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Persistent Analysis

The very small list of "persistently dangerous" schools across the United States just got smaller.

Education Week reported in September that only six states had any schools that merited the federal label, for a grand total of 54 schools. ("States Report Few Schools As Dangerous," Sept. 24, 2003.)

Two of those states—Nevada and Texas—had cautioned that their figures were preliminary, and they now say they don't have any persistently dangerous schools. Further analysis, it seems, got a handful of schools off the hook in each state.

That brings the final tally to 38 in just four states, out of some 91,000 U.S. public schools.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, each state was required to define "persistently dangerous" and identify schools that met the criteria. Districts must allow students in such schools to transfer to a safer public school in the system.

Texas had first identified six schools. But an Oct. 10 statement from the Texas Education Agency said state officials have since discovered that in each instance, schools had misreported crime statistics.

"The good news is these schools are safer than first reported," Robert Scott, the chief deputy commissioner for the state agency, said in a statement. "The bad news is each of these schools sent the state badly flawed data."

Nevada initially told Education Week it had 10 persistently dangerous schools, but stressed that the figure was based on one year of data and was likely to change upon analysis from two more years. Now there are none.

Skeptics ascribe the strikingly low figures nationwide to what they suspect are state efforts to write definitions so lax that they are practically guarantee no schools will get listed. Almost every major city—including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Miami—has no such schools on its state's list.

Speaking at a recent House field hearing in Colorado, former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, a Republican who voted against the No Child Left Behind Act but supported the "persistently dangerous" schools measure, questioned the approach of most states, including his own.

"The definitions established by nearly every state [have] established a threshold of violence, lawlessness, and disorder that is far above the tolerance level of the typical parent," he said. "Under Colorado's new criteria, children would practically have to attend school in a war zone before officials could warn parents of their child's imminent peril."

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 23, Issue 8, Page 25

Published in Print: October 22, 2003, as Federal File

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