In response to questions prompted by Katherine Kersen's recent columns on Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), I decided to visit the school myself.

What I learned during a tour late last month is that none of Kersten's concerns that the charter school is promoting religion in violation of a state law that prohibits public schools from doing so is valid.

What I did see was excellent teachers hard at work in the classroom focused on improving student achievement. I saw engaged students of different religious and cultural backgrounds learning reading, math, government and science. I spoke with parents, teachers and administrators who all stressed their high standards for TIZA students.

While an outsider, or someone like Kersten who is trying to validate a predetermined conclusion, might be tempted to brand Tarek ibn Ziyad as an "Islamic School" because it leases space from the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, the school, like other charter schools in Minnesota that lease space from churches, is a separate entity. It does comply with federal law that requires all schools to accommodate a student's right to practice his or her religion. And unlike other charter schools that have faced financial and other administrative challenges, the school was recognized with a 2008 School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education for its "sound fiscal health and financial management policies."

Kersten's reckless journalistic standards have diminished this paper's credibility. Worse, they have threatened the safety of the children and staff at the school, which has been forced to take extra security measures in the wake of recent death threats. While I value a broad range of opinions from a variety of perspectives, I value the facts even more. Kersten's gross distortion of the facts in this case should compel Star Tribune management to ask for her resignation.


Next president needs sound economic judgment Sen. John McCain claimed he knew little about economics. Then he proceeds to prove it beyond reasonable doubt by proposing a summer holiday on the gas tax.

Sen. Hillary Clinton -- who claims expertise on economics -- follows in suit, all of it only pandering to the electorate.

Real economists point out that such a plan would do little or nothing to reduce gas prices. Since gas prices are driven by world gas shortages, a gas tax holiday will likely encourage more driving, which results in more gas consumption and higher gas prices, meaning increased oil company profits. The reduced tax revenue would reduce funding of our deteriorating transportation infrastructure and/or add to our national debt.

We urgently need a president who is far more savvy on the economic impact of his/her policies. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, points out in his current Vanity Fair article that the interest on the federal debt created just during the current Bush administration will be equivalent to the cost of two Iraq wars running forever. If ever we need a president with some rational economic judgment, it is now.


Worried about an attack on Iraq This is a letter to anyone who can either comfort or scare me. It has been my understanding that only Congress can declare war, and that in preelection 2002, furnished with bad information, Congress gave the authority to invade Iraq to the president. I have read the resolution, and I believe it is limited to Iraq.

Now there is a lot of speculation about attacking Iran. Please confirm to me the president does not have the authority to do so, since the 2002 resolution only named Iraq, or arouse the public to the danger.


Dean weighs in on Democratic contest I find it amusing that Dr. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has called for, in essence, an end to the primary process in the party by having one of the candidates withdraw ("Dean: Either Clinton or Obama will know when to drop out after June primaries," April 28). This will allow the remaining candidate to work against John McCain without interruption.

Dean was the one who disallowed the Florida and Michigan delegates and now he pretends to want to avoid a "brokered convention." In actuality he wants to broker the convention months before the convention and before all the states have had primaries. Sounds like he is either confused or he "protesteth too much." Let the people decide.


Plenty of stellar, altruistic college students The generalizations expressed by Amelia Rawls ("The best, the bright, the not so nice," May 2) not only do a disservice to the majority of our students in selective colleges but also to the admissions policies of those colleges. They therefore deserve a rebuttal.

Are we to be surprised that somewhat fewer than 100 percent of our best and brightest are altruistic? (My mother, with her sixth-grade education, cautioned me never to comment on the obvious.) Conversely, are we to assume that a cross-section of the less-than-best-and-brightest would turn out only altruists? Rawls writes as if she is the only one in that rarified academic atmosphere who can lay claim to the moral high ground. Why, with today's virtually unlimited access to information, does she have to wonder if the current presidential candidates share her implied altruism? For example, is there not just a hint of altruism in the decision of the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, who could have written his own ticket, to return to South Chicago to make it a better place?

This first-year law student doesn't present a shred of evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support her speculation that successful people rise to the top on the backs of others. (Evidently, "evidence" must be a second-year course at her law school.)

For over 30 years I have interviewed applicants to one of our country's highly selective colleges and rare, indeed, is the applicant who does not wish to make this world a better place. As a case in point, I would like to paraphrase a conversation that I had with a young woman now completing her freshman year:

Upon noticing that she was proficient in both French and German I suggested that she, should she be admitted, take her language placement exam right away, before she got "rusty" in the face of new academic challenges. She replied that such action wouldn't be necessary because she would be studying Arabic in college in order to use her God-given intellect in helping bring peace to the Middle East.

I submit her as one of many altruists who "made it past the gate."