Giving up on drop-outs

August 15, 1991

Is the high drop-out rate among Baltimore city public school students being aggravated by school policies that, in effect, force the most troublesome youngsters out of the system prematurely?

That is the question posed in a recent report by Advocates for Children and Youth, a local youth advocacy group. Entitled "A City at Risk," the report contends that the school department's own suspension and expulsion policies exacerbate the problems of "at risk" youngsters and contribute to the myriad negative consequences of school failure -- unemployment, crime, broken families and reduced economic competitiveness.

The ACY studied school suspension and expulsion policies over an 18-month period, focusing on 18 students, ages 7 to 19, whose family background and previous school history put them at high risk of dropping out. It found that school authorities made little attempt to establish working relationships with the parents of such youngsters -- even when the parents themselves tried to initiate contact -- and that in-school counseling for such students was inadequate or non-existent. It also found that over the past 10 years, expulsions have increased 600 percent and that nearly 75 percent of suspensions statewide occur in Baltimore city.

No school reform will accomplish much unless it begins to address the issue of reaching the thousands of poor, disadvantaged youngsters who constitute an increasingly large proportion of the city's student population. That should be one of the top priorities of school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

There is broad consensus that improving the schools must be a top priority for the city. Yet at present the schools appear to be simply giving up on large numbers of children.

Is it any wonder that students give up on education when the system gives up on them? As one teacher quoted in the report put it: "The main reason behind truancy is that students are bored because their needs aren't being met."

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