What do parents actually know about what happens at their children’s school?
As states rethink school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act, most of the policy discussion revolves around how bureaucrats should calculate ratings that parents rarely see, based on standardized test scores that parents barely credit. The real inner workings of schools, from teacher morale to academic culture to student safety, remain largely a black box for parents.
Few schools rate these important factors, and fewer still report them.
A recent poll of first-generation college students found that 1 in 4 did not feel safe in high school, and nearly 1 in 3 did not feel their high school was an emotionally safe or inclusive place. How many of their parents were aware that their children felt they were in danger at school?
What if there were a safe alternative across town, or even half a block away? Would families even know that?
Parents deserve better. So today, I’m introducing a new, intuitive, interactive tool to show what can be done to make basic data accessible to parents and help them answer perhaps the most fundamental question: Does my child feel safe?
Mapping school safety, NYC & LA
I’ve chosen the two largest school districts in America, New York City and Los Angeles, for a very simple reason: Unlike many cities, New York and LA conduct comprehensive school climate surveys. And, unlike most major districts that conduct surveys, they make the full data set available to the public.
What percentage of teachers say order and discipline are maintained? What percentage say disruptive student behavior is a significant problem? Do students think their peers are respectful? Do they feel safe in the hallways of their school?
Parents in America’s two largest cities can now get a glimpse inside the black box, and see how their child’s school compares to one down the street.
The complete picture
Consider: A New York mother who sends her child to P.S. 306 in Brooklyn might be alarmed to learn that 68 percent of students say physical fights occur “most” or “all” of the time, 80 percent of students say their peers don’t respect each other, and 80 percent of teachers say order and discipline aren’t maintained.
A Los Angeles mother who sends her child to Barton Hill Elementary School in San Pedro may be disturbed to learn that 33 percent of students say they don’t feel safe, 82 percent say bullying is a problem, 83 percent of teachers say that disruptive behavior is a significant problem, and 92 percent of teachers say discipline is ineffective.
And all residents of both cities can see the depressing fact that poverty and school disorder track closely, but also hopeful signs that some schools are beating the odds.
The hope is that these maps will spark calls and conversations. Parents, armed with the knowledge of what students and teachers think, should call their schools and press them to do better. Principals, armed with data from other schools, should call their peers to have a conversation about what’s working and how to adopt it.
More urgently: Parents in districts that have school surveys but don’t share the data as openly as NYC and LA should press their school boards for more transparency, and parents in districts that don’t conduct any surveys at all should demand these data.
The data show every sign of being consistent and reliable: In both cities, there is a high correlation between students’ and teachers’ views of safety in their schools, suggesting that respondents are answering consistently and faithfully.
Elementary and secondary schools in each district are color-coded on the map: green means safe, yellow means somewhat safe, and red means less safe, judging by the percentage of students or teachers who give a negative answer to a consistent question. Admittedly, the coding is discretionary, but if, for example, more than a third of students in a NYC middle school say physical fights occur “most” or “all” of the time, it seems fair to assume something bad is happening.
Please browse through, take note and, most important, share this tool with other parents you know in New York or LA.
Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, specializing in education policy. Get the latest news about school climate and school safety, as well as access to new interactive tools that better help parents understand their neighborhood and school district, by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.