No 'Free Ride' for D.C. Students at St. Mary's College

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

As the father of a recent graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland, I can attest to the charm of the St. Mary's campus and the nurturing educational environment. But as someone who has paid $80,000 in tuition, room and board to St. Mary's and pays about $20,000 yearly in state income taxes, I want to know why St. Mary's President Jane Margaret "Maggie" O'Brien ["St. Mary's Builds New Path to College," Metro, March 9] is giving free educations to non-Maryland residents: the D.C. students from Cardozo High whom you wrote about. However worthy the cause, those spots at St. Mary's should go to graduates of Maryland high schools. It would not take an intensive search to find a similar number of worthy students in any Maryland county.

Matt Sikowitz


Here is how Wesley P. Jordan, St. Mary's dean of admissions and financial aid, explained it: "When the news broke in 2000 that the promise of a scholarship to some Cardozo High School students was unfulfilled, St. Mary's led several local colleges and universities to help students find suitable colleges and complete their financial aid applications. Eventually, four Cardozo students that year chose to come to St. Mary's. It is incorrect that these students received a "free ride." Their aid came from a variety of sources, including personal student loans. As D.C. residents, they qualified for $13,000 in District aid. St. Mary's provided an average of $7,000 in aid, largely from private donations made following the news story. Our average need-based grant to eligible students exceeds $4,000.

"I agree with Sikowitz that, as a public college, we serve Maryland residents. Using the knowledge gained from working with the Cardozo students, all of whom were the first person from their family to earn a college degree, we have established partnerships with several educational organizations in Maryland that promote college awareness and access among first-generation college students in public high schools. For example, since 2003, our partnership with the CollegeBound Foundation in Baltimore has brought 72 students to campus, of whom 75 percent have graduated or are in progress toward their degree. A similar program is in place in Prince George's County."

Dear Extra Credit:

I have been following the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate debate. I have a grandson who is a junior in an IB program in Northern Virginia. I have had the honor of reading several of the papers he was required to write, including one in Spanish. If he takes nothing away from the IB program in the form of college credits (which he thoroughly deserves), he will be able to write a paper in proper form, well organized and impressive in the depth of the subject matter, and he will have learned valuable time-management skills. He seems to be able to get 1,500-word papers written on time, hold down a small job, be involved in some school activities, be a leader in his youth group and still have time to smell the roses. The IB classes seem to provide a breadth of learning, whereas my understanding of AP classes is that each one creates a narrow focus of learning to ace the test without a view of how each subject fits into a bigger picture.

Linda S. Spevack


You are right about IB, but wrong about AP. Students also have to become thoughtful, big-picture writers if they want to do well on the three-hour AP exams.

Dear Extra Credit:

The home-schooling parents who criticize public schools' teaching to the test have a point. Because of federal and state mandates, schools do teach to the test, and I believe that approach tends to stunt conceptual learning and, in some cases, any learning at all.

There was one year when our daughter's classroom teacher, a very fine educator, taught only the subjects that were going to be in the spring Standards of Learning tests. Because there was to be no SOL in science, the kids were not taught science that year until after the SOLs were given, even though science was supposed to be part of the year-long curriculum. Most of the in-class time, and homework time at our house, consisted of memorizing names and dates in preparation for a history SOL. As a result, the science teacher the following year had to cram two years of science into one to prepare the class for a science SOL.

And yet, I don't think the standardized tests should be tossed out the window. They provide a measure of certainty that the kids are learning something. I just think the emphasis for a whole year on history, to the complete detriment of science, was absolutely the wrong emphasis. I try to make sure my daughter understands the concepts behind the test questions and the different ways to analyze problems. When we decided to send our daughter to public school, we accepted that her education would be my responsibility, not just the responsibility of the public school system.

Kristen Umstattd


I hope you were exaggerating for emphasis your story of the year with no science. I am puzzled that you would consider a teacher stuffing your child full of names and dates to be "a very fine educator." If your story is true, the teacher should have been fired, not only for avoiding science, but for thinking the history SOL test requires tons of memorization. It doesn't. Go on the Virginia Department of Education Web site and read some of the sample questions, which test conceptual understanding more than factual recall.

I admire your parental support for such teaching. If you don't see it in the classroom, you should complain.

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