- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

Unruly students and violence in public schools are more of a worry for teachers and youth across the country than demands for rigorous academic standards and achievement, according to a new study.
Nearly half the teachers surveyed by Public Agenda, a liberal polling group in New York City, said they spend most of their time trying to keep order in the classroom.
"More than four in ten [teachers] say that teachers in their school spend more time trying to keep order than actually teaching, and surveys of students show them reporting pretty much the same thing," says the report titled "Where We Are Now: 12 Things You Need to Know About Public Opinion and Public Schools."
"High school students themselves report that violence in school is a fact of life, with many saying that they have seen 'serious fights' in their school at least monthly since they've been there."
The report says the Gallup Poll 2002 recorded 76 percent of respondents citing "lack of student discipline" as a "serious problem" in their local schools ; 63 percent reported "fighting, violence and gangs" in their schools.
In Public Agenda's "Reality Check" survey of 3,207 students from 1998 to 2002, 40 percent of students said "serious fights in school occur once a month or more," while 56 percent said "hardly ever."
"A majority [62 percent] also say their school has serious problems with too many students abusing alcohol or drugs. Most [64 percent] indicate that the hallways are crowded places where cursing is all too common."
The number citing cursing as a major problem rose to 77 percent when the question included the school cafeteria as well as hallways.
"Many [32 percent] report a serious problem with bullying. Only about a third say students treat one another with respect, and even fewer [18 percent] say most students treat teachers respectfully."
The report blames ineffective teachers and parental neglect for "the rough-edged, uncivil atmosphere in many high schools [where] few see high schools as places of respect or civility."
According to 61 percent of education professors surveyed, "When teachers face a disruptive class, it probably means they have failed to make lessons engaging enough," the report says.
Good teachers make a profound difference on classroom discipline, said Ronald C. Brady, a principal in Trenton, N.J.
"The key to discipline issues in the schools is profoundly impacted by the teachers," said Mr. Brady, author of a report, "Can Failing Schools Be Fixed?" for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
"The teachers are ultimately the ones who make the difference in the discipline area. Now principals, the leadership, certainly have an impact along the way, but teachers really do establish the discipline, they're on the front line," Mr. Brady said in an interview.
Mr. Brady said that in his experience, "our best teachers are the ones who don't send students down" to the principal's office for disciplinary infractions. They take care of matters themselves, he said.
"And then some of the teachers who are less effective are the first ones to send students down, and they are the first ones to lament the overall system," he said.
Public Agenda was founded by pollster Daniel Yankelovich and Cyrus R. Vance, President Carter's secretary of state.
Deborah Wadsworth, the polling firm's president, said the study shows "fault lines" of opinion over efforts to raise education standards.
Teachers "believe in higher standards but often feel they can't count on students to make the effort or parents and administrators to back them up," Mrs. Wadsworth told the Associated Press.
The report came down hard on parents for neglect and apathy 78 percent of teachers said "too many parents don't know what's going on with their children's education."
More than 80 percent of teachers surveyed said "parents who fail to set limits and create structure at home for their kids [and who] refuse to hold their kids accountable for their behavior or academic performance are a serious problem."

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