Private Schools Safer for Teachers and Students

Published January 1, 2004

According to a new government report, the rate of violent crime against students is almost twice as high in public schools as in private schools. Similarly, teachers in public schools are twice as likely as teachers in private schools to be threatened or physically attacked by students. For student and teacher alike, if schools are not safe, they cannot be places of learning.

Federal responsibility for measuring and reporting on school crime and safety lies with the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. In October they released their sixth annual report, covering grim issues like homicide, suicide, fights, hate speech, and theft–topics most would prefer not to associate with schools.

According to the report, for the school year ending June 30, 2000, 22 students nationwide lost their lives in school-associated homicides (16) or suicides (6). But those grievous statistics tell only a small part of the story. Away from school, 2,124 children ages 5-19 were homicide victims during school year 1999-2000, and 1,922 children ages 5-19 died by suicide during calendar year 2000.

For nonfatal serious violent crimes–including rape, robbery, sexual assault, and aggravated assault–students were also more likely to be victims away from school (290,000 incidents in 2001) than at school (161,000). And for school crime in general, the report notes that between 1995 and 2001, the percentage of students who reported being a crime victim at school fell from 10 percent to 6 percent, a promising trend indeed.

For some measures of crime and safety, the report presents data by school type. In 2001, a higher percentage (1.9 percent) of public school students reported they had been victims of violent crime during the previous six months than private school students (1.0 percent). The same is true of theft victims (4.4 percent public versus 2.5 percent private).

But for victims of bullying, the type of school they attended didn’t matter. The report notes, “no differences were detected between public and private school students’ reports of being bullied in 2001.” Eight percent of public school students ages 12-18 said they had been bullied sometime during the previous six months, compared to 7.3 percent of private school students, a difference so small it is apparently not statistically significant.

Associated with being bullied is being the victim of hate-related words. Public school children (12.7 percent) were more likely to be targets of such language than private school children (8.2 percent). More specifically, the report says, “public school students were more likely to report exposure to hate words related to their race, ethnicity, or disability.” Students in public schools (37.3 percent) were also more apt to see hate-related graffiti at school than their counterparts in private schools (16.8 percent).

Students have a sense of whether or not their school is a safe place to be. The report touches on factors that help form that impression. For example, in 2001, 21.6 percent of public school students and 4.9 percent of private school students ages 12-18 said street gangs were present at school. For students in urban public schools, the figure jumped to 31.9 percent, compared to 5.0 percent for their peers in urban private schools.

When asked whether they were afraid of being attacked or threatened at school, or on the way to or from school, 6.6 percent of public school students and 4.6 percent of private school students said they were afraid sometimes or most of the time. Public school students (4.9 percent) and private school students (2.0 percent) reported they avoided one or more places in school for fear of being attacked.

Attacks on Teachers

School violence is not only directed at students. Teachers can be victims as well, and they more than likely consider their personal safety when deciding where they want to teach. Teacher risk varies by type of school. (See accompanying graph.)

“Public school teachers were more likely than private school teachers to be victimized by students in school,” notes the report, referring to a survey of teachers taken during the 1999-2000 school year that showed 10 percent of public school teachers had been threatened with injury, compared with 4 percent of private school teachers.

“Likewise, 4 percent of public school teachers and 2 percent of private school teachers had been physically attacked by students,” the report continues. “Among teachers in central city schools, those at public schools were four times more likely to be targets of threats of injury than their colleagues in private schools (14 vs. 3 percent) and about three times more likely to be targets of attacks (6 vs. 2 percent).”

Joe McTighe is executive director of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), a coalition of national associations serving private K-12 schools. CAPE’s Web site is at A version of this article was first published in the November 2003 issue of CAPE’s monthly newsletter, Outlook.

For more information …

Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2003 is published by the National Center for Education Statistics and is available online at

A list of public schools rated as “persistently dangerous” has been compiled by The Associated Press and is available at