Alternatives to suspension

Our view: Good schools don't kick kids out

August 11, 2008

Disruptive or violent students can be a schoolteacher's worst nightmare. They distract their classmates from the lessons at hand and encourage other children to emulate their unacceptable behavior. Just a few bad actors can derail an entire classroom.

No wonder exasperated teachers and principals resort to suspending troublesome kids as a way of restoring order. It gets them out of sight and mind, if only temporarily. But just as kids pay a price for missing classes and falling behind, so do schools: They fail in their primary mission of giving every child a quality education. Kids who are suspended are the most likely to drop out.

That's why Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso's directive to limit suspensions last year was on target in terms of improving overall school performance. Suspensions dropped by more than 2,000, and the schools still had their best year ever on state standardized tests. Clearly, there are alternatives to kicking kids out that still allow educators to maintain order in the classroom.

Mr. Alonso urged principals to use common sense in disciplining students for nuisance offenses such as truancy and talking back, while hewing to zero tolerance for violence. He also gave them more authority over funding. The alternatives they came up with include in-school suspension, after-school detention and Saturday classes, plus a new conduct code and lessons in appropriate behavior.

These are positive steps that, over time, could reduce the need for suspensions. There will always be kids who are incorrigible. An alternative school geared to their needs will open this year in the system's North Avenue headquarters. It's another innovative approach to dealing with problem kids in a classroom setting. Educators must use every tool at their disposal to help youngsters succeed, and they can do that best by keeping them in school until they graduate.

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