Today is "Talk Back to Homeroom Day."
The first letter below is one of many reactions I received to the April 22 Homeroom column, in which I wrote that House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) was a hero because he thwarted the plans of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) to bring slot machines to Maryland. Since then, Busch has allowed as how he might agree to slots, so it's unclear how heroic he will look in a year.
Education in Maryland benefits greatly from publicly supported gambling. Aside from horse racing, the lottery provides over $400 million annually to the general fund (including education). I find it fascinating that you can support the lottery, though it provides a gambling outlet at corner stores and bars throughout the state.
Marylanders who want to play slots have been leaving the state and taking tourist dollars with them to West Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey (and soon to Pennsylvania). Why not allow consenting adults to spend their money in their state?
Calling any politician a "hero" for opposing or supporting a program diminishes the contributions of real heroes, such as the soldiers serving overseas or those that have given their lives for our country. War analogies are suffering from overuse.
I do support the lottery, as Mr. Benton says, but not as a revenue source. I support it as a way of controlling public corruption. Numbers operations run by organized crime were once the epicenter of police corruption in many cities. State-run lotteries seem to have reined in that problem significantly.
My worry about slots gambling in Maryland mostly centers on the potential for corruption along the lines of lots of cash flowing into political coffers that could influence such things as the awarding of state contracts. Maryland has a long and troubled history in this regard: Two former governors were accused of corruption. One of them -- Marvin Mandel (D), whose conviction was overturned on legal technicalities -- is still hanging around state government, advising the current governor.
I am unmoved by arguments about how much money slots would bring to Maryland. I consider any such projections with great suspicion. As more places to gamble are built, it becomes less likely that any one place would make a lot of money.
Besides, as citizens we should decide what services we are willing to pay for and then pay for them in as equitable a way as possible. We shouldn't be looking to get something for free. That kind of thinking brings its own form of corruption.
The 2005 MCPS operating budget is starting to hit home. The budget contained cuts to elementary and middle school teachers that are now being felt.
At the middle school, my son came home with a homework assignment for the three-day weekend: Make copies of a 20-page packet for the other students on his team for a school project. They don't want to "waste" any of the school's paper, so I am to go to a copier center over the weekend and duplicate this packet for other students so they can have one for Monday. If I don't make the copies, the other students will not be able to do their homework Monday evening.
I would comment on this, but I am too furious.
I'm curious if any parents have kept records of everything they have paid as part of their child's free public education -- personal supplies, classroom supplies, lab fees, testing fees, field trips, copying-as-homework, everything. If you have, please send along your tallies. I think people would be interested.
I never met Zvi Greisman. He is the MCPS attorney who provoked the wrath of many special education parents because of a skit he performed at a national meeting of school lawyers. The parents saw a tape of his act and condemned it as evidence of his contempt for their children and themselves and, what's more, evidence of such attitudes throughout our school system. On April 19, some 75 of them marched in protest on the Montgomery County Board of Education.
I checked with two experienced attorneys who specialize in special education law and who have sat across from Mr. Greisman in many tough cases. They have found him professional, reasonable and interested in reaching agreements for the benefit of the child.
Okay, our schools are not perfect. Okay, negative attitudes are not uncommon. But, believe me, these parents would do better to work for improvement than to beat up on one attorney.
Although Mr. Greisman is not ready for prime time as a stand-up comic, he is, like me, a parent of a child with serious disabilities and, like me, entitled occasionally to act silly.
I am responding to your Dec. 25 column on High School Assessments (HSAs). The Montgomery County Board of Education stands committed to providing a high-quality education for all our students. We are not afraid of high-stakes testing, nor are we afraid of accountability imposed on us by the state or federal government.
We are, however, deeply concerned about the planned action scheduled for June, in which the State Board of Education will adopt regulations linking high school diplomas to the HSAs, beginning with the current seventh-graders.
Our most pressing concerns are the following:
* What are the remediation plans for students who do not pass and where are the funds to provide this remediation?
* Will there be an alternative assessment for special needs students and English for Speakers of Other Languages students?
* How does the state plan to communicate the rollout and implementation of the HSA program to parents of sixth- and seventh-grade students.
In today's world, high school diplomas are a bare minimum for the workplace. We cannot afford to shortchange the future of children whose livelihood and fortunes will depend on the attainment of a Maryland diploma.
Patricia B. O'Neill
O'Neill is a member of the Montgomery Board of Education.
The "Thornton money," or the extra $132 million the state will spend on public schools this year, is supposed to be used to help students meet state standards. Certainly a good chunk of it should be available to help those who fail the High School Assessments. So that answers the money question.
In addition, any student who fails one of the tests is supposed to be given access, beginning in September, to a state-developed online computer course that is to be tailored exactly to state standards. Whether that kind of remediation will be useful is still to be determined, but it does represent an awareness by the state that it has an obligation to help students who fail the HSA.
The state is also working on a plan for an alternative assessment for students who know the material but have difficulty taking pencil-and-paper tests. Whether it will be a computer test, an oral test or something else entirely is still being considered, but it should be ready for this year's seventh-graders. They are to be the first students who will have to pass the High School Assessments in order to get a diploma.
But the main thing the state folks have done is to make the HSAs easy to pass. The exams aren't all that difficult to begin with, and students only have to answer half or fewer questions correctly, depending on the test, to pass.
Students unable to pass the HSAs won't be hurt because they lack a high school diploma. They will be hurt because they can't demonstrate they have mastered rudimentary material. That, by the way, would be true with or without the HSAs. The thing some people forget is that standards exist outside of schools -- ruthless standards. HSAs merely make transparent a few of the milder standards in time for kids to get help.
Homeroom is a forum for you that appears every week in Montgomery Extra. Send questions, opinions and issues that you would like discussed to Homeroom, The Washington Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. The fax number is 301-279-5665. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To see previous columns, go to www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/education/columns/homeroom.