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January 1993

NCES 93-149

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.


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 parent involvement.

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 .8 percent.

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
                         -----------------    ------------------- 
  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

  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- 127.

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 91-091.

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 systematic error.

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.