Saturday Mailbox


November 15, 2003

Educators should promote writing as a top priority

In reacting to the demise of the Maryland Writing Test (MWT) and the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), Gail Lynn Goldberg's article "Keep Maryland writing" (Opinion

Commentary, Nov. 5) made a number of excellent points that Maryland educators should heed:

Educators need to conduct ongoing conversations about effective writing instruction.

Teachers need continuing staff development in strategies for effective teaching and assessment of writing.

All subject areas need to hold students responsible for the quality of their written work.

Without the MWT and MSPAP, what can individual schools do to ensure that students will receive the writing instruction they need and that they can demonstrate effective writing skills by the end of Grade 12? Recognizing that the job of teaching writing does not belong to English teachers alone, this year Eastern Technical High School Principal Patrick S. McCusker has started a schoolwide writing initiative that could easily be duplicated in other schools. It includes the following:

Diagnostic testing of all incoming Grade 9 students in basic concepts of grammar and usage. (In the spring, students will be tested again on the same concepts to assess progress.)

Ongoing staff development, which includes analysis of student writing samples, discussion of what is acceptable and unacceptable work, and review of comma rules and concepts such as parallel construction, for instance.

Creation of a writing guide distributed to every student at the start of the school year that establishes basic rules and expectations for submitting written assignments such as essays, lab reports, homework discussion questions and other written work.

Evidence from every teacher in every discipline that quality written response is central to the instructional program.

Having teachers model good writing practices for their students.

Teaching writing well requires much time and effort on the part of the teacher, and learning to write well demands much practice on the part of the student. Students need to write often, write about subject matter that is important to them, and write to a real audience. In addition, they need sensitive feedback - and opportunities to revise, revise, and revise some more. Making writing a priority for all stakeholders in a school would go far in maintaining (and even improving) what Ms. Goldberg refers to as "Maryland's classroom writing culture."

Harry J. Cook


The writer is chairman of the English department at Eastern Technical High School.

Fairground is wrong location for slots

I understand that times are hard, and revenue generation is at a premium. It is hard to believe that to "fix" the current revenue shortage one of the choices being pursued is slot machines at the state fairgrounds in Timonium ("Deal on slots taking shape," Nov. 5).

Traffic is already an issue on York Road. Slots here would do nothing but create continuous traffic all day, exacerbating a long-standing problem that already exists with little to no direct community benefit.

The fairgrounds have always been a family place with family values. Minors wouldn't be allowed in the areas where slots are located, so parents and their children would be separated when the parents want to gamble for a while. What good is that?

Do I think slots should be available in Maryland? It seems apparent that we have to increase revenue, and states all around us are pursuing this option. Do I believe Timonium is the right location? No. The fairgrounds already serve a purpose.

If we want to get into the gambling business, let's do it right. Get a large enough tract of land to provide the type of amenities that this element would require. The state needs a showcase, and neither the Timonium nor the Pimlico location is big enough to handle the requirements. If we aren't going to provide the right environment to attract the dollars we need, then we aren't using the right tactic.

I urge our legislators to reconsider their approach.

Chris Harvey


Gambling for revenue will be a losing bet

The issue is still gambling - not where or in what kind of emporium or casino. Yet recent newspaper reports would lead one to believe that the "fight" is between those who want slots at racetracks such as Pimlico to support the sagging racing industry and those who say the state would get more revenue from full-scale "destination" casinos at such places as the state fairgrounds in Timonium or the Inner Harbor ("Deal on slots taking shape," Nov. 5).

In April, the Maryland legislature, to the delight of those who oppose gambling, killed a bill that would have allowed slots at Maryland racetracks.

Now, except for the fact that the racetrack people are at odds with the casino people, it looks as if efforts to thwart gambling as a state revenue source will be needed even more.

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