6.18.2010

School Safety and Perception
Both Public and Student

We generally accept a child's description of his or her school environment without question. After all, that's where they spend the day and it's the polite thing to do. Likewise, we accept a parent's description of the same things. We also readily accept another parent's description when that person has never set foot on the premises. Parental opinion is affected by students who, knowing a fight is in the offing or feeling the pressure of incomplete homework, stay home. Fights are the most common incident in general and have the largest effect on perception. It's hard to say whether students that stay home because of violence are actually close to it rather than at arm's length.

When it comes to our own perception of safety, we are often wrong. So often are we wrong, it's the subject of books and articles. Rather than recapitulate, here is a Steven Pinker TED talk. (I was going to do a fancy embed like everybody else, but it's really a distraction from my point, which is that we misjudge danger routinely.)

Here we go:

I was looking at state of Florida DoE statistics to see whether a sample of high schools with wealthy client families underreported incidents of crime and misbehavior compared to a sample of high schools with lower income clients. The following information is in no way representative of *all* schools. Broward has around forty high schools, but I only chose twenty large ones.

From what I gather in my sample, incident counts at high schools in Broward County range from 2.1 to 8 per hundred students. There are some very small schools that cater to special needs that I didn't count, and some other schools I didn't look at because I wasn't interested in them. This applies to a subset of twenty schools I looked at because I was suspicious of the way they report incidents.

The school where I work is Dillard High School in North-West Fort Lauderdale. It has a reputation that makes many parents who would otherwise send their children to the Performing Arts or Emergent Technology magnet programs, send them to other schools. The students themselves think Dillard is more dangerous than other schools.

The reality is different. Out of the twenty I sampled, Dillard is seventh safest. For those of you with outstanding curiosity, I will post a link if you are interested in seeing the numbers. But who would have thought that Coral Springs was safest? Who would predict that Dillard is safer than Nova, Cooper City, or West Broward?

Admittedly this is anecdotal, but when I ask my students to predict where Dillard sits in relation to other schools, they say it is more dangerous than most others.

The conclusion? Obvious. Another study is desperately needed!

As promised, the link to the statistics. You can get more from the FL DoEd link at the top of the page. Go ahead and change the selection criteria to get Palm Beach or a specific school.

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