After reading about Otis Rolley's platform on education ("Rolley urges vouchers, mayoral control of schools," June 12), I again found myself wondering, as I usually do: When are people going to wake up and realize that Baltimore's schools are not "bad schools"?

It's the students who shape a school's environment and culture, not the teachers, administrators or building conditions. Mr. Rolley's plan for "improving education" makes little sense to me. He suggests closing five middle schools and allowing the students to attend other public schools. We already have middle school choice throughout the entire school district. The students who attend these "failing schools" can already choose to go somewhere else.

And the vouchers? Private schools don't offer a "better education," but the atmosphere is infinitely more conducive to learning. The same goes for successful public schools. Roland Park Elementary is a great school because of the kids who go there and the families they come from. You could put those kids in any school building in Baltimore, with any of Baltimore's teachers, and they would reach the same levels of achievement.

I don't understand why Mr. Rolley is turning to vouchers as a solution. Why abandon the public schools? It might work for some students, separating them from a negative environment, but Mr. Rolley seems to be operating under the assumption that the students in question are actually interested in, or would benefit from, the type of education that a private school offers, which is generally college preparatory in nature.

I'd like to see a candidate who talks about expanding opportunities for vocational education. This could benefit so many young people. Instead of constantly shuffling these kids around and spending more money on trying to make all kids into college-bound scholars, why not spend some of that proposed $25 million on more specialized training programs within the public schools that could prepare kids for meaningful employment after high school?

Sen. Catherine Pugh's ideas, though barely mentioned in the article, lead me to believe that she's the only candidate with a shred of intelligence and common sense. At least she realizes that the problem is not the schools themselves but the environment the students come from. The only way to turn things around is to address the social issues that underlie the ostensible problems with education in Baltimore.

Instead of pouring more money into the schools, we need ways to involve families and communities in education. I also love the idea of creating more job opportunities for students while providing enrichment for students who are academically inclined. While we're at it, I'd like to see a renewed focus on traditional public schools as opposed to the continued promotion of the farce that is the charter school. Schools like Roland Park and Hampden Elementary are good schools because the parents in the community send their kids there, support the schools, and are involved in their kids' education. Simply collecting kids from all over the city and placing them in a building called a "charter school" is not going to help anyone or anything!

I agree with Mr. Rolley in this respect — Baltimore's future is tied to the education of our youth. But I don't foresee any improvements unless there is a change in the educational system that is far more radical and dramatic than any of the bland schemes proposed by Mr. Rolley.

Amanda K. Mercado, Baltimore