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letters to the editor - 3/17/02

March 18, 2002

Is the MSPAP trying to tell us something?

To the editor:

Recent discussion and discontent over the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) rekindled some memories - a rather chilly flame as it turned out.

In April 1983, a report entitled "A Nation at Risk" was presented to T. H. Bell, U.S. Secretary of Education, by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The Commission was created as a result of the Secretary's concern about "... the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system." The commission had been directed by the Secretary "... to present a report on the quality of education in America|.." As the title implies, the commission's conclusions were a testament to schools' inadequacies.

"Risk" caused quite a stir but, given the politics of the time, it was hard for some to believe that it would spur government to address, seriously, the difficulties of those in danger of being poorly educated.

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Today's "Leave No Child Behind" program may be similarly viewed by the uncharitable. However, aside from any vacuous rhetoric from the political and educational establishments, this legislation may still provide significant stimulation, even if not in the ways anticipated by the programs' proponents.

"Leave No Child Behind" and "A Nation at Risk" make the point, an established part of conventional wisdom, that our schools are not as good as they ought to be and must become. "Risk"(1983), marks the beginning of a widely appreciated public policy debate on school improvement. Unfortunately, by the time "Leave No Child Behind" reforms (and funds) take hold, "Risk" survivors will be 30 years older - and wiser - having learned that impediments to school improvement dwarf even the challenges associated with a trip to the moon. The "Risk" generation and their school age children may be telling us why.

They spoke through The 33rd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. The report says, in part:

For the first time in the 33-year history of these polls, a majority of respondents assign either an A or a B to the schools in their communities. And, as has been the case in all past polls, the closer people are to the public schools, the better they like them. The percentage of As and Bs rises from 51 percent for all respondents to 62 percent for public school parents and to 68 percent when these same parents are asked to grade the school their oldest child attends.

This analysis indicates no widespread and urgent sense of need for reform near home. In other words, the risk is a threat to someone else.

Of course, there is not necessarily direct correlation between "national opinion" and the perils of MSPAP. Citizens of Maryland and its diverse counties may not reflect the same views about schools. However, MSPAP has reported bland results over the last decade. This season the menu has been particularly cloying. Overlooking the issues of validity and reliability of MSPAP, the results, at odds with more palatable self-assessments, have finally raised the community's level of concern - risk is close to home.

Thanks to "Leave No Child Behind" reforms, risk will obtain a forwarding address when new requirements for individual student scores come into effect. If standards measured by last year's MSPAP are maintained and the tests were valid as advertised, a large number of real people are likely to receive bad news.

As the time of potential discomfort approaches, our incentives to change the standards will grow very strong. Not changing standards will probably force a reconciliation with increased high school dropout rates, diplomas denied, or more years in more crowded schools (at additional public expense) to qualify for graduation.

Given our penchant for plagiarism and grade inflation it might be wise to reconsider how much risk we can tolerate.

Henry Aroseis

Hagerstown




Titanic was a sinking feeling

To the editor:

Reluctantly, I am writing to let you know of a very upsetting experience I recently had at the Maryland Theatre.

Some months ago, when the Maryland announced their Broadway series season, I was delighted to see that a "Broadway Production" of "Titanic" was going to be presented.

I trekked over to the Maryland only to find that you couldn't just go up to the box office and purchase a ticket like other theaters, but you have to go to some dingy office down under the sidewalk. I did this, however, in anticipation of a terrific performance.

As I examined my two tickets, I realized that each ticket had a $5 surcharge added to it. "What's this for" I asked? "Oh, we add that to all our tickets," I was told. Ninety dollars for two balcony tickets, and me on Social Security. But, still I thought, "well, for a Broadway production"

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