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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

THE BALTIMORE SUN

School board helps impoverished kids

In his recent Nobel lecture, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei noted that a United Nations high-level panel identified poverty as one of five threats to world security.

Dr. ElBaradei stated that those affected by poverty are "no less intelligent or less worthy than their fellow human beings. ... They were simply born into this fate. In the real world, this imbalance in living conditions inevitably leads to inequality of opportunity, and in many cases loss of hope."

Poverty and inequality exist in Carroll County and the impact is real.

According to the most recent U.S. census numbers for 2003, Carroll County has about 1,500 students (ages 5 -17) that live in poverty. This is an increase of about 450 students in two years.

There were about 2,350 children (ages 0 -17) living in poverty in 2003 -- an increase of about 600 children over the same two-year period. In two years, from 2001 to 2003, the percentage of children living in poverty in Carroll County has risen from 4.2 percent to 5.6 percent.

Policy makers can debate the best course of action to deal with the problem. Some may even debate whether we have a problem and it is tempting to equivocate by suggesting that while we may have a concern, we are much better off than some of our surrounding school districts.

But poverty is an issue where dealing in relative numbers helps console us and dealing with absolute numbers helps enlighten us. Those 2,350 children in Carroll County living in poverty are the absolute and deserve the same opportunity and the same hope as all the other children in Carroll County.

Carroll County Public Schools maintain achievement information on many student subgroups, including those students who receive free and reduced meals (FaRM) -- a program for low income families.

This information shows that, despite our efforts over the past few years, little progress has been made to "close the gap" in student achievement between FaRM [the federal Free and Reduced Meal program] students and other students.

In 2004 and 2005, for every 100 students that took the High School Assessments (HSAs) between 75 and 81 students passed each examination. For every 100 FaRM students that took the same HSAs, only between 51 and 62 passed each examination.

In the Maryland Schools Assessment (MSA), a test that assesses students' reading and math proficiency in Grades 3 through 8, Carroll County FaRM students' performance is significantly behind the performance of the total number of students and in some cases, as a group, showing a more than 30 percentage point difference.

In the area of discipline, our FaRM students make up about 10 percent of the student population and account for about 27 percent of the total suspensions.

Carroll County Public Schools continue to implement several programs to support low income families and students needing extra support. These programs do good and the achievement gap might be much larger without these programs. However, we must do more.

Although we have numerous programs in place to help these students, we need to critically evaluate each program's effectiveness. We need to abandon programs where evidence shows we are not seeing improvement. We must turn money away when it requires us to continue to implement programs that are ineffective. With regard to closing the achievement gap, we do not need more data, we just need more results.

Perhaps, most importantly we need to remind ourselves that children of low income families and poverty are no less intelligent and no less worthy. We must establish high expectations for all students, expect that they will learn, and provide them with the necessary support to reach their potential. Achievement gaps are not closed by lowering bars. They are closed by raising bars.

The Board of Education of Carroll County and Carroll County Public Schools believe, as one of their core values, that all students can learn and succeed -- no excuses, no exceptions.

The Board of Education and staff will continue to work diligently to "close the gap." We are committed to implementing programs that show results. The impact from poverty is real in Carroll County and the hope and future of thousands of children are at stake.

Thomas Hiltz Woodbine

The writer is president of the Carroll County Board of Education.

Politicians' lies are upsetting

What AILs me? AIL - Apathy, Ignorance, and Lies!!! I find it very confusing to understand the mentality of political minds of Democrats and Republicans.

The first point: Apathy is a mindset that has manifested itself in the attitude of most Democrats that I have spoken to. Most are quick to complain of government inadequacies, but few are willing to invest any of their time to help correct these inadequacies.

The second point: Ignorance is the refusal of persons affiliated with either political party to become informed of the facts of government inadequacies which are being examined and presented by a multitude of news agencies and media.

The third point: Lies seem to me to be the worst offense being thrust on this nation from many sources, although it seems to be apparent that most are coming from Republicans. We have our president, George W. Bush, who has told enough lies that by comparison would make Pinocchio's nose look like a button.

Here is a list of Republicans who have been untruthful or deceitful as I perceive it:

George W. Bush -- lied about WMD, war in Iraq, and possibly his military record. George W. Bush has broken the law by violating the 4th amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. by authorizing wire taps without a court order. Mr. Bush insists that the law does not apply to him. Will anyone challenge this?

Karl Rove -- under investigation for disclosing the name of a federal U.S. secret agent.

Scooter Libby -- under indictment for disclosing name of a federal U.S. secret agent.

Tom DeLay -- under indictment for election money laundering.

Bill Frist -- under investigation for illegal insider trading of stock.

Jack Abramoff -- lobbyist who pleaded guilty of illegally distributing political campaign funds to a number of Republicans and Democrats.

We are now living in a country which has become a monarchy. All three branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial are now controlled exclusively by the Republican Party. There are no longer any checks and balances.

While George W. Bush now presides as king of this country without any obstacles in his path, his sights are now set on other countries to make war with, using our military as pawns to do his takeover dirty work for the gluttonous control of oil.

As the price of oil continues to rise and feed the very wealthiest Americans who already are receiving 90 percent of our tax dollars in the form of tax relief, George W. Bush has largely ignored the needs of the citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi. Enormous amounts of money are still being invested in Iraq to form a Democracy which Muslims abhor.

Beware of this imbalance of power in America. History has shown us that other nations have been swept away by this abuse of power. Searches and seizures could become commonplace, while no one and no media dare to challenge this! Could it happen here? Beware!

Vincent DiPietro Sykesville

Fire Department needs a new flag

Would it be too much to ask the budget department of the City of Westminster to purchase a new American flag to replace the current one flying over the Westminster Fire Department?

Francis Scott Key saw a better one flying over Fort McHenry when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

Michael Vlach Westminster

Keep government out of weddings

I appreciate the intent behind Del. Shewell's legislation to strengthen marriages. Most would agree the high divorce rate is a problem and that premarital counseling is generally a good idea. This is why many religious institutions strongly encourage or require couples to participate in the process.

As a conservative, I get nervous when I see something that sounds like "We're the government and we're here to help." Apparently, some conservatives are much more comfortable with big government than I am.

Personally, I don't think we can legislate good marriages. I think mandatory premarital counseling may result in unintended consequences. We have all seen how government can start a program with good intentions and we all know what road is paved with good intentions.

Under this proposed legislation, how long would it be before government officials start telling us who is qualified to provide premarital counseling and what it should involve? Do we really want a bureaucrat deciding if our priest, minister or rabbi is competent to help a couple before marriage? Isn't one MVA more than enough?

Stephen Landsburg once wrote, "Most of economics can be summarized in four words: 'People respond to incentives.' The rest is commentary."

Creating an artificial delay of 30 days and then offering to waive it in exchange for four hours of counseling is not an incentive. It is government meddling. Couples who feel premarital counseling is important will participate regardless of a new law.

Religious institutions will continue to offer this important service. Couples that don't feel like waiting will just fly to Vegas or sit bored through a four-hour counseling session.

The trend of high divorce rates is a serious problem that requires serious solutions. If Del. Shewell wants to promote marriage and families, I suggest she look at dramatic actions like President Bush ending the federal marriage tax penalty instead of proposed social-engineering.

We live in a throw-away, quick fix, feel good culture where keeping a strong marriage and intact family is tough. A waiting period that treats a wedding license like a handgun is not the solution.

Joe Zynel Hampstead

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