School Safety in Urban Charter and Traditional Public Schools

March 2007

Analyzing data from the 2003-04 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), this working paper finds that charter schools consistently reported significantly fewer issues with threats to persons or property and fewer behavioral problems than traditional public schools. The paper uses data from both teachers and principals in urban schools to compare the frequency of vandalism, gang activity, weapon possession, threats of physical abuse, classroom disorder, disrespect for teachers, verbal abuse of teachers, student racial tensions, and use of alcohol or illegal drugs. While both charter and traditional public schools experience issues in each category, the incidence of trouble was reported with lower frequency in charters.

Charter schools covered by the survey served similar proportions of elementary versus older students, had higher proportions of minority students, slightly higher proportions of students qualifying for free/reduced-price lunch, and tended to be considerably smaller, serving an average of 560 students compared to 900 in traditional public schools. However, it is not possible to say from this analysis whether differences in safety are due to school size, the students enrolled, teacher and family attitudes, or some other factors.