Presentation to the Illinois Policy Institute
Summit on Vouchers and the Future of Education in Illinois.
Surveys repeatedly tell us that school safety is one of the most important factors parents consider when choosing a school for their children.
Last year, with this in mind, Dan Lips of the Heritage Foundation and I, along with the invaluable help of Dan’s colleague David Mulhausen, published a study analyzing police department data for schools in the District of Columbia. We looked at incidents where police responded to calls or situations on elementary, middle and high school campuses during the 2007-08 school year. There were 3,500 total incidents on 129 campuses, and 900 of these were specifically related to reports of violence. Serious incidents, including reports of assault, occurred not only at high schools, but at middle schools and elementary schools also, particularly in higher-crime neighborhoods.
In 2009, the federal Department of Education withdrew the Opportunity Scholarships of 216 students who had been recently admitted to the program. As a result, the students had to return this fall to the neighborhood public schools to which they had been assigned. Those schools averaged 9.76 police incidents per 100 students, of which just under 3 were violent incidents (mostly simple assaults). These rates were slightly higher than the average for public schools as a whole in the city, which wasn’t surprising given the income requirements for the Opportunity Scholarship program and the geography and demographics of the city.
In the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department was given responsibility for security at public schools in 2005. The 98 public charter school campuses and 87 private schools each have different security arrangements, many with private providers. So comparing police incidents at the different types of schools directly is problematic. But to offer some perspective, public charter schools had a rate of 0.39 police incidents per 100 students during the year we studied, and .08 violent events per 100 students.
Private schools for which enrollment data could be confirmed experienced police incidents at a rate of 1.35 incidents per 100 students, and .16 violent events.
It is “no wonder parents cite school safety when explaining why they want choice in where their child goes to school,” the Washington Post said in an editorial.
Washington, DC’s public schools are statistically some of the most dangerous in the country according to several key indicators. So are Chicago’s. Two of the indicators that struck us as we gathered information about school safety in the Nation’s Capital were:
• 11.3 percent of high school students either carried a weapon on school property, or were injured or threatened with a weapon on school property, fifth among cities studied.
• 14.4 percent of high school students did not go to school at least one day in the previous 30 days because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school, highest in the country.
What were these statistics in Chicago? In the first category, 12.8 percent, the highest rate in the country, for exposure to a weapon at school, and 12.3 percent of students, the nation’s third highest rate, reported missing school because going there and being there made them feel unsafe. And that was in 2007.
According to data obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute from the Chicago Police Department, Chicago had 2.25 police incidents at public schools per 100 students in 2008, 1.62 of which were violent incidents. Private schools in Chicago had a much lower rate of .91 incidents and .42 incidents per 100 students that year.
It is also essential that parents receive useful, timely information about the safety of their child’s school. But such valuable information about school safety is seldom a school district priority. A survey taken in Chicago in 2008 by the Citywide Education Organizing Campaign found that 60 percent of parents or guardians of CPS students said they had never received any public safety information about their local schools. School report cards have improved greatly over the past decade. The school safety information parents are given must also improve.
One other characteristic that Chicago and the District of Columbia both share: the federal government requires school districts to identify “Persistently Dangerous Schools” under the guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act. Parents of students attending these schools must be notified promptly, and allowed to transfer their child to another school, including a charter school, within the same school district. But according to official statistics, there are no “Persistently Dangerous Schools” in either Chicago or the District of Columbia. Or, for that matter, in Milwaukee.
An analysis of school safety for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program by School Choice Wisconsin offered similar findings, and even more striking disparities. Police calls at Milwaukee Public Schools in 2007 were more than three times more frequent than at schools participating in the scholarship program. At the high school level the difference was over seven times the frequency of police calls.
This being the Illinois Voucher Summit, I will mention that I believe offering greater educational freedom is an important part of the solution. But it is only one part, and others are needed, and with great urgency.
We read recently that of the 200 Chicago public school students identified as being at “ultra high risk” of being shot have stopped coming to school halfway through the school year. Whatever it takes to get those kids to graduate needs to be a top priority.
Research has repeatedly shown that the three o’clock hour is the most dangerous time to be an urban high school student. The hour or so immediately following the end of the traditional school day has the highest frequency of crimes against juveniles, according to the Urban Institute and others.
We have also seen that when we look at a school where safety is at issue and we look at the neighborhoods that house these schools, there is often one hotspot, a bus stop or a convenience store parking lot, where a concentration of incidents happen, and often not between students who attend one school. These findings would support the CPS strategy of monitoring hot spots, and involving community members to help provide safe passage for students. These are good ideas District of Columbia Chief of Police Cathy Lanier understands and that are being discussed in a public policy context in Washington.
Other initiatives include a violence prevention curriculum called Second Step which is being used in preK-9 schools, along with a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention System in high schools. Like Chicago, Washington DC is moving in valuable new directions working with juvenile offenders to reduce their likely rate of re-arrest. Community supervision and involvement for a successful re-entry following release is critical, and education must play an important role. We need to do a much better job in both our cities in all of these areas, by any measure.
I am one of many who believe we need to care less about where children are educated and more about whether they are educated, and how well. But ensuring that children have a school they can attend, and get home from safely, is imperative both morally and educationally. Thank you.
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