School proposals need refinement

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Thoughts on issues relating to Harford County

February 27, 2005

Last week's question dealt with Harford County school officials considering imposing job-related courses and class projects as a way to prepare students for college or a career.

Here are readers' views on the kinds of changes they feel would be appropriate to accomplish the goal of improving the potential of students graduating from Harford County high schools.

Suggestions for `projects' inadequate for problem

Adding non-academic "projects" to the list of requirements for a high school diploma is simply an aspirin handed to a patient wasted from disease and incoherent with pain. This "improvement" begs the issue of why colleges and employers find too many of our graduates unable to handle the challenges of higher education and the work place.

The problem starts at the bottom. Elementary students do not become skilled at reading, writing and arithmetic. Remediation takes over increasing amounts of time during the school year in middle school and high school. The 180-day school year offers at best 170 days dedicated to the learning of new material. Preparation for "No Child Left Behind" tests rewards time spent in test preparation over time spent in pursuit of education. And there is no regional, let alone national, consensus as to what constitutes the content of a good education.

If a rising tide raises all ships, then we had best consider ways to engineer a more powerful surge. Right now we are just adding cargo to leaking vessels stranded on the rocks. We cannot expect to "fix" high school students irreparably damaged by eight or more years of flawed schooling. We can, however, commit to a systematic reinvention of the system. A student should emerge from 12 years of school as an educated individual informed about the world and possessed of the skills and understanding necessary to succeed in it.

When all of our schools ensure this kind of education to all our children, perhaps we can talk about tenth-graders being prepared to evaluate their career goals.

Ellen B. Cutler

Adjunct professor, Maryland Institute College of Art Aberdeen

Don't overburden teens: They also have lives, jobs

I am currently a student at Harford Technical High School taking the nursing course offered there.

Many other job-related courses are also available at Harford Tech. I do agree that if not for this course I would not make the choice during college years to go into the nursing field.

I would be turned off and thought it too hard or a waste of time.

Perhaps students are too young to make meaningful career decisions, but their self-esteem really increases [when they know] that they could be a registered nurse, a certified welder, or a licensed cosmetologist. Even if they do not choose to take that route in life, they still have experience in that field. This helps them to decide if maybe they were wrong about a certain job instead of wasting college years to figure this out. I do disagree, however, with additional class projects being added to high schools.

The reason I did not apply for AP English next year or my senior year was because of all the mandatory projects. Projects are a waste of time!

Yes, everyone, teenagers do have lives and some do have jobs and most of the time students get so overwhelmed with projects that they just take a zero and not do them at all. Not once have I truly learned anything from a project. Harford County school officials should consider imposing job-related courses, however projects do not fulfill the extreme help homework offers.

Joanna Svezzese Joppa

Tougher requirements lack meaning without funding

While the idea "to toughen high school graduation requirements by imposing extra courses and lengthy class projects" ("Earning diploma may get tougher," Feb. 20) may help students better prepare for a more competitive world, it will accomplish nothing without the funding to make it possible.

In order to realize such a wide ranging sea change in graduation requirements, the county must have the resources to accomplish it. This county does not! Starting teachers' salaries in Harford are 21st in the state, despite the fact that we are the 8th richest county. Our children are being treated as poorly as our teachers: the county spends the least per pupil in Maryland. (Allow me to add a disclaimer here and state I am not a county employee, do not have a child in the school system, lived here for 25 years and am over sixty.)

A quality education is what we owe our children. Moreover, property values are directly related to public choices about capital investments. People pay more for properties in locations with good schools. This on its face should be reason enough to have a competitive school district. After all, the students going through our schools are our next generation of taxpayers. Since high-tech jobs are the future of this country, we better wake up now and provide the sort of education that is needed in a very competitive world economy.

Gary Ambridge Bel Air

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