Karen R. Zittleman, PhD
McGraw-Hill Higher Education
What Makes a School Effective?
Factor 3: A Safe and Orderly Climate
Certainly before students can learn or teachers can teach, schools must be safe. An unsafe school is, by definition, ineffective. Despite the attention-grabbing headlines and the disturbing incidents of student shootings, schools today are safer than they have been in years. (See Figure 9.5.) Nearly all public school teachers (98 percent) and most students (93 percent) report feeling safe in schools. Yet the image of unsafe schools persists, and for more than two decades, opinion polls have shown that the public considers lack of discipline to be among the most serious problems facing schools.
The vast majority of schools provide safe learning environments. This is accomplished by more than metal detectors and school guards. Safe schools focus on academic achievement, the school mission, involving families and communities in school activities, and creating an environment where teachers, students and staff are treated with respect. Student problems are identified early, before they deteriorate into violence. School psychologists, special education programs, family social workers, and schoolwide programs increase communication and reduce school tension.
In some of America's most distressed neighborhoods, safe schools provide a much needed neighborhood refuge. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot tells of the long distances that urban students travel to reach John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. One girl, who did not have money to buy a winter coat or glasses to see the chalkboard, rode the subway 1 hour and 40 minutes each way to get to school. She never missed a day, because for her school was a refuge&—a place of hope where she could learn in safety.