News: CJ Exclusives

Charters Fare Better in Violence Reports

Report shows public schools have more acts of crime and violence

Charter schools in major metropolitan areas across North Carolina reported fewer acts of crime and violence during the 2006-07 school year than many traditional public schools in the same regions, according to statistics from the Department of Public Instruction.

The Annual Report on School Crime and Violence, released by DPI Dec. 5, showed a slight decrease in the frequency of violent and criminal behavior among students in 115 local school districts and 93 charter schools in the state.

Although the rate rose from 10,959 acts during the 2005-06 school year to 11,013 acts this year, an increase in the number of students caused the per pupil rate to decline by 0.13 acts per 1,000 students.

While the overall rate of school violence and crime improved, charter schools tended to report fewer violations than comparable public schools. In total, 73 percent of charter schools (68 out of 93 schools) reported no acts of violent or illegal behavior, compared with 42 percent of traditional public schools. Nearly all charters reported no more than five acts, while three-fourths of traditional public schools made the same claim.

Vanessa Jeter, director of communications and information for DPI, cautioned against comparing the report’s results for charter schools with those of traditional public schools. “Charter schools are usually a little smaller and more heavily in the K through 5 student breakout, which happens to be the group with the lowest number of reported acts,” she said.

In addition, the school violence statistics are self-reported by officials in the individual schools, Jeter said, so some of the numbers “depend on adults paying attention.”

A regional comparison of charter and traditional public schools shows that charters tended to report fewer acts on a per student basis. For example, out of 14 charter schools in Wake County, only one, Community Partners Charter High School in Holly Springs, reported any violations. In contrast, most traditional schools in Wake County registered at least one episode of violent or illegal conduct, and many of them reported dozens of violations.

East Wake High School, for instance, had 22.7 acts per 1,000 students, including one assault resulting in serious injury, 10 acts of possession of a controlled substance, and four acts of possession of a weapon. Longview School in Raleigh was one of the worst per student offenders in the state, with the equivalent of 461 acts per 1,000 students among its small enrollment, including 24 acts of assault on school personnel.

Overall, Wake County public schools averaged almost nine acts per 1,000 students, compared with an average of 3.4 acts per 1,000 students among Wake charter schools.
The DPI report showed similar results for other metropolitan areas. Traditional public schools in New Hanover County averaged 8.2 acts per 1,000 students, Buncombe County 7.5 acts per 1,000 students, and Forsyth County 9.8 acts per 1,000 students.

Charter schools in other regions fared much better. New Hanover County’s only charter, the Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, averaged 3.1 acts per 1,000 students; Buncombe County’s only charter school, Artspace Charter, had zero acts; and Forsyth County’s five charter schools combined to average less than one act per 1,000 students.

Mecklenburg County charter schools fared less well, with almost half of the county’s nine charter schools reporting at least one violation. The worst offenders, both located in Charlotte, were Crossroads Charter High School, which reported 30 acts of possession of a controlled substance, and Kennedy Charter, which reported four acts of assault on school personnel.

Comparatively, students in traditional public schools in Mecklenburg County committed a total of 942 acts, or 7.4 acts per 1,000 students. Hopewell High School in Huntersville and Independence High School in Charlotte had the worst records, with 73 and 79 total reported acts, respectively.

The DPI report classified none of North Carolina’s nearly 2,400 public schools, both traditional and charter, as Persistently Dangerous Schools. A PDS is a school that reports five or more violent offenses per thousand students during two consecutive years and where poor conditions are likely to remain the same into the next school year.
Most reported acts were classified as non-violent, such as drug possession or assault on school personnel not resulting in serious injury.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.