It’s the people, stupid

Pop quiz:

School safety is a function of:

A) The demographics and crime rates of the surrounding neighborhood
B) The education and lifestyle of the parents
C) The academic achievement of the students


No, really, smart people tell us so:

School safety depends far less on the poverty and crime surrounding the campus than on the academic achievement of its students and their relationships with adults in the building, according to a new study of Chicago public schools.

The report, released Tuesday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, finds that while schools in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods tend to be less safe than other schools, students’ level of academic achievement actually plays a bigger role in school safety than a school’s neighborhood. Furthermore, even in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods, the quality of relationships among adults and students at a school can turn one school into a safe haven while another languishes as a center of violence.

Of course, anyone with half a brain will tell you that academic achievement is inextricably linked with poverty, local crime, etc.   So I’m inclined to think of this all in terms of systemic failure rather than some sort of X-causes-Y phenomenon.  The “root cause” of school-wide (and even neighborhood-wide) suckage — safety, academics, attitudes towards authority, graduation and literacy rates, etc. — if some root cause there be, is actually likely to be extremely hard to identify because it’s probably something missing rather than something present.

Still, it’s an interesting read.  I was especially caught by this sentence:

After a trio of 7th graders “borrowed” a parent’s car for a joyride over the weekend, Ms. Hightower was able to retrieve the keys quietly and have the students meet with a community police officer—without threatening them with an official arrest.

This to me suggests that you not only need an involved, attentive faculty and administration, but it helps if you have a dollop of common sense, too.  Children are not going to feel safe if they’re living in a thoughtless zero-tolerance prison system.


  1. Of course, anyone with half a brain will tell you that academic achievement is inextricably linked with poverty, local crime, etc.

    But anyone who actually uses their half of a brain will tell you that studies are about causation, not correlation. In other words, the rubber hits the road where you can find one without the other.

    So in other words, hunt down high income neighborhoods with disproportionately low-achieving kids and low income neighborhoods with disproportionately high-achieving kids and see which trumps. According to the article, achievement trumps income in those situations. Which is big news.

  2. D) Legal protection for the school system

  3. SuperSub says:

    Academic performance is simply a proxy for respect for authority… the reason kids do well in school is because they fear the disapproval and seek the approval of adults in their lives (parents and teachers). Such a group is more likely to abide by the rules, so a low-income school with a high percentage of respectful (and academically successful) students will be safer than one without that population in a similar neighborhood.


  1. Why we don’t revere our intellectuals…

    Insty had a brief blurb up linking to a Guardian (UK) article which asks “Why don’t we love our intellectuals?” In response, Insty also linked to articles by Christopher Hitchens and the inimitable James Taranto. The question is a good……