December 23, 2003
Bloomberg's New Plan for School Safety +
It hasn't hit the wire services just yet, but earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan for improving school safety. The cornerstone of the plan seems to be some new "reform schools" that will put all the problem kids together. Details will be out later, but at first glance, this seems like an expensive and not necessarily effective solution. When trouble-making children are all pulled out of the classroom and put in some remote location together, they cease to be a problem for the community at large. While this might seem like a good thing, it takes away the incentive for the community as a whole to help them. Once they're at the reform school, everyone can say "They're not our problem any more" and forget about them. Over the long term, this isn't good for the problem kids. As hard as it is to deal with these kids, the community needs to take responsibility for them and concentrate on rehabilitating them so they can be integrated into a normal classroom environment again. It's hard to imagine that these reform schools will be essentially different from our stereotypes of highly-regimented, tightly-controlled environments where people are ordering the kids around all the time. Admittedly, I'm basing this on some assumptions. According to the mayor, problem kids will be handled with a policy of "three strikes, your out" and be sent off to "Off Site Suspension Centers, New Beginnings or Second Opportunity Schools." I'm not familiar with these programs, but it sounds like there's a world of difference between "Off Site Suspenstion Center" and "New Beginnings." I wonder if the differences are only name-deep.
Anyway, strict and institutionalized environments are not what the children need. Instead, they need people to show them respect and help them become a better person. I believe an alternative to reform schools would be a sort of "reform program" where problem children are sent temporarily with the explicit goal of getting them ready to return to regular school. Bloomberg's plan also calls for a stream-lined procedure for suspending students. Instead of being sent home or back to the street during their suspension, I think the kids should be sent to a variable-length reform program. Most of these kids need two things: positive attention and therapy. I'm not convinced that any kind of long-term reform school is going to offer them that. It might sound like I'm being too easy on the trouble-making kids, but I've taught enough to know that most kids respond well to trust, respect, and another chance.
One smart idea, though, is to concentrate the most resources on the schools that have the most problems. This may sound familiar: it's the same strategy used in the NYPD's Operation Impact that has been so successful in reducing crime in the city. Strategically and conceptually it seems like a good idea, but if you look at the specifics of the program, it does sound as though they are treating problem students like criminals, which they may not be.