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Letters to the editor

March 19, 2005

Harmon a top-notch teacher


To the editor:

For too long, one of Maryland's best teachers has gone unnoticed. Fellow teachers and Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown student/prisoners express heartfelt admiration for Patti Harmon.

When her fourth-through-eighth-grade students walk into class, they groan, yet feel at home - as if transported back into society.

Why? Because when entering her classroom, one immediately spots assignments and homework written on the blackboard in perfect Zaner-Bloser script, just as "old-school" teachers ran classrooms a half-century ago. And one notices bright, homey decorations for the season - if it's Halloween, Saint Patrick's Day or Presidents Day, students see silhouettes, paper cutouts of orange pumpkins, green four-leaf clovers or a cream Washington - simple touches others overlook.

Walking into Harmon's class means walking into her world, with guidelines for writing, antonym and homonym definitions, and other resources, charts and posters covering walls to their 20-foot height. And entering her world entails duties, obligations and performance expectations. There's no low self-esteem in this bustling classroom -Harmon won't allow students to wallow in self-pity - no excuses are acceptable, as each student is assured: "You can do the work."

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Accordingly, many students are bright-eyed, eager to please - and woe to the slouchy recalcitrants hiding in shadowy corners, for she'll engage them with questions or move them to the class front until she finds them searching for learning.

Eighth-grade Division of Correction schools average a 40 percent graduation rate, yet 80 percent of Harmon's students typically graduate. For her years of service, innumerable people touched and work in an underfunded and neglected environment, Harmon merits honors.

Douglas Scott Arey
ECI No. 130196 6D-15B
Westover, Md.




More money, less accountability


To the editor:

For the past three years, my avocation has been performing detailed analysis of school funding versus student achievement. Kirk Johnson (Heritage Foundation, senior analyst) said in The (March 3) Herald-Mail "... we must also know how the different types of spending influence the most important outcome: student achievement."

My conclusion is that the Board of Education (BOE) and the current superintendent and staff have no idea what the relationship of spending to student achievement is now, could be or might be. Consider the following:

· The BOE has no performance criteria on K-2 student achievement, either for themselves or the superintendent and her staff. Our children's educational outcomes are not reported to us, the taxpayers, until they are 8 or 9 years old, when they first take the Maryland No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandated tests. This intentional oversight is being omitted even though Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan is an early childhood reading expert, according to State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

· For the past five years, only three out of four students (75 percent) are proficient enough to be promoted to the next grade. This is in spite of pupil expenditures increasing 50 percent or more.

· The board, superintendent and teachers' union are content to be measured and rewarded from the standard of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP requires that only one of every two students (50 percent) be proficient in 2005 and 56 percent in 2006. In fact, it isn't until 2010 (78 percent) before the current student performance (75 percent) will meet up with the AYP goal. Spending more money every year until the two conditions intersect fits my definition of "buying a pig in a poke."

· Roughly half of the $20 million increase in next year's budget is for teachers, yet there is no measurement of student results by teacher. For all we know, the results of one teacher's shortcomings are passed on to the next grade teacher, then to the next grade and so on. Perhaps teacher association President Claude Sasse can shed light on why student performance on NCLB tests cannot be linked to an individual teacher?

· Almost $8 million has been spent on student achievement specialists. Before implementation, there were not any indicators of its usefulness. Three years later, there has not been any evaluation of its effectiveness.

These results are what President Bush meant by " the soft bigotry of low expectations." Accountability is the answer; money is not.

Tom Janus
Hagerstown




Killing isn't a cure


To the editor:

A recent article with a picture of Van Brooks in a wheelchair, who supports the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2005, described modern medical research. On the surface, it seemed OK, until ...

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