24). Yet I continue to be astounded by the viewpoint that the acts of a madman and his assistants on Sept. 11 should somehow "awaken us to why we are so despised."

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