Holding back failing students is no solution

Baltimore's problem of low student achievement will not be solved by grade retention ("20,000 children repeat a grade," Aug. 28).

Large bodies of research conclusively demonstrate that retained students' test scores go up in the first year. But within two years, students who are retained do no better than comparable students who are not retained. And they are far more likely to drop out.

Retention is also abusive. In one study, young children rated only the death of a parent or loss of an eye as worse than flunking a grade.

And basing retention decisions on a test score, particularly if students can be held back regardless of their grades, makes a bad situation worse.

Test scores are too inaccurate to be used for high-stakes decisions. And the focus on standardized exams will push teachers to reduce their classes to test preparation, further denying Baltimore's children a decent education.

Clearly, Baltimore's schools, like those of other big cities, need improvement. Strategies for steadily creating better learning environments do exist -- as do high-quality schools serving low-income and minority-group children.

But such schools do not practice grade retention, teach to the test or punish children to make the system look better.

Monty Neill

Cambridge, Mass.

The writer is executive director of FairTest, a testing reform advocacy group.

Make it easier to be a teacher

Could the shortage of teachers possibly be because of the unrealistic requirements to obtain a teaching certificate?

My daughter is an honors college graduate with an M.A. from Johns Hopkins. She has taught in the prison system and in adult literacy programs, and she is presently teaching children with dyslexia.

It will be years before her student loans will be paid for, and yet she still has to take classes to be certified to teach.

Isn't it time to shake up the teachers union and change some rules?

Barbara Hanlon

Ocean Pines

Flipping sentence sends wrong signal

Baltimore residents should be outraged at the slap on the wrist U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz gave to Leon Wilkowsky for flipping more than 100 houses in Baltimore neighborhoods ("Man gets 6 months in case of flipping," Aug. 30).

Mr. Wilkowsky received this break because his wife has had cancer, and she testified that she feared she might relapse if her husband had to serve time.

Does Judge Motz intend to give every spouse of every cancer patient, former and currently under treatment, a break for their crimes?

The damage Mr. Wilkowsky has done to the city of Baltimore is astronomical and irreparable. The damage Judge Motz's sentencing did to the city is even worse.

Georgia Corso


Anti-Schaefer ads are a disgrace

Why doesn't Gov. Parris N. Glendening go quietly into the night? His latest political tactics against state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer are the limit ("Anti-Schaefer ads financed by governor's fund," Sept. 3).

Mr. Glendening is an embarrassment to every taxpayer he claims to represent.

And he can't hold a candle to what Mr. Schaefer has done for our city and state.

Sandra Taylor


Everyone loses with stand on energy

Not one of us is a winner in the stand on energy policies that the United States took at the environmental summit in South Africa ("Summit agrees on plan to aid poor nations," Sept. 3).

The United States is one of the most polluting countries in the world. Yet we had the arrogance to once again weaken efforts to move toward renewable sources of energy.

Those who want to wait until we have absolute proof of climate change will wait until it is too late.

And those of us forced to conserve water during this horrendous drought have learned that our quality of life has not really been affected much; we've adapted, and even found creative ways to minimize our water use.

We can do the same thing with energy consumption: We can find ways to cut back and together make a difference.

I want the Earth and all its inhabitants to be winners -- and one way that can happen is for the United States to take the initiative to put the health of the planet before its own money-making interests.

Jeanne Ruddock


The Russian bear hasn't changed spots

Freedom-loving nations, particularly the United States, should be greatly concerned over the cozy relationship developing between Russia and three countries labeled by President Bush as an "axis of evil" -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea ("Russia's pursuit of 'evil' nations strains Bush-Putin relationship," Sept. 1).

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, with whom Mr. Bush believed he had forged firm cooperation, now turns to America's enemies to pursue "a range of economic aid and diplomatic accords with all three countries" -- including proposals to drill for oil in Iraq and build nuclear reactors in Iran, and a recent meeting between Mr. Putin and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

It once appeared that, under Mr. Putin's leadership, U.S.-Russian relations were warming up to a degree unrivaled for many years. Now the old adage comes to mind: "A leopard never changes its spots."

Albert E. Denny


Bush's foreign policy hurts our interests

President Bush is totally out of his league on foreign policy.

Before Sept. 11, Mr. Bush made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian problem; after the terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Mr. Bush rewarded evil with a promise that he would support a Palestinian homeland.

Mr. Bush has isolated the United States, given comfort to our enemies and disheartened our friends abroad.

In truth, this appointed president is ill-suited to govern our democracy.

Dave Goldsmith


The writer is the coordinator of the Baltimore County Green Party.

Replace 'Boondocks' with comic with wit

Why doesn't The Sun wise up and drop Aaron McGruder's "The Boondocks" from the comics?

Mr. McGruder has obviously let fame go to his head and now feels he can get away with the least amount of wit and artistry in his space.

Compare Mr. McGruder's work to Ray Billingsley's "Curtis." What a great comic that is! It has it all -- wit, wisdom, pathos and good morals to boot. Every family of every race can easily identify with Curtis' family, whereas "Boondocks" is narrow-minded, crude and downright boring.

Find another comic to fill its valuable space.

Debby Hyson


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