Homeschool Safety

Proof that the public education system is failing many of our youth is seen in the number of students being homeschooled. According to a recent issue brief by the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.5 million students in the United States were homeschooled in 2007. This represents a significant increase from an estimated 1.1 million students who were homeschooled in the spring of 2003, and an estimated 850,000 homeschooled students in 1999.

Reasons for choosing homeschooling vary, but the main reasons cited in the brief were: the child has a physical or mental health problem; the child has special needs; parent’s belief in a non-traditional approach to education; dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools; a desire to provide religious or moral instruction; and concern about the school environment. We have little or no control over some of the reasons for choosing homeschooling. But other reasons should be of grave concern to those of us in public education — primarily dissatisfaction with academic instruction and the school environment.

Over the past few years, much thought has gone into improving academics. The fundamentals of No Child Left Behind have focused on accountability, academic performance, student achievement in reading and math, high school graduation rates, schools making adequate yearly progress, teacher quality, and more. Other issues being researched include: the expansion of early childhood and full-day kindergarten programs; school size and class size; multiple intelligences and brain-based learning; and student centered, hands-on experiential learning. As more information is made available to educators, positive changes are being made.
There is, however, another piece of the puzzle that must be considered — the educational environment. While it is natural for school administrators to focus on academics, focusing on the educational environment is sometimes outside of their comfort zone. One aspect of the educational environment is the physical environment, aka facilities. Since 2000, an average of $20.7B has been spent each year on K-12 facility construction. The schools being constructed have been state-of-the-art, taking into account the issues being researched above. The unfortunate part of this is the fact that the majority of students in the U.S. will never set foot in one of these new buildings. Most will spend their school days in buildings that are old and obsolete. With any luck, school construction will make it into the economic stimulus package being proposed by the new administration so that more of our students will have the facilities they need and deserve.

Another aspect of the educational environment involves student safety. The recent report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007, produced jointly by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the U.S. Department of Justice, revealed some disturbing statistics. Students, ages 12 to18, were victims of about 1.5 million nonfatal crimes at school, including about 868,100 thefts and 628,200 violent crimes (from simple assault to serious violent crimes including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault). Eighty-six percent of public schools reported that at least one violent crime, theft, or other crime occurred at their school. Eight percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon in the previous 12 months. Twenty-five percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported that someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property in the past 12 months. Nineteen percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported in 2005 that they had carried a weapon somewhere, and six percent reported they had carried a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days.

With lives at stake, we can’t afford to wait for a Washington bailout to make schools safer, so School Planning & Management has decided to step up to the plate, sponsoring a workshop that will give districts the tools they need improve student safety. National experts will cover topics from preparedness and planning to funding and legislation. The workshop will be held April 23-24 in Phoenix (see pages 6 and 7 for more details). Our goal is to help districts make their schools safer, creating a better educational environment where students can learn and thrive.