David Roemer writes:

I was a teacher at three public high schools in New York City. Students got an excellent education at two (Edward R. Murrow and Midwood) and a poor education at one (Erasmus). The reason was that there is in NYC a two-tier system. At good schools high demands are made on teachers and students. At poor schools low demands are made on teachers and students. The following is testimony I gave about discipline in NYC public schools to the New York State agency governing public schools:

Read more: The Trouble with No Child Left Behind — Mises Economics Blog http://blog.mises.org/12283/the-trouble-with-no-child-left-behind/#comments#ixzz0j2uFiWAu

In his testimony, Roemer accuses the public schools of failing to maintain order by not suspending or expelling delinquent students (contrary to the State’s Discipline Code). After distinguishing between “two types of offenses: violent and non-violent” he states (my emphasis), “A school is disorderly because the administration is unwilling to prohibit non-violent misbehavior. Enforcing the rules of civility and decorum will immediately cause students who come to school only to fool around to stop coming to school. This type of student is one of the main sources of disorder and violence in lower-tier schools.

In other words,  non-violent misbehaviour not summarily or effectively dealt with by the school begets violent behaviour: The fault, as I have been saying, isn’t the “behavior of a small percentage of students” but the policy and practices of the Board of Education’s superintendents and principals… violence can be eliminated in schools by enforcing the various rules that require students to behave in a civil and mature manner.” This is exactly the point repeatedly made by a secondary school teacher in Britain who blogs at Scenes from the Battleground.

Roemer gives the specific example of students cutting class, and what one particular school  failed to do about it. After 80% of the faculty at a poorly performing school petitioned the Chancellor about lax discipline, the Chancellor’s response was “We are all committed to enforcing the discipline code so that our schools are conducive to learning.”

Roemer points out that “[t]here is a strong correlation between failing a course and the number of days absent from class”, then provides the evidence:

A computer printout of the names of students at Erasmus Hall High School who cut class in a two week period in May of 1994 shows that 1365 cut class at least 3 times. Since the average daily attendance is around 1500 this means that the overwhelming majority of students cut classes repeatedly, week after week… The extent of the administration’s response to cutting is to send a postcard to the child’s home. This means the burden of disciplining students who cut classes falls entirely on the parents of the child. This state of affairs is not consistent with the Discipline Code…

Roemer makes the issues at stake crystal clear (my emphasis). He points out that the rules necessary to maintaining discipline are already in place, but they need to be enforced; in addition, he explains why they are likely to work if they are enforced (my emphasis):

After repeated reprimands and counseling, a school should summon the parents for a disciplinary counseling session. Such a demand for a conference creates a family crisis…The family crisis a summons to school creates is one that enhances the parents’ standing with the child. The letter or summons means the child is in trouble with the school authorities. This places the child in the position of needing its parents to get him or her out of a predicament. If the parents refuse to go to school, they are giving the school its tacit approval to take what ever disciplinary action the school wants, for example, an out-of-school suspension.

The prospect and threat of suspension is a strong deterrent for cutting and will help children make the right decisions. Children want to be successful in school and know, or should know if they are being properly counseled, that cutting will diminish their chances for academic success. Students cut, nonetheless, because they are human beings and do not always follow their best inclinations and desires. Many are tempted to cut by the example and urgings of their peers.

…While disciplining a student for cutting, all members of the staff must be able to say truthfully that: “cutting is against the rules.” This does not mean that cutting is not recommended, it means precisely that a student who doesn’t obey this rule cannot attend school.

The whole thing is well worth reading. Roemer has prepared a very thorough testimony.

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