Education act shows schools how to improve
Education reporter and columnist Mike Bowler seems to have an unhealthy fixation on the word "failing" in describing Maryland schools in relation to the No Child Left Behind Act ("Test scores keep 400 Md. schools off danger list," June 30, and "'No Child' act a surreal test," July 4).
Mr. Bowler used the words "failing," "failure" or "fail" eight different times to describe schools that have not met the state-set goals under the law. However, nowhere in the text of the legislation is the word "failing" used to describe schools, nor does this department or the Bush administration use that term - and for good reason.
The law carefully says a school is "in need of improvement" if it does not meet its academic targets for two consecutive years (and it does not give a label to a school that misses its goals for one year).
Every school has room to improve, and the No Child Left Behind Act ensures that areas that need improvement are identified and addressed. It's a common-sense approach.
For a real-life analogy, look at Shaquille O'Neal. He is an excellent basketball player but is weak at foul shots. He's good but could use some improvement to part of his game.
Under No Child Left Behind, students who are having difficulty are given extra resources to bring them up to grade level. The law focuses on the needs of the children in the system, not the system itself - and that change of focus has been paying dividends in Maryland, as is evident from the latest state report card, and across the country.
Let's continue to give the law a chance to do its job so that all children - regardless of their skin color, accent or street address - receive the quality education a nation such as ours is capable of providing.
The writer is secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
It's not schools that are failing
The title of The Sun's article "32 failing city schools must be overhauled" (June 30) was misleading. Indeed, every story I have seen on this topic makes this same presupposition: that schools have failed.
Schools are inanimate objects that cannot do anything but exist. It is the student body that has failed, or met, the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.
This is an important distinction, as the focus must be on the children and the reasons for their failure.
When editors label the subject of these articles as "schools" instead of the students in the schools, readers may not understand that what schools need to improve scores are resources for the students.
There are many reasons students do not pass tests that have very little to do with the school - for example, an out-of-control home environment. One can replace teachers, administrators and curricula without effecting a change in scores - if the student body and its environment remains constant.
Until we focus on the needs of the children and stop blaming "schools" for failure, scores will never improve.
K. Gary Ambridge
Approve slots to trim burden of taxes, fees
As a Maryland taxpayer, I continue to be very unhappy with our elected officials who are holding up passage of the general use of slot machines and the revenue they could produce ("Pa. bill revives Md. call for slots," July 5).
At the same time, more money is squeezed from the citizens - even while the state is not "increasing taxes."
Maryland does not need higher taxes. It is time to pass slots legislation and soften the tax and fee blows to the citizens of Maryland.
Higher vehicle fees impose real hardship
I just cannot believe that Maryland has nearly doubled the fees for registering a vehicle ("Higher vehicle fees in effect," July 1).
Why is it that in this day and age, we the people are the ones who are continually burdened with the government's inability to balance the budget?
Many families and individuals find it hard enough to make ends meet, and now it will be even more difficult to have a vehicle to help them maintain and keep their jobs.
I have been serving the public here in Maryland for the last 14 years. Just the other day, I encountered one of the many homeless persons in our community, with no shoes and only $3 to her name.
How much longer can we continue to ignore the oppressed individuals in our communities?
How much longer are we going to continue to beat down individuals who are so close to losing everything they have with the continued increase of fees and taxes?
Our General Assembly has voted to raise vehicle registration fees for cars from $81 to $128 and for sport utility vehicles and trucks from $108 to $180. This is an increase of $47 and $72, respectively.
While this may not seem like much to our lawmakers, it is a big hit in the pocketbook of people with small or even average incomes.
Perhaps our General Assembly has lost touch with the average person.
Helen J. Smith
Follow lead of states limiting cell phones
Hurrah for Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey and any other jurisdiction that passes laws enforcing the use of "hands-free" devices for cell phones while driving ("Watch where you're driving when you talk on the phone," July 1).
Each day, we see bad driving and a total lack of courtesy by those who insist on driving with one hand and holding a cell phone with the other, often in a distracted manner.
When will Maryland wake up?
Why have we done little about Sudan?
I don't understand the Bush administration. It is outraged when critics accuse it of going to war for oil in Iraq, yet it has done virtually nothing about the mass killings (not yet genocide?) in Sudan ("Annan wins promise to send troops to Darfur," July 4).
Tens of thousands are dead in Sudan, with estimates of 1 million deaths before this brutality ends. I want to know the difference between Saddam Hussein's reign and the current situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, where the authoritarian government is virtually wiping out the people of a whole region.
The brutality consists of widespread murder and rape, including poisoning the water supply.
Does this sound familiar? Do these people need (and deserve) to be freed from their tyrants? What is the difference between "Operation: Iraqi Freedom" and "Operation: Liberate Darfur?" Oil?