- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

New Year's celebration shoots a dud

Inside the Lincoln Memorial, above and behind the figure of Abraham Lincoln, are inscribed these words: "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

The Lincoln Memorial is among our most revered national monuments. And yet, thanks to the Clintons, on New Year's Eve we could see on the very steps of this "temple," typical manifestations of popular culture: Writhing musicians and dancers and Hollywood and other groupie-celebrities giving their politically correct spin to this nation's history and ideals. We were further subjected to jejune remarks by the president and a film whose oddities included yet more jejune remarks by the same president. Topping it off were the innumerable camera shots of the president and Mrs. Clinton, regularly and happily looking directly into the camera, obviously making the best use of the occasion for their political purposes. The day after, according to press reports, workers bagged champagne corks and beer bottles on the Memorial's grounds.

Does anyone share my outrage and sadness at the casual debasement of the Lincoln Memorial by our disgraced president and his cronies?

THOMAS PARKER JR.

Bethesda

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After viewing the spectacular New Year's celebrations in London, Paris, etc., with world-class fireworks displays, my wife and I made a hasty decision to join the crowds downtown. At midnight, the fuse was lit and the Washington Monument sparkled for about 10 seconds, then there were a few bursts of fireworks surrounding the monument for no more than two minutes. Then it was dark completely dark. We waited and nothing happened, leaving us confused and disappointed.

Finally, thousands of us, including families with children, left for home. In the meantime, we found out that the show continued until around 1 a.m. We got home in time to see the fireworks on TV. Were we celebrating with the Central time zone? The millennium show should have started at 9 p.m., ending at midnight to do the fireworks. Fireworks at 1 a.m.? What were the organizers thinking?

ALBERT P. SOLGA

Bethesda

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The big millennium 2000 show on the monument grounds forgot to focus on the recent deaths of children in the city. It is sad how many choose to ignore the deaths of teen-age girls and boys in the city but celebrate in style. Cannot Will Smith, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the president make a small gesture toward the families that have lost children in the city. We want to go forward into the next year with celebration but not in ignorance.

In the future, celebrations in the city should be laced with factual conditions such as the state of life for its most vulnerable citizens children. We don't hesitate to remember the famous people who have died this past year, but what about the not-so-famous children who died this year? Teen-agers are being killed in the District, and that is not all right to ignore. Celebrate but do not pretend to be ignorant of the conditions up the street from the monument.

TYRONE AIKEN

Director

Coalition of Concerned Citizens for a Better D.C.

Washington

An education in the charter school conversion of Paul Jr. High

Two recent writings on the editorial page may have confused rather than enlightened your readers concerning the conversion of Paul Jr. High to a public charter school.

"More school choice for D.C." (Editorial, Dec. 21) recognized that "public school buildings belong to the entire community." But the argument that the forthcoming Paul Public Charter School should be required to share space with a D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) program rests on a faulty assumption. Paul will not be a "school-within-a-school charter," like the examples cited. Those programs operate within, and answer to, the regular school system. There's no problem sharing facilities or governance structures because DCPS oversees both the regular and charter programs in such cases.

Paul Public Charter School, on the other hand, will be an independent public school, directed by an esteemed principal, Cecile Middleton, who will report to the school's own board of trustees. It will be accountable to parents and to this board. DCPS' hastily conceived program would be shoehorned into the same building, largely duplicating the Paul program but answering to the school system's hierarchy and appealing specifically to families that choose not to send their children to charter schools. A better recipe for tension and divisiveness could not be found.

More to the point, there simply isn't enough space for two competing programs. Despite Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's public comments (on WAMU-FM) that the building can hold 1,500 students, the official DCPS capacity estimate for the Paul building is 726 students. That's approximately how many students attend now, and that is the enrollment level approved by this board pursuant to the D.C. School Reform Act.

Your editorial was at least constructive in tone. By contrast, a recent letter from Maudine R. Cooper, chairman of the DCPS school trustees ("Editorial overlooked concerns about charter school conversions," Dec. 23), contained serious misrepresentations and ugly innuendoes about the charter process.

In an attempt to rally support for the DCPS proposal, Mrs. Cooper's letter calls the conversion "unexamined, unmanaged" as if it had not required three years of effort by the school, endorsement by two-thirds of the parents and teachers and a rigorous review by the D.C. Charter School Board. She writes that "school buildings should not be turned over to essentially quasi-public-private entities that would assume ownership under financial arrangements yet to be determined." As she well knows, the school is seeking only to lease, not purchase, the building. In alarming tones, she writes, "Simply put, how can we continue the educational reform process when a conversion process has the potential to dismantle our entire public education system?"

Is DCPS so fragile that this one conversion has the potential to dismantle it? If so, wouldn't Mrs. Cooper be better advised to fix the other 145 schools she oversees instead of mounting massive resistance to this one brave act of reform?

This letter portrays charter schools as a threat to "systemic reform" and says they should be "aligned with educational reform initiatives now under way in DCPS." This betrays a rather profound misunderstanding of why charter schools exist. Though they can spur reform of traditional school systems, their primary mission is to provide improved educational choices, right now, to parents who want what those systems cannot offer.

Ironically, here is Mrs. Cooper, head of the Greater Washington Urban League, defending "systemic reform" even if it means stopping one school's improvement effort dead in its tracks. Yet just two weeks before this letter appeared, Hugh B. Price, president of the National Urban League, gave a thoughtful speech at the National Press Club in which he not only called for the "charterization" of all urban public schools, but added, "The reform prescriptions in vogue these days are too feeble for the task ahead… . It's time to stop trying to reform public school 'systems' per se. I say we concentrate on creating successful public schools throughout the system."

Finally, this letter contains provocative and intemperate statements that are not worthy of Mrs. Cooper's long service to this community. Saying that the conversion process "would take us down the road to an officially sanctioned, tiered system of education not unlike a resegregation process" and linking charter advocates to the District's "unfortunate legacy of both racial segregation and academic tracking" are low blows, intended only to inflame and polarize. Such statements ignore the facts of this charter effort, led and supported largely by black educators and parents.

Mrs. Cooper and all those who purport to speak for the interests of District children must set a better example.

NELSON SMITH

Executive director

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board

Washington

Stay out of home offices

The latest "ruling" by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the most anti-woman, anti-environmental proposal ever put out by the federal government ("Home-office police," Editorial, Jan. 6). It is high time that Congress tame that wild beast by specifically prohibiting rulings that would permit OSHA or any employer from ever entering the office of a worker who works from home.

Just as important would be a congressional investigation to determine just who proposed such awful regulations.

HORACE W. REID JR.

Cincinnati

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