Friday, March 09, 2007

School Safety in Urban Charter and Traditional Public Schools: An Hypothesis

A new white paper published by the National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) for the Center for Reinventing Public Education explores the issue of public school safety, specifically differences between traditional publics and charters. Key findings include: Key findings:
  • direct comparisons between charter and traditional schools are complicated;
  • threats to person or property and troubling behavioral problems exist in both types of schools;
  • teachers and principals in traditional public schools consistently report more frequent safety problems in their schools than do teachers and principals in charter schools; and
  • it is not clear what accounts for these differences.
Ugg. Not very helpful. I propose one hypothesis for variance between safety reported at charter schools and traditional public schools and it is based circuitously on a major finding in the NCSRP white paper: that principals report far fewer safety concerns or incidents than teachers report. This failure to report by principals (assuming it is really a failure to report instead of a failure on the teachers part to overreport) makes sense when you consider that school safety is a larger priority based on a principal's job priorities than a typical classroom teacher's priorities. Principals share a larger stake in school safety responsibility, therefore one could expect that a principal would want to paint a rosier picture.

The same reasoning can be applied to charter schools. Since most charter schools operate under a contractual agreement premised on negotiable renewal, charter schools spread the responsibility for success or failure across more folks. In other words, due to the negative impact of school closure, and the positive impact of increased autonomy, charter schools spread the responsibility around. One could argue that there are more stakeholders in a charter school than in a traditional public school. It is to the stakeholder's advantage to report roses.

Other ideas for the differences between safety reported between charters and traditional public schools hinted at in the white paper include what they call a "chicken or egg" problem (I call it selection bias); school size (charters are smaller on average); and dress codes and uniforms (charter schools have much higher participation rates regarding strict dress).

Some correlational data could be derived if environmental factors were introduced into this study. For my money I think NCRSP would account for most of the safety variance between the types of schools by selection bias and my hypothesis based on stakeholder failure to report.


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