A new study indicates that students at private schools are less likely to experience problems with school safety than students at public schools. In their study Can private schools improve school climate? Evidence from a nationally representative sample, M. Danish Shakeel with Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy & Governance and Corey DeAngelis with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom have found that “public schools appear to need strict custodial environments, such as random dog sniffs, metal detectors, and clear backpacks to keep the school environment in order,” whereas private schools “enjoy fewer incidences of crime and less strict school safety and climate practices than public schools.”
The study’s authors used nationally representative data from the Schools and Staffing Survey for 2011-2012, the most recently available school year. Laying out some of the study’s key findings in the Washington Examiner, DeAngelis wrote that even after controlling for a wide variety of factors that might be expected to skew the results, “private schools have a statistically significant advantage for each of the 13 discipline problems examined.”
According to the study, “Private schools are about 28 percentage points more likely than public schools to never experience student possession of weapons.” Private schools are also “about 8 percentage points more likely than public schools to never experience physical conflicts among students.” Students at private schools were found to be 12 percentage points less likely to use illegal drugs than students at public schools and gang activities were 18 percentage points less likely at private schools than public.
The study’s results also favor private schools when measuring physical abuse of teachers, student bullying, student verbal abuse of teachers, and widespread disorder in classrooms. In addition, the authors observe that “while private school skeptics often claim that private schools do not lead to racial integration, we find that private schools are about 13 percentage points more likely than public schools to never experience student racial tensions.”
Interestingly, these results were not achieved by private schools implementing harsher security measures. To the contrary, “private schools are less likely to restrict student liberties than government schools,” according to DeAngelis’ piece in the Examiner. “Private schools are about 6 percentage points less likely to require students to pass through metal detectors each day, 20 percentage points less likely to search for drugs using random dog sniffs, and 7 percentage points less likely to require students to use clear backpacks.”
The authors conclude by calling for research into whether their findings lead to improved academic outcomes at private schools. They also recommend that policymakers “consider the role of school choice in reducing crime-related incidence at schools,” a summons that occurs as the Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, examines a range of ideas on the subject of school safety. Shakeel and DeAngelis’ study was published in the Journal of School Choice.