Letters To The Editor


May 14, 2008

Lack of discipline also carries a cost

Liz Bowie's article on school suspensions emphasizes the sense of urgency facing school administrators and policymakers to improve and expand comprehensive alternative education programs for students at all grade levels ("Discipline's cost," May 11).

There is a growing body of research that supports the importance of identifying at-risk students during the elementary grades and providing alternative education options before these students become disengaged and disenfranchised from the process of learning.

Most alternative education programs begin during the middle and high school years, which is often too late for students who may have meager academic skills, and thus develop counterproductive behavioral patterns that become difficult to change.

In addition to designing and implementing alternative placements at the elementary school level, existing programs at the middle and high school level that are merely "warehousing" students need to be expanded to provide support services that meet students' needs.

To be effective, alternative education programs must address the social, emotional and vocational needs of the students in addition to providing an appropriate education. Counseling students to make effective behavioral changes and to connect their education to personal and career goals is just as important as providing them a comprehensive curriculum. Neglecting any of these important components of student development will only perpetuate high suspension and expulsion rates.

Funding such programs has always been a challenge. But last time I checked, it still cost taxpayers a lot less to educate a student than to support a prisoner.

Kevin L. Ensor, Parkton

The writer is a college counselor at Hereford High School.

Liz Bowie missed the point in "Discipline's cost" by noting that "national research has shown that students suspended multiple times are more apt to ... commit crimes."

The implication seems to be that suspension leads to crime. However, I have a different conclusion: Students who commit crimes are more apt to be suspended. Antisocial behavior can manifest itself at an early age, and schools must try to mitigate it.

Education rests upon a tripod of effort and responsibility: from the student, the teacher and the parents. Whenever one leg is missing, the effort is unlikely to be successful.

"It's your job to discipline Johnny" is a refrain I have heard countless times during the 40 years I have taught.

Until the home becomes an equal partner in education, suspensions, sadly, will remain a tool to ensure that those students who want to learn are given that opportunity.

K. Gary Ambridge, Bel Air

Only in the pages of The Sun would it constitute news that city teenagers repeatedly suspended or expelled from school are more likely to be victims of violent street crime.

However, the article implies that such youths are just as likely, or even more likely, to become victimizers before their misdeeds invite their own doom. So why would it make more sense to keep these violent youths in school when their likely scholastic contribution is ongoing disorder, disruption and harm to other children, teachers and staff?

As ever-more-common assaults on teachers obviously confirm, violent and repeatedly disorderly young people need to be removed from mainstream schools sooner, not later, in order to protect the rest of the city's youths.

Andrew Carruthers, Greenbelt

My response to what I perceive as finger-pointing on the issue of school suspensions is that there may be as many possible solutions to the problems and needs that troubled students have in school as there are troubled students.

It is the job of all parents, teachers, administrators and policy-makers to take full responsibility for what we do for our young people. And it is the young people themselves who must understand that behaviors carry rewards and consequences.

Please, let us not give in to the temptation to point the finger at others when we could have done the things that would prevent the problems from happening in the first place.

As a teacher, one bottom line for me is that my classroom needs to provide a safe and excellent learning atmosphere. When a student is repeatedly disruptive, it negatively affects other students. When important rules are broken, important and appropriate consequences and remedies need to be applied - in school and at home.

Young people learn from everything that takes place around them, including from whether or not they and their peers are appropriately held accountable for their actions - in school and at home.

Janet Steinberg, Baltimore

Deposit on bottles could curb trash

As I looked at The Sun's photos of floating trash captured by booms and trash, in one case, being removed by a water-powered conveyor, I cannot help thinking that if there were a five-cent deposit on each of the bottles among the trash, they wouldn't be there ("Path to a cleaner harbor," May 13).

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