Exclusive: How safe are LA’s schools? New interactive map compares what teachers and students are seeing
Max Eden | June 8, 2017
As California rethinks school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act, policymakers often overlook information that goes to the heart of what might be the most fundamental question for any parent: Does my child feel safe?
Data about the real inner workings of schools, from teacher morale to academic culture to student safety, are rarely rated, and almost never reported.
Los Angeles, however, conducts comprehensive school climate surveys of teachers and students and — unlike almost every other major district — makes the full dataset available to the public.
I’ve taken a slice of that data — questions pertaining to school order and safety — and placed it on a Google map so parents can quickly and easily see what students and teachers at their schools are saying. The data reflects responses from 786 district and charter schools across the city that participated in surveys given in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent available. (The district reports having “over 900” traditional public schools as well as 187 charters.)
Here are the city’s elementary and secondary schools, color-coded to reflect the responses to survey questions about school safety; you can scan and zoom below, or click here to search by a specific school name or address. Again, to take stock of the individual survey results, click on the green, yellow or red pin and see the pop-up window. (Click here for a full breakdown of the methodology behind the map.)
Elementary schools were coded as green/safe where less than 10% of students did not report feeling safe most or all of the time; schools where 10% to 20% of students did not report feeling safe were coded as yellow/somewhat safe; schools where more than 20% of students did not report feeling safe were coded as red/less safe.
Secondary schools where less than 25% of students did not report feeling safe were coded as green/safe; schools where 25% to 40% of students did not report feeling safe were coded as yellow/somewhat safe; schools where 40% or more of students did not report feeling safe were coded as red/less safe.
For some schools, the district reports data across several grade spans; in those cases, I averaged each observation.
Case study: Schools where teachers, students report being less safe
At Coliseum Elementary, 45% of students say they do not feel safe at school and 81% say bullying is a significant problem. Teachers seem to agree that things are not going smoothly — 64% say their discipline practices are not effective, and 52% say disruptive behavior is a significant problem.
Fewer teachers at Edwin Markham Middle School believe that their discipline practices are effective than just about any other school in LAUSD: A whopping 92% say the way they try to handle misbehavior isn’t working. Ninety-two percent of staff also say student disrespect of teachers is a significant problem (70% of students admit that). Students and teachers are also on the same page regarding bullying: 77% of teachers and 82% of students say it’s a problem. Two-thirds of students at Edwin Markham say they don’t feel safe, and given everything else, it’s unfortunately easy to imagine why.
In general, the differences between neighboring schools in Los Angeles are less striking than in New York City. This may be due in part to policy, or the fact that while a significant majority of charter schools in NYC participate in the climate survey, only a sliver of L.A. charters do so. It’s entirely possible that charters are offering a safer option for students in L.A. as in NYC — but unfortunately, there’s no way for parents to know whether that’s true.
City Terrace Elementary School is, according to students and teachers, the safest and most orderly elementary school in East Los Angeles. Only 7% of students at City Terrace don’t say they feel safe at school, compared to 22% at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School, 22% at Harrison Street Elementary, and 17% at William R. Anton Elementary School. Only 13% of teachers at City Terrace believe their discipline system isn’t effective, compared to 20% at Robert F. Kennedy, 55% at Harrison Street, and 39% at William R. Anton.
The dangers in Watts
Some of the most disorderly and dangerous schools in Los Angeles can be found, as sadly may not be a surprise, in Watts. When you hover over the neighborhood, however, there does appear to be one bright spot: Thomas Riley High School. It’s the safest in Watts — and it specializes in serving teenage mothers.
Why school surveys matter
As states across the country rethink school accountability under ESSA, most of the policy discussion revolves around how bureaucrats should calculate ratings that parents rarely see, based on standardized test scores that parents barely credit. The real inner workings of schools, from teacher morale to academic culture to student safety, remain largely a black box for parents.
Few schools rate these important factors, and fewer still report them.
A recent poll of first-generation college students found that 1 in 4 did not feel safe in high school, and nearly 1 in 3 did not feel their high school was an emotionally safe or inclusive place. How many of their parents were aware their children felt they were in danger at school?
What if there were a safe alternative across town, or even half a block away? Would families even know that?
Families deserve better, and hopefully this map of Los Angeles — as well as a similar map of New York City I produced for The 74 — aids parents in answering perhaps the most fundamental question: Does my child feel safe?
The broader hope is that these maps will spark calls and conversations. Parents, armed with the knowledge of what students and teachers think, should call their schools and press them to do better. Principals, armed with data from other schools, should call their peers to have a conversation about what’s working and how to adopt it.
So please take a few minutes to browse through, take note and, most importantly, share this tool with other parents across the city who may appreciate an insider’s view of where their children are spending their days.
This article was published in partnership with The 74.