M.D. Shakeel, C. DeAngelis

University of Arkansas (UNITED STATES)
Good school climate and safety are deemed essential for effective learning and inculcating civic values in children. The Information on school’s crime and safety related attributes is essential for parents to decide about whether to enroll their child in a particular school or choose other possible options. It is important to regularly update and monitor indicators of school crime and safety as they provide information concerning safer schools (Zhang, Musu-Gillette, & Oudekerk, 2016). Such information may help policymakers, school staff and leadership to identify the causal mechanism of such incidents. Moreover, parents might be able to use such information to select better schools in a school choice environment, especially if the problems do not diminish with time at a particular school.

School choice and competition are expected to improve school discipline due to stronger incentives for schools to remedy the discipline policies (Garen, 2014). School exit is likely to benefit the leavers with better school environment. The stayers are also likely to benefit from increase in effort of school staff and leadership to improve school climate and safety. Private school leadership exhibits more autonomy in decision making than public school leadership (Shakeel & DeAngelis, 2017). Existence of systematic differences in school climate and safety between public and private schools should draw the interest of policymakers who are interested in school choice interventions. This paper is motivated by the call that public and private schools may benefit from school choice interventions in improving school climate and safety.

Bad school climate may impact student learning negatively (MacMillan & Hagan, 2004; Wei & Williams, 2004) and the impacts may be long-term. School crime can range from bullying to physical assaults and may lead to depression and make it difficult for an individual to adjust to circumstances (Crick & Bigbee, 1998; Crick & Grotpeter, 1996; Nansel et al., 2001; Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001; Storch et al. 2003). Access to school choice is associated with reduced criminal activity and teen pregnancy while increasing the likelihood of graduating from high school (Deming, 2011; Dills & Hernández, 2011; Dobbie & Fryer, 2015; DeAngelis & Wolf, 2016). Studies have found that school choice interventions are associated with increased voter activity, volunteering, charitable activity, and tolerance of others (Bettinger & Slonim, 2006; Campbell, 2002; Fleming, 2014; Fleming, Mitchell, & McNally, 2014).

We present a comparative analysis of school climate and safety in private and public schools using data from the School and Staffing Survey (SASS) 2011-2012. We use ordinal logistic regressions to study differences in self-reported school climate and safety related information by public and private school principals. We report marginal effects for two models: one that controls for school-level disciplinary controls and one that does not. We find that in comparison to principals in public schools, principals in private schools are more likely to report less strict disciplinary controls. These disciplinary controls are generally not associated with decrease in disciplinary problems for the public schools. We conclude that private schools may offer better school environment over public schools as the public school environment similar to prisons may be unique to the public institutions.