Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 01, 2006

An obvious solution to two city problems

Sunday's Sun carried the first part of a series delineating the decline of the neighborhood around the old American Brewery ("A Neighborhood Abandoned," June 25) along with a column by Jay Hancock on the threat posed by the region's shortage of apartments ("Apartment shortage is a threat to Md. economy," June 25).

The solution to both problem areas seems to me to be quite apparent.

Could not an entrepreneur (or the city) purchase the abandoned buildings in the area around the brewery and rehabilitate them?

Those houses, once renovated, could be used as rental properties.

This would provide much-needed housing, improve the neighborhood and, with police cooperation, perhaps lessen the impact of drugs and drug dealers in the area.

Maybe I have worn my rose-colored glasses too long.

But it seems to me that, with enough commitment from private companies and with government financial backing, this area could become a gem in Baltimore's crown.

D. L. Sobelman

Joppa

Schools stand by graduation rate

The Sun's article "Schools challenge report" (June 27) focuses on the wrong issue.

The issue is not that Baltimore's promising and improving graduation rate statistic has been overstated; the issue is that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) should join other state departments of education to defend its official statistics against a seriously flawed analysis.

Using data purporting to represent more than 11,000 school districts, Christopher B. Swanson calculated an index that Education Week published as a proxy for the percentage of students who graduate from high school.

But his "Cumulative Promotion Index" is quite different from defining a cohort of ninth-graders and checking their graduation status at the end of high school, which is the way that the MSDE and most other states measure graduation rates.

Mr. Swanson's analysis could not control for students who move to other counties. And he made no allowance for students who need more than four years to graduate.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Swanson's approach resulted in a report that charged almost every state (except Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia and the District of Columbia) with inflating its graduation statistics.

By his calculation, the MSDE's figures for Baltimore County's graduation rate are 6 percent too high, Montgomery County's are 10 percent too high and Anne Arundel County's are 13 percent too high.

Officials at the MSDE and the U.S. Department of Education acknowledge that there are many ways to calculate graduation rates. But ultimately there is only one correct method: to treat the individual student as the unit of analysis.

This method requires that states track students as they cross county lines.

Graduation calculations should also recognize that many students complete high school in more than four years, and that reporting only on-time graduates underrepresents the accomplishment of school systems.

At present, no state or national graduation rate recognizes students who need more than four years to finish or credits districts for dropouts who are coaxed back to complete their schooling.

Regardless of the limitations of such state graduation formulas, states are much closer to the critical data needed to generate reliable statistics than researchers such as Mr. Swanson, who are a further step removed.

The Education Week report that faults almost every state's graduation statistic is critically flawed and superficial.

The Baltimore school system stands by MSDE's official graduation-rate statistic for the city, which itself is conservative.

Last year, our MSDE graduation rate was 59 percent, and we believe the 2006 rate will be higher still.

The graduation rate is an area in which we are making excellent progress, and we are justifiably proud of our students' accomplishment.

The MSDE would better serve the children of Maryland by defending the work of its own staff instead of using the Education Week report as an opportunity to criticize Baltimore.

Benjamin Feldman

Baltimore

The writer is the research, evaluation and accountability officer for the Baltimore public schools.

Interim school chief will be a big asset

It was with pleasure and professional pride that I heard that Charlene Cooper Boston has been called upon to return to Baltimore and serve as interim school superintendent ("School officials look to Boston to build bridges," June 21).

It is imperative that a superintendent of schools know the children, parents, local leaders, teachers and curriculum and show a genuine concern for the growth and success of the entire system.

Ms. Boston knows and understands all of this and has high expectations for all of Baltimore's children. She knows the parents and calls on them to be responsible for the success of their children.

Local leaders know Ms. Boston and she knows them. She is no stranger to the offices in Baltimore City Hall or the offices and halls of the State House in Annapolis.

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