Question of the Month
Mayor Martin O'Malley recently announced plans for the city to take over about 5,000 of the tens of thousands of vacant properties that blight many Baltimore neighborhoods.
What do you think the city should do with its abandoned properties?
We are looking for 250 words or less; the deadline is Feb. 18. Letters become the property of The Sun, which reserves the right to edit them. By submitting a letter, the author grants The Sun an irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use and republish the letter, in whole or in part, in all media and to authorize others to reprint it.
Letters should include your name and address, along with a day and evening telephone number. E-mail us: email@example.com; write us: Letters to the Editor, The Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278-0001; fax us: 410-332-6977.
New policies irk city's recyclers
We appreciate the efforts of city government to improve city services and be cost effective. We are disappointed and very concerned, however, about the directive requiring residents to place recyclables on the street in front of their residences ("Recycling schedule changes stir outcry," Jan. 31).
Neighborhoods with functioning, well-maintained alley systems behind their homes should continue to have recycling materials picked up in the alley.
To require residents to put their recycling materials on the street will create an eyesore that tends to denigrate the appearance of the neighborhood. Worse yet, it will encourage the accumulation of unsightly materials on front lawns.
Missed collections will mean the recycling material stays on the street for several weeks. The bags will be vulnerable to animals, breakage and other problems.
We urge the city to reconsider this shortsighted policy change, which is likely to cause environmental and aesthetic deterioration to so many city neighborhoods.
Instead of putting our recycling out in the alleys behind our houses, we are now being told to place recycling in front of our houses. I don't know where Joseph A. Kolodziejski [chief of solid waste for Baltimore's Department of Public Works] lives, but in my neighborhood that's just asking for trouble.
I have lived in the city for eight years and am an avid recycler. On Wednesday nights, I put my recycling out in the back, and Thursday mornings it was picked up - no problem. But if I were to follow this routine with the new policy, I am certain the recycling people would have nothing to pick up.
If glass is lying around on the streets of our neighborhood, it will be smashed. I do not intend to increase my risk of a flat tire or vandalism by providing the materials.
As for paper recycling, the park across the street would be just littered with paper. Having already picked it up from around my house, I have no intention of gathering it a second time because Mr. Kolodziejski thought front-curb recycling was a good idea.
As far as I am concerned, this change goes against everything Mayor Martin O'Malley has worked for to create a cleaner city.
Someone with absolutely nothing else to do might be able to remember to put the plastic out front on Monday, the regular trash in back on Tuesday, the paper in front on Thursday and the regular trash in back on Friday, and remember which months have five Mondays or five Thursdays.
Most people will give up trying to recycle, and just put everything in the regular trash.
Having been unsuccessful in the attempt to eliminate plastic collection last June, the apparent goal of the Department of Public Works now is to make it so hard for people to recycle that they won't.
The DPW then can note that very little is collected, and use that as a justification for stopping recycling entirely.
Bernard J. Hayes
Since the start of the city recycling program I have participated. Now, however, I will no longer do so. I do not object to the change in dates for pickup; I do object to placing the items in front of the house in which I live.
It has been my habit from time to time to patrol the block on which I live, picking up papers, wrappers, bottles and other trash to keep my neighborhood a clean and decent place to live.
Now the city is asking me and my neighbors to litter the front of our houses.
If the intent of the new regulations is to end the recycling program, as far as I am concerned it has succeeded.
Saving some money (in this case an estimated $900,000 a year) and using it to combat other sanitation problems can begin to justify some of the [recycling] adjustments ("Recycling plan saves city funds," letters, Feb. 2).
But in my neighborhood, the change from back-alley to front-street collection threatens one of the few remaining civilities of urban living.
One of the reasons we live here is that utilitarian functions are primarily restricted to the rear alleys, which allows the front streetscape to retain some of its original charm.
To move the recycling, and then inevitably all trash collection, to the curb instead of the alley just tears at that thin veneer of a benefit that we enjoy.
If I wanted to see trash cans, garages and front yards full of driveways and other symbols of suburbia, I would just move there.
Michael T. Maguire
Right way to recall Sept. 11
It is important that we have an appropriate memorial to honor the firefighters who died Sept. 11, but not one based on the picture taken by Tom Franklin ("Multiracial memorial would hide FDNY's bias," Opinion*Commentary, Jan. 22).
It is a wonderful picture - not too creative, but taken in good faith of firefighters who were filled with passion and patriotism and willing to die themselves for their country at ground zero.
But the picture is not symbolic of what took place on that tragic morning.
It does not capture the moment. It does not tell the whole story. It won't help future generations understand what happened.
The statue of raising the flag at Iwo Jima is symbolic of an end to a battle where many American lives were lost. We conquered, and we raised the flag, placed the pole in the ground to symbolize a victory. That captures the moment.
Ground zero was different. It was the beginning of a war on freedom, a time and place where many American lives were lost.
Perhaps symbolic of the moment would be a depiction of bloodied, heroic firefighters carrying friends and loved ones out of the rubble.
If there is to be a flag, it should be held high as a sign of our unity, freedom and leadership, a sign we are united as one people under God, who will use all our resources to negotiate this new type of war, until terrorism is wiped out and all people can live in peace.
Can't we find a creative sculptor who can capture our moment?
Edison isn't failing
The Sun's report that Edison Schools Inc. has failed to improve two of the three schools it manages in Baltimore is simply wrong ("Edison fails to improve two schools," Jan. 30).
Since Edison Schools took over management of Montebello, Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor elementary schools, I have witnessed a real and compelling change in their achievement and culture; they are safer, more vibrant schools where parental involvement has increased dramatically.
An examination of overall performance on high stakes standardized testing and other relevant indicators reveals that these schools are truly undergoing a transformation.
MSPAP is only one of three major exams students are required to take - the others are the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, which is administered to all grade levels (one to five), and the Maryland Functional Test, which high school seniors must pass to graduate (but which is first given to sixth-graders for assessment).
On the CTBS, results at Templeton did go down slightly, but that school has a very clear plan about how to address that over the school year. Gilmor made nice gains, and Montebello made exceptional progress and posted an average median percentile gain of 28.6 in reading and 39.8 in math. Across all three Edison schools, the average median percentile CTBS gain was 14 points in reading and 18 points in math.
Results from the more recent Maryland Functional Test reveal that the reading scores from all three schools were outstanding.
And on the MSPAP exam, when Edison's gains across all subject areas at all three schools are weighted by enrollment at the three schools (Montebello has a much larger enrollment than Gilmor or Templeton; 237 students took the test at Montebello, 118 at Templeton and 130 at Gilmor), Edison's third- and fifth-graders gained an average of 11.6 and 7.3 percentage points, respectively.
This is system-wide achievement that cannot be ignored.
Other indicators not tracked by exam results show these schools are on the right track. Suspension rates have decreased dramatically. And for the first time ever, each school is expected to meet the state standard attendance rate of 94 percent.
Parents participating in Quarterly Learning Contracts, Edison's quarterly report card conferences, range from 87 percent to 98 percent. Eight out of 10 parents rate their schools highly satisfactory, and more than 700 parents, grandparents and guardians signed successful petitions asking that a sixth grade be added to their Edison-run schools.
But perhaps the most accurate (convincing?) portrait of improvement at these schools is that there is a palpable change in their atmosphere. They are safer, brighter, more productive places. Teachers, staff and students are happier to come to school each morning - and together they are committed to the hard work, time and dedication that is the foundation of positive change and achievement.
The writer is principal of Montebello Edison Elementary.
Bondsmen earn their fees
Stephen Sachs' article about bail bondsmen was very one-sided ("Bail bonds' biases show," Jan. 20). They provide a very valuable service and are entitled to every penny of their 10 percent premium.
I am a police officer who has taken many poor arrestees to their bail hearings.
After reading Mr. Sachs' article one might think court commissioners slam these people with bail just because they are poor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The commissioner has two main responsibilities: to determine if there was probable cause for the arrest and to make an educated guess as to the probability that the defendant will show up in court.
The commissioners I have dealt with almost always release people charged with petty crimes on their own recognizance and only give bail when they absolutely must. The reason they absolutely must is that, in many cases, defendants have been released on their own recognizance once, and sometimes twice, for their charges, and then are arrested again on a bench warrant for failing to appear (FTA).
Many people with numerous arrests and convictions get released on their own recognizance. The ones who get bail are the ones with FTAs.
And even after a person gets bail, he or she gets a bail review hearing the next day court is in session, and the amount of bail is reviewed by a judge. The judge can increase or decrease bail or release the person on his or her own recognizance. In many cases, the judge reduces bail to ease the burden on the defendant or the family member who is going to come up with the money.
In most cases, the person sitting in jail waiting for a trial date has only himself to blame. The fact that he is poor has nothing to do with his bail. The fact that he is completely irresponsible does.
Let's not water down the system further and reduce the amount the defendant must come up with by allowing unsecured bonds.
How will the mayor rid city of drugs?
After reading The Sun's article about Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposed advertising campaign to eliminate drug use in Baltimore within the year ("Mayor hails city's gains," Jan. 29), I strolled out of my favorite Mount Vernon cafe feeling good, knowing that the neighborhood crackheads will soon be inspired to drop their nasty habit.
Back home in Fells Point, I greeted the panhandlers pleasantly, thrilled that the heroin addicts among them won't be using that drug much longer.
As for the dealers on my street, I'm glad that even the most unskilled and poorly educated of them will soon be getting real jobs doing - well, I'm sure Mr. O'Malley will think of something.
When an out-of-town friend called to ask how life in Baltimore is, I said: "Great! The city's closing library branches like mad, transit and schools are still grossly under-funded and health care for the poor remains nearly nonexistent, but at least the mayor's new ad blitz is going to get rid of the drug problem."
Then I walked up to my neighborhood bar, feeling a little sad that everyone who works there will soon be jobless - after all, alcohol is a drug, and if Mr. O'Malley really wants us to "get drugs out of our minds," well ...
Of course, I'm still unclear on the magic formula Mr. O'Malley and his friends in the advertising industry have apparently found to wipe out an activity millions of human beings have practiced for millennia - namely, the use of mind-altering chemicals as an attempted escape from boredom or intolerable living conditions.
But I can't wait to find out.
Enron exhibits need for reforms
I have just finished an annual patriotic duty, filling out my income taxes. And I am greatly disturbed to discover that I, one marginally middle-class American, paid more in taxes in four of the last five years than Enron Corp.
I am not a reluctant taxpayer. I am proud to pay my share to fund our government and pleased to do my part to help fund national security, police and fire protection, environmental preservation, education, assistance to the disadvantaged, and many other essential and worthwhile programs.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be an American, and I feel obliged to contribute to keeping this blessed country free, strong and democratic.
Nevertheless, fair is fair. And fairness dictates that all who benefit from our economically and politically superior system must pay their share. But recent events have brought home to me that something is desperately, disastrously wrong with our system.
I know how angry I am. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions of those Enron employees who, having lost their entire savings to corporate greed and malfeasance, will still be writing checks to Uncle Sam this year.
And sadly, Enron is only the tip of the corporate welfare iceberg that threatens all who rely on the ship of state. And if the ship founders, the cry will not be: "Women and children first." No, we know now that the lifeboats are reserved for CEOs, major stockholders, insider politicians and the like.
The rest of us will be plunged into the icy waters of devastation, clinging to shattered hopes, broken dreams and the debris of a sinking economy. Some of us will surely drown.
We must alter our course. We must demand real campaign finance reform, accountability and truth in government.
And we, the real taxpayers, the average Americans, must demand fair treatment.
MSPAP can't test thinking
In its defense of Maryland's tests, The Sun continues to mischaracterize those critical of the MSPAP as fans of "rote learning and multiple choice" ("MSPAP showdown," editorial, Jan. 25).
It is not the desire to see more rote learning or multiple choice questions that drives such criticism. The issue is whether MSPAP is testing much of anything at all and, most important, whether it tests the higher-order thinking skills it purports to measure.
A child who is unable to recall basic skills (such as multiplication tables) with some degree of "automaticity," or who has learned little about any subject, is not capable of thinking at a "higher" level. The child can't because all of his or her brain power is too busy trying to perform basic functions or discern what unfamiliar words mean.
This is not just someone's education ideology; this is what we know from sound scientific research in cognitive psychology.
Intended or not, the MSPAP gives short shrift to such building blocks. What should be the real work of elementary schools is forsaken for a philosophy built on shaky scientific principles.
A study of the MSPAP written by leading testing experts, which received the State Department of Education's highest praise for its even-handed approach, put this troubling issue front and center.
This study found no evidence MSPAP actually measures higher-level thinking skills. It also expressed concern that the test is not testing what MSDE thinks it is - science, social studies, mathematics - because the test is fundamentally a writing test.
A student who writes well may receive a higher score in science than the student who writes less well, without necessarily knowing any more science. This problem could be alleviated substantially, the study noted, if the test included some short-answer and multiple-choice questions.
And contrary to The Sun's unfounded opinion, such questions can be designed to measure higher-order analysis, reasoning and evaluation skills.
The writer is an independent education consultant.