Are schools providing a safe haven in which learning can occur?
Concern over this question led to the establishment of the sixth
education goal, "By the year 2000, every school in America will be
free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment
conducive to learning." The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS),
conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in
1987-88 and 1990-91, asked teachers and principals their view
of problems in their schools. When asked about a range of school
problems including absenteeism, student drug abuse, and physical
conflicts among students, teachers and principals could respond
that each problem was either a serious problem, moderate problem,
minor problem, or not a problem in their schools.
TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS SAY FAMILY FACTORS ARE SERIOUS PROBLEMS IN
In 1990-91, one out of every four public school teachers cited lack
of parent involvement as a serious problem in their schools. This
problem was also described as "serious" by 4.3 percent of private
school teachers. Among both public and private school teachers,
this problem topped the list in the percentage of teachers who
rated it as a serious problem in their schools. Secondary teachers
were more likely than elementary teachers to report lack of parent
involvement as a serious problem in their schools.
TABLE 1.--Percent of teachers who said that lack of parent involvement was a serious problem in their schools Total Elementary Secondary --------------------------------------- Public 25.5 20.6 30.7 Private 4.3 3.0 5.5
School principals agreed that lack of parent involvement was one of
the most serious school problems. Among public school principals,
poverty was described as a "serious" problem as often as lack of
parent involvement. Private school principals cited poverty as a
"serious" problem somewhat more often than they cited lack of
TABLE 2.--Percent of school principals who said that each problem was a serious problem in their schools Public Private --------------------- Lack of parent involvement 14.5 2.2 Poverty 14.9 3.8
Besides lack of parent involvement, the school problems viewed as
serious by at least 10 percent of public school teachers included
student apathy, poverty, student absenteeism, student disrespect
for teachers, parental alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and student
tardiness. Behaviors and attitudes of students were more likely to
be seen as problematic by teachers at the secondary level than by
teachers at the elementary level. Parent alcoholism, on the other
hand, was described as "serious" as often by elementary teachers
as by secondary teachers and poverty was described as "serious"
more often by elementary teachers.
Private school teachers were much less likely to report that any of
the above problems were "serious." The percentage of private
school teachers rating each problem as "serious" ranged from .1
percent for student possession of weapons to 4.3 percent for lack
of parent involvement.
TABLE 3.--Percent of teachers who said that each problem was a serious problem in their schools Elementary Secondary --------------------------- Public teachers Poverty 18.9 15.2 Parental alcoholism 11.6 12.5 Student apathy 10.4 31.7 Student absenteeism 6.1 22.9 Private teachers Poverty 1.4 2.6 Parental alcoholism 1.4 3.0 Student apathy 1.7 6.5 Student absenteeism .7 4.5
Fewer teachers and principals say drug and alcohol use is a seri-
ous problem in 1991. With the completion of the second SASS survey
of teachers in 1991, NCES can now report changes in teachers' and
principals' perceptions of the seriousness of school problems such
as alcohol and drug abuse and school violence.
In 1991, fewer secondary school teachers viewed alcohol and drug
abuse by students as serious problems in their schools than in
1988. Teachers' reports of the seriousness of alcohol and drug
abuse declined in both public and private secondary schools.
Despite recent increasing attention to the presence of guns and
other weapons on school grounds, more teachers did not report
that student possession of weapons was a serious problem in 1991
than they did in 1988.
Reports of public secondary school principals in 1991 indicated a
decrease in the percentage who viewed drug and alcohol use by
students as a serious problem. About 12 percent of public sec-
ondary school principals said that alcohol use was a "serious"
problem in 1988 compared with 7 percent in 1991. The percentage
who said that drug abuse was "serious" decreased from 5.4 percent
in 1988 to 2.6 percent in 1991.
While there was no change in the percentage of private secondary
school principals who viewed drug abuse as a serious problem
between 1988 and 1991, the percentage who viewed alcohol use as a
serious problem decreased during this period, from 3.4 percent to
Very few public or private school principals reported that
student possession of weapons was a serious problem in their
schools. While only about .5 percent of public secondary school
principals said that this was a serious problem in 1988 and 1991,
virtually none of the private school principals said that weapons
possession was a serious problem.
TABLE 4.--Percent of secondary school teachers and school princi- pals who viewed student alcohol use, drug abuse, or weapons possession as a serious problem, 1988 and 1991 School Teachers School Principals 1988 1991 1988 1991 ----------------- ------------------- Public Alcohol use 21.5 16.1 11.7 7.1 Drug abuse 14.9 8.2 5.4 2.6 Weapons possession 2.6 2.2 .3 .5 Private Alcohol use 6.6 4.5 3.4 .8 Drug abuse 3.0 .9 1.9 .4 Weapons possession .3 .1 0 -- ________________________________________________________________ --Too few cases for a reliable estimate.
Choy, S.P., Medrich, E.A., Henke, R.R., Bobbitt, S.A., Schools
and Staffing in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1987-
88. National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 92-120.
Kaufman, S. 1988 Schools and Staffing Survey Sample Design and
Estimation. National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 91-
Kaufman, S. and Huang, H. 1990-91 SASS: Sample Design and
Estimation. Technical Report. National Center for Education
Statistics, NCES 93-449.
Mansfield, W., Alexander, D., and Farris, E. Teacher Survey on
Safe, Disciplined, and Drug-Free Schools. Fast Response Survey
System. National Center for Education Statistics E.D. TABS, NCES
ISSUE BRIEFS present information on education topics of current
interest. All estimates shown are based on samples and are
subject to sampling variability. All differences reported are
statistically significant at the .05 level. In the design,
conduct, and data processing of NCES surveys, efforts are made to
minimize the effects of nonsampling errors, such as item nonre-
sponse, measurement error, data processing error, or other
This Issue Brief was prepared by Sharon A. Bobbitt, NCES and
Carol L. Rohr, Pinkerton Computer Consultants. For further
information about this Issue Brief or the 1987-88 or 1990-91
Schools and Staffing Survey, contact Kerry Gruber at (202) 502-7349.