WASHINGTON, D.C. – One of the top expectations parents have of schools is that they be safe and secure. Mothers don’t want their sons to be threatened or hurt; fathers don’t want their daughters taunted or bullied, and everyone wants schools where learning can occur without fear, disruption, or disorder.

A recent federal report describes in great detail how well schools are meeting those expectations.

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Produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the U.S. Department of Justice, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013 offers the most recent data on what it describes as “the current state of school crime and safety across the nation,” covering such topics as “victimization, teacher injury, bullying and cyber-bullying, school conditions, fights, weapons, availability and student use of drugs and alcohol, [and] student perceptions of personal safety at school.”

Data by Type of School

The document examines the data through various filters, including the type of school students attend. According to the report, “In 2011, a higher percentage of students ages 12–18 attending public schools reported being victimized than students attending private schools (4 vs. 2 percent.” The measure covers criminal victimization at school during the previous six months, including theft, violent crimes, simple assault, rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Looking at theft alone, it turns out that the “percentage of students reporting theft was also higher at public schools (3 percent) than at private schools (1 percent) in 2011.

It should be noted, however, that the term “at school” is defined rather expansively to include the school building itself, school grounds, a school bus, and even the trip to and from school.

Gangs & Graffiti

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Applying this expansive definition, the report notes that in 2011, “approximately 19 percent of students ages 12–18 attending public schools reported that gangs were present at their school, compared with 2 percent of students attending private schools.” Similarly, “approximately 30 percent of public school students reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school compared with 13 percent of private school students.”


Bullying continues to be a problem in both public and private schools. “Twenty-eight percent of public school students reported being bullied at school, compared with 21 percent of private school students.” A positive development is that the percentages in 2011 were lower than in 2007, “when 32 percent of public school students and 29 percent of private school students reported being bullied at school.”

Specific types of bullying varied by sector as well. “Higher percentages of public school students than of private school students also reported that they were made fun of, called names, or insulted (18 vs. 14 percent), were the subject of rumors (19 vs. 13 percent), were threatened with harm (5 vs. 2 percent), and were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on (8 vs. 5 percent).”

Looking at two additional measures of school safety, in 2011, “a higher percentage of students in public schools (4 percent) than of students in private schools (2 percent) reported being afraid of attack or harm at school” and “a higher percentage of students in public schools (5 percent) than in private schools (2 percent) reported avoiding one or more places in school” because of such fear.


Concerns about personal well-being often inform a teacher’s decision on where to work. Teachers tend not to like being subject to sassy backtalk, let alone threats and violence. The report notes, “During the 2011–12 school year, a higher percentage of public than private school teachers reported being threatened with injury (10 vs. 3 percent) or being physically attacked (6 vs. 3 percent) by a student from their school.”

Of course, bad behavior in the classroom generally does not take on such extreme forms.

The report notes: “A higher percentage of public school teachers (41 percent) than of private school teachers (22 percent) reported that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching in 2011–12. In addition, 38 percent of public school teachers reported that student tardiness and class cutting interfered with their teaching, compared with 19 percent of private school teachers.”

Published with permission.