Letters To The Editor


July 03, 2005

Three factors limit success of middle schools

Recently, several Sun articles (e.g., "State schools results show slim progress," June 21) and an editorial ("Fixing middle schools," June 26) have lamented the lack of sufficient progress in Baltimore City middle school students' test scores. But there are three crucial factors the articles did not mention: Huge class sizes, large staff turnover and the reluctance of administrators to suspend physically aggressive students.

This last factor can be attributed to an action by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the Maryland State Department of Education. A year ago, a list was published of the state's most dangerous schools. The criterion for being named a dangerous school was the number of suspensions ("The dangers of telling the truth," Aug. 29, 2004).

No principal wants his or her school to be labeled dangerous, so this year, administrators were less likely to suspend aggressive, disruptive students.

The other two factors are a direct result of inadequate funding of the city schools by the state of Maryland and, to a lesser extent, by the city.

Huge class sizes and unfilled positions are common in Baltimore's middle schools. Classes on my hall this year averaged 40 to 45 students.

The high staff turnover is partly a result of the difficult working conditions and partly a result of inadequate salaries.

And now, after two years with no cost-of-living raise and teachers being asked to sacrifice because the system was in financial trouble, the system has a surplus. But none of it will be used to give city teachers even a minimal cost-of-living raise.

If the state and the city want better test scores in the middle schools, they will need to pay attention to these three basic things: ensuring smaller class sizes, supporting teachers' discipline and paying teachers a competitive salary.

Chris Mason


The writer is a teacher at Baltimore's Chinquapin Middle School.

Programs, promotion help students thrive

The Sun's editorial "Fixing middle schools" (June 26) and the related article "Fresh hope for schools" (June 26) thoughtfully described the public policy challenges involved with educating middle school students, especially those children with poor basic reading and math skills.

While the modest improvements in eighth-grade test scores is encouraging, two additional, non-school-based strategies would help substantial numbers of underachieving students make significant gains.

First, students of all ages need high-quality, outcome-driven after-school and weekend youth programs.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America did research in the mid-1990s that revealed the relationships between what kids do during their out-of-school time and how well they do in the classroom.

And the results were fairly obvious stuff - children who spend those hours doing educationally enhancing (and fun) activities get better grades.

Second, we need a high-visibility media campaign targeted at middle school students that emphasizes the positive achievements and successes that a student can get from doing well in school.

Gang leaders and promoters of the thug lifestyle preach 24/7 to our kids that school isn't cool. But such a media campaign could convince thousands more children that there's a better payoff if they stay in school, work hard and perform well.

Don Mathis


The writer is executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County.

It's liberals who seek to sideline religion

The Sun's statement that "judicial vigilance against the creeping encroachment of religion into public life is critical" is laughable to those of us who understand the history of our nation ("Left unsaid: Court commandments," editorial June 28). Religion is not suddenly encroaching into public life. Religion has been a large part of public life since our nation was founded.

Please, don't flip the issue. It is not that Christians are suddenly and secretively plotting ways to further enmesh religion into our town squares and courthouses.

It is liberal advocacy groups and assorted anti-religion judges who are unhappy with what has been standard practice in our nation since its inception, and who seek to change via the court system what they have been unable to change via the ballot box.

Elitist liberals who abhor religion and are intent on promoting a secular society are the ones who have changed the debate, and frame the Constitution in terms the founders never intended.

Michael DeCicco


Court right to limit display of Decalogue

I applaud the decision of the Supreme Court to disallow the display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses ("A split on commandments," June 28).

After all, we still have a separation of church and state in this country - although, given the proclivity of the present administration to disavow some of our most closely protected constitutional liberties, perhaps that will not last long.

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