Growing Violence in Schools In Convention Spotlight

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New Orleans

The rising tide of school violence was a focal point of the National Association of Secondary School Principals' meeting here last week.

A quick glance over the meeting schedule found these sessions:

  • "School Violence is Increasing--Are You Prepared?'';
  • "Beyond Punishment: Administrative Intervention'';
  • "BANG--Surviving School Crisis''; and
  • "Gangs 101: 'Wassup, Holmes?'''

To highlight the scope of the problem, a session by a visiting German educator promised a breakdown of youth violence and neo-Nazism.

In several of the packed sessions, administrators, child advocates, and police officers traded stories about violent incidents in schools.

One of the liveliest forums was a debate between officials from two Washington lobbies.

Richard Gardiner, the general counsel for the National Rifle Association, and Richard Aborn, the president of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, battled over gun licensing, gun-safety education, and crime legislation.

Although both groups promote teaching children early about the dangers of firearms, the debaters clashed over how such education should be approached.

Mr. Gardiner accused the handgun center of pedaling propaganda in the schools, but defended the N.R.A.'s gun-safety materials for children as objective guidelines devoid of a political message.

Thomas W. Payzant, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, delivered a get-tough message on school violence from the Clinton Administration.

In his speech to the 4,400 administrators attending the meeting, Mr. Payzant denounced violence among young people as "a shocking indictment that something is very amiss in our society.''

He appealed for the principals' support for the administration's proposed "safe-schools act,'' which would make federal funds available to schools for violence-prevention programs.

Mr. Payzant also highlighted the need for national and local standards, another theme at this year's NASSP meeting.

He touted the "opportunity to learn'' and performance standards in the Administration's proposed "goals 2000: educate America act.''

He also stressed the need for "sustained, thoughtful professional development'' for both teachers and administrators.

Although many educators view curriculum and performance standards as having a crucial role in school reform, several participants suggested last week that the standards movement has spun out of control.

A. Graham Down, the president of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, said standards provide an intellectual focus and force policymakers to rethink key issues.

But Mr. Down added that standards have become overused and too discipline-centered, loading down schools with requirements they either cannot understand or do not have the tools to fulfill.

"Standards as they are currently developed are like Mack trucks descending on the little red schoolhouse,'' Mr. Down contended.

Layering standards at the national, state, and local levels also begs the question, "Who is in charge?'' he added. "That is a fundamental question that has plagued American education.''

Peg Luksik, the chairman of the National Parents Commission, and John R. Champlin, the executive director of the National Center for Outcome-Based Education, underscored that point in another debate here.

Ms. Luksik, who led the successful battle to defeat Pennsylvania's proposed outcomes-based system last year, and Mr. Champlin, a leading proponent of O.B.E., were expected to generate sparks in a forum on the place of outcomes in schools.

But the debate became more a demonstration of how the two camps can reach a middle ground.

Ms. Luksik and Mr. Champlin concurred on two crucial points. States and localities trying to develop performance-based systems have strayed from O.B.E.'s central mission of setting a few clear academic standards, they said, and national, state, and local governments have become carried away with controlling public education.--JOANNA RICHARDSON

Vol. 13, Issue 23

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