It takes a great deal of effort to educate almost one million school children through the age of seventeen, and hard-pressed New York City decided for a while it just couldn't be done completely. The suspension Feb. 6, of 644 problem students onto the streets reflects the Board of Education's desperation with the deliquents who have seriously impeded the public schools.
The Board of Education estimates that there are about 9500 "hard-core delinquents" in the elementary and secondary schools. This is only one per cent of the student population, but determined junior toughs can make life miserable for teachers and earnest students, besides attracting immature admirers.
Until the present suspension decree, problem students were placed either in full-time institutions or in special "600" schools, which have shown gratifying results. But the five "600" schools can accomodate only 1200 students. At a recent conference with Governor Harriman, the city received assurance that it would get another six "600" schools by fall, and also that the full-time correctional facilities would be enlarged. This still falls short of what is needed and will leave about 6500 of the 9500 hard-core delinquents in regular schools.
The statistics of delinquency form the background of the crisis which blew up with the Brooklyn grand jury investigation of school crime. Judge Samuel Leibowitz and Superintendent of Schools William Jansen traded charges and countercharges. The Board of Education hinted that the tragic suicide of junior high principal George Goldfarb resulted from a member of the jury's threat that he might be indicted on unspecified charges.
As a result of the controversy the Mayor convened a meeting of city and school officials. In a report approved by the Mayor, the Board of Education requested more "600" schools and larger correction facilities. Their subsequent decree, which removed delinquents from the schools and, because of lack of facilities, offered no educational alternatives for them, got the results they wanted from the Board of Estimate and the Governor.
Besides showing the need for more remedial schools and additional personnel, the school crisis has re-opened basic questions of educational policy. Mayor Wagner has proposed lowering the compulsory school age to fourteen, and the expedient of suspension poses the problem of the city's responsibility to educate the law-breakers.
Professor Herold C. Hunt of the Graduate School of Education, who has also served as Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, believes "it would be unfortunate if people were to conclude that these students are uneducable. It is no solution of the problem at all to drop the compulsory age to 14." Hunt suggests that a type of work-study program might alleviate the situation. If the school officials could cooperate with local industry, education combined with on-the-job training might encourage a student's desire for education as well as providing him with useful vocational training.
It seems clear now that more must be accomplished than merely patching up the school system with emergency facilities. Encouraged by the present popular concern, city and state should formulate extensive aid for a school system which faces a mammoth task.