Saturday Mailbox


April 26, 2008

Idealistic teachers stay in profession

While respectfully acknowledging former teacher Julia A. Gumminger's harrowing experience in a Baltimore classroom ("City students who run amok have many victims," Commentary, April 21), I take issue with her characterization of alternative teaching programs such as Teach for America and the Baltimore City Teaching Residency as having "sky-high" dropout rates.

It is a common presumption, particularly among educators and journalists, that these "young, energetic and idealistic teachers" who are "trained to be educators in a matter of weeks" are the first to flee the classroom.

As an investor in alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project's Teaching Residency, we at the Abell Foundation commissioned a study in 2005 to better understand the impact of these programs on teacher retention in the Baltimore public schools.

That study followed the trajectory of every new teacher hired by the school system from 2000 to 2005.

Surprisingly to some, we learned:

*After two years, teachers from the alternative teaching programs were more likely to remain in city classrooms than traditionally certified or conditionally certified teachers.

*Three-year retention rates for Teach for America teachers were as high as three-year retention rates for certified teachers in Baltimore.

*Although many Teach for America teachers left after three years, teachers in Baltimore's other alternative certification programs remained with the system at higher rates than regularly certified teachers through years four and five of their teaching careers.

In addition, these alternative certification programs were more likely to attract male teachers to the profession as well as to fill openings in critical needs areas such as science, mathematics and Spanish.

Many of the Teach for America alumni who remain in education also rise to leadership positions in the school district and Baltimore educational community.

Today, there are 12 Baltimore principals and three administrators of private education programs that work in the city schools who are Teach for America alumni.

Furthermore, a March study by the Urban Institute finds that Teach for America teachers are more effective than veteran teachers in producing higher test scores among high school students.

Ms. Gumminger is correct that the staff turnover rate in Baltimore, like that in most urban school districts, is too high.

Let's not lay the blame, however, at the feet of alternatively certified teachers, who continue to make a contribution, often in difficult schools where other teachers dare not tread.

Bonnie Legro, Baltimore

The writer is a senior program officer for the Abell Foundation.

Oil industry pays billions in taxes

Last year, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry delivered record amounts of fuel to American consumers. It also invested more than $180 billion in new oil and gas and alternative energy projects.

The year before that (the latest year for which numbers are available), it paid more than $90 billion in income taxes with an effective tax rate nearly twice the average rate for all other manufacturing industries.

This record doesn't justify changing the tax rules for oil and gas companies, which is what Jeffrey Hooke advocates in his column "Say no to Big Oil" (Commentary, April 22).

Mr. Hooke fails to grasp that more taxes would do nothing to increase production of oil and gas, which is one thing that could help consumers.

He ignores U.S. government restrictions that hamper increased oil and gas production at home.

Finally, he seems unaware that his tax proposals would hurt the tens of millions of Americans who hold oil company stock in their IRAs or 401(k) accounts or draw pensions from government retirement funds invested in oil company stocks.

John Felmy, Washington

The writer is chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute.

Israel can't talk with terrorist foe

The Sun gets it right in the editorial "Carter's gambit" (April 23).

A sovereign state such as Israel cannot be expected to engage in conversation with an organization that does not recognize its right to exist.

Hamas' firing of missiles on a daily basis into Israel, with the intent of killing innocent civilians, which causes continuous psychological trauma to the residents of the town of Sderot, and its dispatching of suicide bombers are hardly behaviors consistent with "peace-seeking."

Hamas defines terrorism in its ultimate form.

Marc Okun, Stevenson

Why is embassy in Iraq so costly?

For several years we've been reading that, with a price tag of $736 million, the embassy the Bush administration has built in Iraq is the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy anywhere in the world ("U.S. takes ownership of embassy in Iraq," April 15).

I don't recall The Sun ever publishing a photograph of this super-sized embassy, but I wish it would. We taxpayers should at least be able to see what President Bush has spent our money on.

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