Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

October 23, 2005

School closings need very careful scrutiny

Thank you for Thursday's article on school closings ("Supporters turn out for Western," Oct. 20), a topic that merits a high level of public scrutiny.

However, the article closes with some shaky assumptions about how much excess space the school system operates.

Our schools are not merely under-utilized, they are severely "under-programmed." Many schools don't have art, music or physical education facilities or science labs that our students need.

Furthermore, there is an urgent need to reduce class sizes, and that would require the use of more classroom space.

Before citizens accept the assertion that the city school system has 5.7 million excess square feet of space, we need to know how much space would be needed to bring the system's programs up to acceptable standards.

One other note: In a school system in which only 55 percent of the students graduate from high school, how much space would be needed if we kept more of them in school?

Charlie Cooper

Baltimore

The writer is a member of Baltimore Education Advocates.

Flunking students boosts drop-out rate

Because his column addressed an important issue with broad implications for our children, I wish Gregory Kane's comments on grade retention had included a little more complexity and a little less sarcasm ("Paying for the hard bigotry of no expectations," Oct. 15).

Mr. Kane's general argument for high expectations for all students is crucial and welcome, but he ignores some important considerations along the way.

The biggest of these is that retaining students (especially twice) might exacerbate the tragic drop-out rate in the city.

There is quite a body of literature showing that grade retention might in fact be the largest cause of eventual drop-out - even more decisive than academic performance.

That means that of two students who perform equally poorly, the one who is held back is more likely to drop out than the one who is promoted.

We can avoid this without creating more sad stories like the one Mr. Kane tells about Fantasia Barrino. This takes not just better leadership, however, but more resources, especially to recruit and train quality teachers.

To tackle the disproportionate challenges faced by city children, our schools need disproportionate funding.

As long as we refuse to provide the financial support our city schools need, we will continue to fail the students they serve.

Jeremy E. Skinner

Baltimore

The writer is a former teacher in Baltimore's public schools.

Tall buildings alter the city's sightlines

I wish to correct two suggestions in The Sun's editorial about skyscrapers in Mount Vernon ("No compromise in sight," editorial, Oct. 14).

First, the editorial insinuated that we who oppose buildings of up to 23 stories on historic Charles Street are acting out of "self-interest."

I am centrally involved in "fighting the height," and I have no financial interest in any properties along Charles Street. And to compare the "self-interest" of neighbors to those of a single billionaire D.C. developer is grossly unbalanced.

Second, buildings as tall as those proposed by the Planning Commission along Charles Street (100 feet to 150 feet) between Madison and Chase streets would block the view of the Belvedere Hotel, which has remained unchanged since at least 1915.

The Sun's editorial, without explanation, asserted that the Planning Commission's proposal would preserve the view corridor and the prominence of the Belvedere, and that is simply false.

Jonathan Fine

Baltimore

The writer is treasurer of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

New master plan does little for city

It doesn't matter how many colors its map has or how complex Baltimore planning director Otis Rolley III's new comprehensive plan is ("City vows to sweat the details in its master plan," Oct. 20). You need people to make a city thrive.

While Baltimore keeps losing population, places such as Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago draw immigrants from around the world to live in even the most distressed city neighborhoods.

A new plan won't help a dying city like Baltimore.

Charles Belfoure

Westminster

Restoration mars basilica's beauty

While we all acknowledge the genius of Benjamin Henry Latrobe in his design of Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption ("Basilica's history wins out over purity of design," Oct. 16), did that stop the artists at the nation's Capitol building (which Mr. Latrobe also designed) from adding significant works of art to its interior?

I have seen the plans for our basilica, and my immediate reaction was that it was like a New England Congregationalist church, devoid of any Catholic character or tradition.

I have been told that in the days the basilica was designed, Catholics had to hide their faith. And the decision-makers on this reconstruction project thus chose a rather dull and uninspiring interior.

Well, folks, its almost 200 years since the basilica was built, and as our faith has evolved, so has our way of expressing it in art and worship.

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