Parents are more likely than their children to answer favorably when asked if their children’s schools are safe, a study recently found.
The finding, which runs counter to researchers’ initial hypothesis, comes from an analysis of multiple surveys completed by Panorama Education, a for-profit education research company.
In all, 96 percent of parents and 87 percent of students in analyzed data answered questions about school safety favorably.
Researchers identified questions about schools’ safety in the organization’s previous questionnaires and isolated surveys that asked similar questions of students and their parents about the same school. “A ‘favorable’ response is defined as either ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’ to a question like ‘I feel safe at this school,’ ” the study said. “Answer choices that were ‘Disagree,’ ‘Strongly Disagree’ or ‘Neutral’ were not included as favorable responses.” The research covered surveys administered to 29,042 students and 30,251 parents in about 117 schools in six different districts between February 2013 and May 2014.
Disaggregating the data by school, researchers found that parents were more likely than students to answer safety questions favorably at 108 of 117 studied schools. Researchers cautioned that the difference between student and parent perceptions was statistically insignificant in 44 of 117 schools examined. “In other words, student and parents may actually share a common view on safety in 38% of the schools included in this analysis,” the report says.
Going into their analysis, researchers had suspected that parents would be less likely to view schools as safe because of higher exposure to media accounts about issues like school shootings and bullying.
So why does this matter?
“Through statistical analysis of perception data, we’re able to get a broader perspective on key issues in schools like school climate and safety,” Panorama CEO Aaron Feuer said in a news release. “If we truly want to develop safe learning environments for all our students, then it’s vital to better understand how students and parents view important questions like safety. We also see from this set of surveys how critical it is to get student feedback directly from them and not make assumptions on how they feel about their own school climate and safety.”
The researchers added a note of caution about drawing conclusions from the correlations they found: “For one, this analysis only includes 6 school districts,” the study says. “Therefore, sample biases that were not controlled in our research may have influence on the results. These biases may include several socioeconomic and school climate factors.”
It’s also worth noting that there is a growing abundance of data about students’ perceptions of their schools’ safety. As schools adopt accountability frameworks that expand beyond academic achievement, many are surveying their students about issues like school climate, safety, and occurences of peer harrassment. And there are numerous federally administered surveillance tools, like the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, that ask students similar questions.
The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found a trend of students feeling less safe at school. In 1993, 4.4 percent of students surveyed reported they had “not gone to school on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey because they felt they would be unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.” That percentage has trended steadily upward, reaching 7.1 percent in 2013.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.