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School Choice in the United States: 2019

Indicator 7: School Crime and Safety for Public and Private School Students

In 2017, a higher percentage of public school students ages 12–18 than of private school students in the same age group reported knowing of a gang presence at school (9 vs. 2 percent), seeing hate-related graffiti at school (25 vs. 6 percent), and being called hate-related words at school (7 vs. 4 percent) during the school year.

Measures of school crime and safety provide important insight into school climate. The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey collected data from students ages 12–18 who were enrolled in public and private schools on various aspects of school crime and safety, including: knowing of gang presence1 at school,2 seeing hate-related graffiti at school, being called hate-related words at school, and being bullied3 at school. Although differences may exist among specific types of public and private schools, this indicator focuses on the overall differences between public and private school students’ reports of these incidents as well as trends in the gaps between these groups over time.


Figure 7.1. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported that gangs were present at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 7.1. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported that gangs were present at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

1 In 2005 and prior years, the period covered by the survey question was “during the last 6 months,” whereas the period was “during this school year” beginning in 2007. Cognitive testing showed that estimates for earlier years are comparable to those for 2007 and later years.
NOTE: All gangs, whether or not they are involved in violent or illegal activity, are included. “At school” includes in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, and going to and from school.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2001 through 2017. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 230.20a.


In 2017, a higher percentage of public school students ages 12–18 than of private school students in the same age group reported that gangs were present at their school during the school year (9 vs. 2 percent). The same pattern was observed in every survey year since 2001. Between 2001 and 2017, the percentage of students who reported a gang presence at their school decreased for both public school students (from 22 to 9 percent) and private school students (from 5 to 2 percent). Since the decrease was larger for public school students (13 percentage points) than for private school students (3 percentage points), the gap between public and private school students was smaller in 2017 (8 percentage points) than in 2001 (17 percentage points).


Figure 7.2. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 7.2. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

1 In 2005 and prior years, the period covered by the survey question was “during the last 6 months,” whereas the period was “during this school year” beginning in 2007. Cognitive testing showed that estimates for earlier years are comparable to those for 2007 and later years.
NOTE: “At school” includes in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, and going to and from school. “Hate-related” refers to derogatory terms used by others in reference to students’ personal characteristics.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2001 through 2017. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 230.30.


Approximately 25 percent of public school students ages 12–18 reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school—that is, hate-related words or symbols written in classrooms, bathrooms, or hallways or on the outside of the school building—in 2017. In comparison, 6 percent of private school students ages 12–18 reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school. While the percentages of public and private school students who reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school both decreased between 2001 and 2017 (from 38 to 25 percent and from 17 to 6 percent, respectively), the percentage reported by public school students was higher than the percentage reported by private school students in every survey year during this period. Additionally, the gap between the percentages reported by public and private school students did not change measurably between 2001 and 2017.


Figure 7.3. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being called hate-related words at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 7.3 Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being called hate-related words at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

1 In 2005 and prior years, the period covered by the survey question was “during the last 6 months,” whereas the period was “during this school year” beginning in 2007. Cognitive testing showed that estimates for earlier years are comparable to those for 2007 and later years.
NOTE: “At school” includes in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, and going to and from school. “Hate-related” refers to derogatory terms used by others in reference to students’ personal characteristics.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2001 through 2017. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 230.30.


The SCS also asked students ages 12–18 whether someone at school had called them an insulting or bad name having to do with their race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. In 2017, a higher percentage of public school students than of private school students reported being called hate-related words at school during the school year (7 vs. 4 percent); this pattern was also observed in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2015. Between 2001 and 2017, the percentage of public school students who reported being called hate-related words at school decreased from 13 to 7 percent and the percentage for private school students decreased from 8 to 4 percent. The gap between the percentages reported by public and private school students in 2017 was not measurably different from the gap in 2001.


Figure 7.4. Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2005 through 2017

Figure 7.4 Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by school type: Selected years, 2005 through 2017

1 In 2005, the period covered by the survey question was “during the last 6 months,” whereas the period was “during this school year” beginning in 2007. Cognitive testing showed that estimates for earlier years are comparable to those for 2007 and later years.
NOTE: “At school” includes in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, and going to and from school.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005 through 2017. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 230.40.


In 2017, about 21 percent of public school students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. This was not measurably different from the percentage of private school students who reported being bullied (16 percent).4 Between 2005 and 2017, the percentage of public school students who reported being bullied at school decreased from 29 to 21 percent.5 The percentage of private school students who reported being bullied at school was also lower in 2017 than in 2005 (16 vs. 23 percent); however, there was no clear pattern of consistent decrease during this period.


1 All gangs, regardless of whether or not they were involved in violent or illegal activity, were included.
2 “At school” includes in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, and going to and from school.
3 “Bullying” includes students who reported that another student had made fun of them, called them names, or insulted them; spread rumors about them; threatened them with harm; tried to make them do something they did not want to do; excluded them from activities on purpose; destroyed their property on purpose; or pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on them. In the total for students bullied at school, students who reported more than one type of bullying were counted only once.
4 The apparent difference between these estimates was not measurably different due to the confidence interval around the estimates.
5 Data from prior to 2005 are excluded from this time series analysis due to a significant redesign of the bullying items in 2005.


Reference Tables

  • Table 230.20a (Digest of Education Statistics 2018) Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported that gangs were present at school during the school year, by grade, control of school, and urbanicity: Selected years, 2001 through 2017
  • Table 230.30 (Digest of Education Statistics 2018) Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being called hate-related words and seeing hate-related graffiti at school during the school year, by selected student and school characteristics: Selected years, 1999 through 2017
  • Table 230.40 (Digest of Education Statistics 2018) Percentage of students ages 1218 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by selected student and school characteristics: Selected years, 2005 through 2017

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