March 16, 2009

Summer hiatus limits learning

It's safe to predict that President Barack Obama's proposal for longer school days and extended school years will never get anywhere and quickly vanish from the media radar screen ("Obama offers education plan," March 10).

This idea is almost universally opposed - by teachers, parents and most of the education establishment. Yet anyone who pays attention to international assessments knows that one of the reasons U.S. students fare so poorly is that they (unlike their peers in most nations) attend school yearly for about 180 six-hour days interrupted by numerous holidays, many of them frivolous.

A good use of the president's stimulus money would be to pay for extending the school day and the school year to at least 200 days or, optimally, 225 days.

This would have the added benefit of reducing the "summer loss" experienced by students who don't get, well, stimulus during the nearly three-month hiatus. But this won't happen.

It makes no difference that we are losing our competitive advantage in a shrinking world. The summer is sacred.

Mike Bowler, Catonsville

The writer is a former Baltimore Sun education editor and a former communications director for a research institute of the U.S. Department of Education.

Merit pay isn't what inspires teachers

In my experience as a retired teacher, I never understood how merit pay would have made me a better teacher ("Obama offers education plan," March 11). I always tried to give 100 percent effort, and no amount of money would have improved my performance. And I think that most of my faculty colleagues would agree with me.

In the classroom, we celebrated our students' progress and agonized over their failures and, yes, our failures too, but we certainly were not holding anything back for a little extra pay.

The money spent on teacher merit pay would be better invested in hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes.

It is a mistake to apply a business model to teaching.

Monetary incentives are not part of the teaching mentality.

Jim Apgar, Catonsville

No compromise on death penalty

The Maryland Senate's "compromise" on the death penalty is shameful and cowardly ("Flawed 'compromise,'" editorial, March 5).

It's not that anyone has bleeding-heart sympathy for monsters like Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson. But at the core of this issue is a fundamental principle about whether the state should be fulfilling a primal impulse for revenge in the extreme.

Let's end the death penalty and remove ourselves from the company of states such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where instincts for blood punishment run the rule of law.

Let's join the civilized nations of the world that reject the barbarous rituals of the past.

John P. Machen, Ruxton

I've got a solution for the issues raised in the editorial "Flawed 'compromise.'"

Two words: "term limits."

Ted Nunn, Columbia

Funding foundation at public expense

Thanks to Dan Rodricks for exposing Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin for their pork barrel waste of taxpayer money in earmarking $1 million for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation ("Let's hear it for an organic farmer," March 10).

In this economy, or any other economy, is there any reason to give taxpayer dollars to a foundation?

Cal Ripken Jr. should be ashamed of himself for accepting the money.

And in this economy, it is especially wrong for Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Cardin to play Santa Claus with our money.

J. Michael Collins, Reisterstown

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