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School Safety And School Choice From The Schooling In America Survey | #schoolsaftey


Seventy-seven percent of American school parents are concerned that a violent intruder could enter their child’s school. That is the most stunning of many interesting results from EdChoice’s 11th Annual Schooling in America Survey.

Conducted both by telephone and online from April 18th to May 2nd, 2023, the poll surveyed 1,224 members of the general American public and 1,504 school parents.

School safety loomed large. While 64% of American school parents said that their school was safe when given the choice between describing their child’s school as “safe” or “unsafe,” only 49% said that it was “calm” (as opposed to “stressful”) and 52% said it was “orderly” (as opposed to “chaotic”).

The fear of a violent intruder stood head and shoulders above. Thirty-one percent of parents said that they were “extremely” concerned about a violent intruder entering their child’s school. Twenty percent were “very” concerned and 26% were “somewhat” concerned. All told, that is more than three quarters of parents surveyed.

Fear of a school intruder cut across school types. Just looking at those who responded that they were “extremely” or “very” concerned, charter school parents were the most concerned, with 65% falling into one of those two categories. Private school parents were the next most concerned, at 58%. Then, interestingly, homeschool parents at 54%. Public district school parents were the least concerned, at 46%.

There could be a bit of a composition effect here. It is possible that charter, private, and homeschool parents are worried about a violent intruder in their child’s current school (or home, I guess). It could be that they are responding to the phenomenon in general, and in fact choose alternative school options because of their fear of a violent intruder. Put another way, it isn’t that they feel that their child’s current school is more likely to have a violent intruder but that people who are more concerned about a violent intruder are more likely to choose an alternative school option.

There are big differences across sectors in safety-adjacent issues.

When it comes to bullying, only 36% of public district school parents reported that their school handled it “very” or “extremely” well, compared to 65% of private and 59% of charter school parents. Only 53% of homeschool parents reported handling bullying issues “extremely” or “very well.” Perhaps they are very self-critical, or they could be answering the question for the last traditional school their child attended.

For violent behaviors in general, only 41% of public district school parents reported that their school handled it “very” or “extremely” well, compared to 62% of private and 59% of charter school parents.

For guns, only 47% of public district school parents reported that their school handled it “very” or “extremely” well, compared to 60% of private and 64% of charter school parents.

For mental health, only 39% of public district school parents reported that their school handled it “very” or “extremely” well, compared to 69% of private and 58% of charter school parents.

When it came to reasons for parents choosing their child’s school “a safe environment” was the top response for charter school and homeschool parents, the number three response for private school parents, and the number four response for public district school parents. For reference, “test scores” came in 13th (out of 14 options) for public district school parents, 11th for charter school parents, 12th for private school parents, and 10th for homeschool parents.

Given all of this, it shouldn’t surprise us that the popularity for Education Savings Account programs (ESAs), which put public funding into a flexible-use spending account that parents can use for private school tuition or a host of other educational options, remains near historic highs. In 2023, 83% of parents supported such programs when provided with a description. This is slightly down from the high-water mark of public opinion for ESAs, which crested in 2020 at 86%, but is a marked increase from 2016, when only 58% of parents did so.

School safety is a difficult topic, because while there does appear to be a high degree of agreement on the problem, there is less agreement on solutions. As previous polling by EdChoice has demonstrated, parents are split on how schools should respond. Some parents would like to see more gun control to curb violence in schools, while others want schools to “harden” with fewer entry and exit points and armed guards on campus.

While not sufficient to solve all of the problems of school safety, school choice policies do appear to be a partial solution. Parents can choose schools that they feel handle issues like bullying or guns in school better. Parents can also use school choice to build much smaller schools organized around a tight-knit community. If we think that anti-social behaviors like bullying and other violence happen in communities marked by alienation and atomization, community-focused and mission-driven schools could do something to help.



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