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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

Data do justify new high school

The Sun's article "The next big thing: smaller schools" (June 22) notes that five Baltimore County high schools - including Towson, Hereford, Loch Raven, Perry Hall and Patapsco high schools - have an enrollment about 10 percent above the schools' state-rated capacity. The county executive's office contends that that is not enough to warrant building a new school.

However, the Loch Raven High School Web site says the current enrollment is 1,201, 226 students (or more than 23 percent) over the school's state-rated capacity of 975.

And using the county's enrollment numbers for September 2007, Towson High is 14 percent over capacity; Hereford High, 13 percent; Perry Hall High, 10 percent; and Patapsco High, 16 percent. This adds up to almost 1,000 students over capacity in just these five schools.

In The Sun's article, Craig Howley, an Ohio University researcher and a proponent of small schools, said, "A suburban community that is building high schools over 1,000 is making a mistake."

He maintains that achievement "degrades" at schools with more than 900 students.

It seems to me that Baltimore County clearly warrants a new high school.

David Gosey, Towson

The writer is the father of a student at Loch Raven High School.

Smaller schools could cut carbon

There are benefits to small schools beyond the academic advantages described in The Sun's article, "The next big thing: smaller schools" (June 22).

Smaller schools would have smaller catchment areas that make it feasible for more students to walk or bike to school rather than be driven by their parents or by a school bus.

And that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve students' physical fitness.

Chris Yoder, Baltimore

The writer is a volunteer for the Greater Baltimore Group of the Sierra Club.

Tracking helps high achievers

Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board claims academic tracking in large schools is partly to blame for students' lack of success ("The next big thing: smaller schools," June 22).

Opponents of school tracking believe that a mixed environment will allow advanced students to provide encouragement and aid for their classmates. However, high-achieving students who are surrounded by classmates who do not value education tend to spark not an interest in academics from others but derision and isolation from their peers.

Reducing school size may provide a partial Band-Aid for the failing public school system, but the real problem lies in societal and cultural expectations. When the importance of education is not stressed at home, children carry that disinterest to their school, regardless of its size. Public schools are simply unable to solve such deep-seated problems.

In the absence of adequate voucher systems, engaged students who cannot afford private school tuition are trapped in an oppressive environment.

Without tracking, their academic interests are often stifled by unsympathetic classmates, and some potential high achievers will be prevented from achieving.

Molly Schindler, Baltimore

The writer is a student at the Johns Hopkins University.

Families win when colleges compete

The Sun's article "College enrollment a gamble" (June 22) points out that faced with diminished prospects for financial stability, many middle-class parents are rethinking their children's applications to private colleges.

One way of reducing financial uncertainty is to accept several colleges' admission offers and compare various aid packages, just as one might do in the real world when considering job offers.

But Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar seems to believe such a practice is "an entirely unethical thing ... and the bargaining over financial aid is tougher than it's ever been before."

Boo-hoo, Mr. Ungar. But what's really unethical is the hubris of academics who have relentlessly increased their college's annual tuitions by 5 percent to 8 percent a year for decades, outstripping the rate of inflation and middle-class parents' ability to pay.

Competition makes us all better.

Mr. Ungar should take a class in capitalist theory - and get his head out of the ivy-covered clouds of academic elitism.

Thomas M. Neale, Baltimore

Drilling today fuels our future

Sen. Barack Obama is probably correct when he states that increasing offshore oil exploration would not lower gasoline prices for families "this year, next year, five years from now" ("McCain's oil shift criticized," June 21).

The same might be said for increasing research-and-development investment in cars that run on non-fossil fuels.

However, consider that if we had made commitments to do more of both of those things 10 to 20 years ago, we very likely would not be in the energy predicament we are in today.

Do we want to be saying the same thing 10 to 20 years from now?

Mark Haas, Timonium

Recycling bags is a bigger trend

Clark Semmes' column "Time to ban stores from giving away plastic bags" (Commentary, June 10) called for Baltimore to follow China's lead in banning distribution of free plastic bags.

Mr. Semmes misses the real trend happening right here in the United States: More people are recycling plastic bags than ever before.

Plastic bags require 70 percent less energy to manufacture and create 50 percent less greenhouse gases than paper bags.

Today, more Americans are recycling plastic bags and film than ever. In the United States, plastic bag and film recycling increased by 24 percent in 2006, reaching a record high of 812 million pounds.

The increase in recycling is largely the result of the greater availability of at-store recycling programs in large grocery and retail chains, including many stores in Maryland.

The 812 million pounds of recycled film and bags can be made into enough composite decking material to build 1.5 million durable outdoor decks.

Sharon H. Kneiss, Arlington, Va.

The writer is a vice president of the American Chemistry Council.

Changed mother merits more praise

Scott Calvert's feature article on Shanae Watkins is such a fine example of damning with faint praise that journalism professors may well wish to reference it in future classes ("Taking a Chance on Change," June 18).

I don't condone or defend murder. But Ms. Watkins' life after that tragic event (and her subsequent incarceration) doesn't deserve indictment.

There are plenty of young, single, struggling mothers out there trying to find a job that pays a living wage. They also receive day care subsidies and other forms of assistance.

As for the condition of Ms. Watkins' apartment, three preschoolers can undo the handiwork of even the most diligent housekeeper in a matter of moments.

Would Ms. Watkins earn such condemnation if she refused payment for speaking at these youth programs and seminars?

Is it the perception that she is prospering from her crime at the expense of her victim that raises the ire of the reporter?

Or is it the applause for Ms. Watkins that really irks him?

Sue Keller, Finksburg

Former felon still belongs behind bars

The Sun's article about Shanae Watkins sickens me ("Taking a Chance on Change," June 18).

This young woman belongs in prison for murder, not free to reproduce and earn speaker's fees.

R. Maddox, Baltimore

Correction

The letter "Protect the public from scam artists" on Monday's Opinion page misstated the name of the Maryland Association of Mortgage Brokers.

The Sun regrets the error.

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