Riley Advocates Multi-Prong Attack on Problem of School Violence
As the Clinton Administration's campaign in behalf of a pending anti-crime measure swung into high gear last week with a flurry of speeches by Cabinet members, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley declared that he was "deeply troubled'' by what he sees as a "new level of violence'' in the nation's schools.
In a speech to a National School Boards Association conference in New Orleans, the Secretary began by asking the audience to pray for Barrington Miles, a Prince George's County, Md., teacher who was critically wounded by a 17-year-old student earlier this month in a shooting that apparently was accidental.
"I ask you to rise and join me in a moment of silence ... for I am deeply troubled that a line is being crossed which has never been crossed before in our society,'' Mr. Riley said.
Calling the existing level of violence in society "corrosive and debilitating,'' Mr. Riley promoted a "three-level'' approach for keeping American schoolchildren "out of harm's way.''
A recent Justice Department survey of students in 10 inner-city public schools found that 45 percent of the respondents had been threatened with a gun or shot at while on the way to or from school; 10 percent had been stabbed.
On the national level, Secretary Riley said, the pending crime bill that President Clinton supports would give educators "the help [they] need'' to tackle many of the crime problems plaguing schools.
House Vote Near
The House is poised to vote this week on its $15.9 billion version of the crime bill, which would authorize $6.9 billion for after-school programs, school security, crime prevention, and peer-mediation programs in schools.
If the House passes HR 4092, as expected, it must then be reconciled with the Senate's $22.3 billion omnibus crime bill, HR 3355, which emphasizes increased punishment rather than prevention. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994.)
The Clinton Administration has been lobbying to retain the prevention aspects of the crime legislation, which have come under attack by Republican leaders who are pushing for more funding for law-enforcement programs.
In addition to plugging the crime legislation, Mr. Riley last week also announced that officials in the Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Justice departments have already begun work on a new school-crime task force whose mission is to develop and coordinate strategies on crime prevention and intervention in and around schools.
In addition, he said, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which President Clinton signed into law last month, will help to set "a new standard of excellence for every child.''
Mr. Riley said schools can best contribute to crime prevention by "hooking young people into learning.''
"The most effective way we can keep our young people away from violence is to make our schools exceptional places to learn,'' the Secretary argued, citing Justice Department statistics indicating that 80 percent of the nation's prison inmates are high school dropouts.
Schools with strong leadership, a sincere commitment to the "total well-being'' of every child, and a dedication to a rigorous academic program, Mr. Riley said, reflect what he believes is best about American education and are often places where "the line that leads to violence has not been crossed.''
Finally, the Secretary stressed that more attention should be paid to building character and instilling personal and social responsibility in young people.
Secretary Riley exhorted community groups, parents, school administrators, and students to "use their imagination'' and work together to develop ways to teach values such as fairness, citizenship, and caring.
In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington last week, President Clinton echoed Mr. Riley's sentiments about trying to dissuade young people from criminal activity through the teaching of values.
"Every one of us, every parent, every teacher, every person has to somehow find a way to reach these kids before it's too late,'' Mr. Clinton said. "We must help to insure for the next generation of children the values that were given to us.''
Jay Butler, a spokesman for the N.S.B.A., said that most school leaders were favorably impressed by the increased federal attention to school crime.
"Violence is uppermost in the minds of school board members, and it is good to see that the federal government is taking this seriously,'' he said.