LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

'Reading First' helps build skills

The Sun's editorial on the Reading First program jumped to unfounded conclusions and buried the most important point ("Reading failure," May 7).

While calling for the program to be "overhauled or scrapped," the editorial also noted that Maryland educators say the program has helped students improve - and it clearly has.

Indeed, Maryland's program evaluation for this plan stated that "student achievement is improving in Reading First schools, in all grades and [districts]," and that the program is also helping students with disabilities and those with limited English skills learn to read as well as their peers.

Nationwide, data show that Reading First students of nearly every race and background have made impressive reading gains.

These results are all the more important as the Nation's Report Card shows that 33 percent of American fourth-graders lack basic reading skills.

But thanks to decades of research, we've now developed a solid understanding of how children learn to read and of how to help all children learn to read well.

Reading First represents our first nationwide attempt to translate insights from more than 20 years of independent studies into practical tools for teachers.

Two years ago, my department addressed concerns about Reading First management by putting in place new leadership, strengthening peer review and taking further steps to prevent potential conflicts of interest.

And today we are also paying close attention to the study The Sun's editorial cited.

But the editorial neglected to note that this was an interim report based only on the first two years of the program's implementation.

We are hopeful that the final study, to be published later this year, will help every Reading First school maximize the program's benefits.

And we are confident that Reading First will continue to help students learn the skills they need to be successful readers now and in the future.

Raymond Simon, Washington

The writer is a deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

School safety starts at home

The Sun's editorial "Schools' schizophrenia" (May 8) is on target and correct: Reducing school violence is everyone's responsibility, not only that of our schools.

However, the reduction of school violence really begins at home. Parents must monitor their children's behavior and instill in them a respect for authority and for the consequences of their actions.

Schools must continue to emphasize the value of respect by students, not only for teachers but for one another.

And every parent should reflect with his or her children on the value of good behavior and its relationship to a quality education.

John A. Micklos, Baltimore

Data on truancy offer no context

The statistics on school absences, suspensions and expulsions and city homicides and shooting victims in The Sun's article "Out of school, risking violence" (May 9) were interesting - for a minute.

However, the article failed to inform us about rates of absence and other problems for other students. Without such a baseline for comparison, the article seems meaningless.

Before we criminalize truancy or overreact in some other way, can we at least get the facts?

Louis Brendan Curran, Baltimore

The writer is an assistant public defender in Baltimore.

Hostility to ROTC an intolerant act

I was saddened but not surprised to read that some faculty members at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County oppose having an ROTC unit on campus ("Proposed ROTC unit at UMBC protested," May 9).

American universities have long been a bastion of anti-military feeling. I find it strange, however, that academics crow about college being a haven of free thought, a place where differing views and opinions are celebrated.

I guess that only applies to views that don't conflict with the leftist ideology of most professors.

I only hope the protesters know and appreciate the military's role in securing the freedoms they enjoy.

Sean Nevin, Bel Air

Prosecute driver who fled crash

The Sun's article "Police seek driver of car in crash that killed motorcyclist" (May 10) stated that a motorcyclist, James Bruce Sasser, was killed by a driver who fled the scene of the accident.

If the Baltimore police find the driver of this car, I implore city prosecutors to bring all applicable charges against him.

ABATE of Maryland Inc. has worked with the Maryland legislature to increase penalties for drivers whose failure to yield the right of way results in serious injury or death.

This incident appears to be a perfect example of one in which those penalties should be applied.

Pat Corcoran, Annapolis

The writer is a public information officer for ABATE of Maryland Inc.

Gay rights group stands on principle

Shannon E. Avery takes Equality Maryland to task for failing to be pragmatic in the fight for same-sex marriage ("Gay rights still stuck at impasse," letters, May 9).

Apparently, standing on one's dignity and asking that the law be changed so that the basic human right to marry be accorded to everyone equally is, for her, a pie-in-the-sky idea.

But every fight for human rights starts with someone asking that his or her basic human dignity be recognized and protected.

And I think settling for civil unions, when same-sex marriage carries with it the implicit recognition of the dignity of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, would be selling out. Frankly, it would likely harm the cause of same-sex marriage in the long run.

The great human rights activists have always recognized that their cause represents a moral imperative, and proceeded accordingly.

Bravo to Equality Maryland for continuing in this tradition and for taking the high road.

Sue Keller, Finksburg

When will McCain denounce Hagee?

Why is it that nobody seems to demand that the "Straight Talker," Sen. John McCain, denounce the Rev. John Hagee, the evangelical Christian who has blamed the Jews for their own persecution over the centuries and has called the Catholic Church the "Great Whore"?

The "Straight Talker" did denounce such Christian bigots back in 2000; now, he seeks their blessing.

If Sen. Barack Obama is asked to renounce Minister Louis Farrakhan for his unsolicited endorsement - a man who will have no influence at all in Washington - why is Mr. McCain not asked to do the same for Pastor Hagee, a man who has influence in Washington and indeed was on President Bush's "values team" in 2000?

Charles Rammelkamp, Baltimore

A voice of healing for our racial divide

My compliments to Judge Andre M. Davis and to The Sun for publishing the absolutely scathing yet, under the circumstances, incredibly restrained column "To the man who called me N-word" (Commentary, May 9).

As a white person who came to Baltimore from Chicago four years ago, I have been amazed at the level of racial segregation here, in so many spheres of life.

While the particular incident could, unfortunately, have happened in many places, Baltimore suffers from a deep racial divide, and much racial pain.

At the University of Baltimore, we recently were able to explore some of these issues in our "Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth" conference, which focused on the 1968 riots, the divisions that gave rise to the riots and endure today, and the healing that followed - which obviously still has a way to go.

People such as Judge Davis clearly have the wisdom and character strength to be part of that enduring healing, even as new wounds are inflicted.

Wim Wiewel, Baltimore

The writer is provost and a senior vice president of the University of Baltimore.

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