Commonsense school safety policies

Self-appointed stakeholders of the Philadelphia School District have been filling this paper's editorial pages with pleas to jettison what they inaccurately describe as the district's "zero tolerance" disciplinary policies, which were adopted in 2008 under the leadership of Arlene Ackerman at the urging of me and, more importantly, Mayor Nutter. The critics label this disciplinary policy as "unjust" and "ineffective." They are wrong on both counts.

First, the district is simply enforcing its own disciplinary code. Not exactly a radical policy. And it is not zero tolerance. That phrase describes school discipline policies in which punishment is applied without discretion. In Philadelphia, in contrast, every violation can be punished by a range of sanctions available to school and district officials. This is a rational disciplinary policy.

Second, the new policy is proving effective: Just recently the district announced a 14 percent drop in school crime and a 47 percent reduction in the number of persistently dangerous schools. This modest success is exactly the result Ackerman predicted in 2008.

Of course, since Gov. Ed Rendell closed the Office of the Safe Schools Advocate in 2009, no independent expert is available to test the validity of the district's school violence data. (Note to Gov. Corbett: The legislature reauthorized this office in the budget you signed in June; school started in September; the unemployment rate is 9 percent; you should be able to find someone for this important public safety position.)

One year's data is simply not enough to gauge whether a corner has truly been turned in the fight to make the city's schools havens for learning. However, one thing is clear: The School Reform Commission should not return to policies that left too many schools in chaos. It must not abandon policies that are, based on the available evidence and common sense, making schools safer.

Jack Stollsteimer, former Safe Schools Advocate, Havertown

Bullies can come from anywhere

No argument that there's some truth to the statement "Children learn bullying at home" (Tuesday). Media are also culpable. But I argue strongly against the letter writer's thesis that the homes that produce bullies are "especially low income" and "especially [homes of] single mothers." In my 30 years of teaching and my almost 80 years of living, I have seen bullying behavior in children from all kinds of homes, regardless of family income or whether there are one or two parents.

Lynn James, Merchantville,

Make U.S. and its people the priority

Of the many opinion pieces I've read in The Inquirer over the years, Charles Allison Jr.'s "Immigration reform = growth" is perhaps the most idiotic (Oct. 23).

Attract talent from outside the United States? I have a much better idea. Give our homegrown students priority over foreign students for admission to our colleges. Let the students from abroad into our schools if and only if there is an opening. Educate our own citizens. Let them become the leaders of science and industry in this country and the world. Let them become the entrepreneurs who create jobs, develop new technologies, and make the United States the world leader in business again.

We can do this. All it takes is the strength and will to do what must be done: Make the United States and its people our first concern.

George R. Kawchak Jr., Phoenixville

Another taxpayer-funded bailout

Does anyone see the similarities between the recent home mortgage debacle and what is happening with college tuition ("Help for students choked by debt," Thursday)?

With mortgages we had the real estate industry driving up prices with no regard to value because they knew mortgage companies would give loans to anyone regardless of ability to repay. Mortgage lenders had very little risk because they knew that ultimately the federal government (taxpayers) and the unsuspecting investor would absorb any loss. Anyone with insight knew this would not end well, and it did not.

Colleges and universities are driving toward a similar crisis. They are driving up the cost of an education simply because they know people will pay for it at any cost. They know that students and parents will absorb more debt than they can afford because they need an education to succeed. They also know that in the end the government (taxpayers) will step in to clean up the mess. Recent actions by President Obama confirm that this process has already started. His idea of lowering repayment rates and caps is just the first step toward the taxpayer getting stuck again paying for another institution's avarice.

Stephen Carney, Collegeville