Can School Choice Reduce Bullying and Save Lives?

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Yesterday, the New York Times told the tragic story of a student tormented for his ethnicity and sexual orientation who stabbed to death another student who had been harassing him and punched him in class:

“He was constantly taunted at school,” Ms. Hornback said. “I guess he felt his only way out of it was to resort to what he did.”

Ms. Hornback said Mr. Cedeno’s family was not trying to diminish what he did. But she said Mr. Cedeno’s mother had pleaded with staff members at the school for help protecting her son and had met with a guidance counselor there.

“There was no action from the school,” Ms. Hornback said.

Of course, it is impossible to say what would have happened in a different situation. But it’s also not far-fetched to imagine that things would have played out differently had Cedeno’s family had other educational options. Perhaps they could have used a voucher, tax-credit scholarship, or education savings account to place him in a safer learning environment. Alternatively, perhaps just knowing that parents had such options, the school might have taken the situation more seriously and intervened before reaching the boiling point.

Sadly, bullying is all too common. Can expanding school choice options help reduce bullying? That is the question Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight and I addressed in a recent blog post for EdChoice:

It appears that private schools have more robust anti-bullying programs, have students who are more likely to report bullying and fewer reported instances of bullying.

Why do bullying rates appear lower and responsiveness to bullying higher in private schools? We can speculate that when schools are selected by their students, they are more responsive to their needs and to family feedback. We do know for a fact that parents and students who are using the K–12 voucher program in Washington, D.C., believe their private schools are much safer, and parents often list safety as a top reason for choosing a private school.

Obviously, no parent wants to send her children to a school where they feel unsafe, and we are certain public school employees want the best for their students. But at the end of the day, a school system where students are assigned by geographic boundaries simply cannot have all the right answers for every child—and the results can be heartbreaking.

We are not here to pit public schools against private schools against other schooling types. We take a different approach: What might our communities’ schools—whether public, private or otherwise—learn from one another?

There’s no policy intervention that can possibly eliminate all bullying, but expanding educational options would create stronger incentives for schools to address instances of bullying and — if and when schools fail to address it — give bullied students a way out.

7 Responses to Can School Choice Reduce Bullying and Save Lives?

  1. Michael Norton says:

    Cut to the answer – Yes – School Choice is all about eliminating the worst of behavioral problems at each school. Public schools’ need to tolerate/abate the worst behavior runs off parents and top performers.

    If you choose a No Tolerance School, you choose to join a group that excludes the problems that end up back in an SUSD school.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Over 100,000 students are expelled from public schools each year.

      “Public schools’ need to tolerate/abate the worst behavior” is a myth.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    “Participating students were victimized far less by other students because of their disabilities in McKay schools. In public schools, 46.8% were bothered often and 24.7% were physically assaulted, while in McKay schools 5.3% were bothered often and 6.0% were assaulted”

    Click to access cr_38.pdf

  3. Michael Norton says:

    The “No Tolerance” concept is not unique to Charter Schools or Private Schools. Cheyenne Traditional School was founded on the same concept. It is a School of Choice. You have to want in to get in. So it is able to enforce the same standards. Proving that the ability to stop bullying is founded upon the demand of the market place for your services – not the charter/public distinction.

    If you have enough demand for your service, ,you can punish the customers who violate basic concepts of human decency and dignity. If you are running a lousy school with weak customer demand, you must accept the worst customers whether you detest them or not.

  4. Tim says:

    Even if you gave kids a backpack with $26,000 in it (roughly the amount the NYC DOE will spend per pupil in 2017-2018), there aren’t any private schools in NYC clamoring to get their hands on overage low-performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds. And there aren’t zoned high schools in this neighborhood or in most of New York City; this is an unzoned school of choice.

    What would have helped these kids is more charter high schools; a relaxing of the DOE’s rules that prevent HS transfers after 10th grade; and putting the brakes on the runaway train that is the rush for schools to adopt “restorative justice.”

    • Greg Forster says:

      1) Evidence from programs so far suggests private schools are generally eager to serve students in all demographics and all levels of performance. To the extent that we can help improve this, though, the removal of unnecessary barriers to the formation of new private schools and good program design are important.

      2) If a full dose of school choice works well, why give them a half dose (charters) instead?

      3) The public school reforms you seek will be politically impossible until the monopoly feels that it has no choice but to reform – which only private school choice can make happen.

  5. So, school choice is there to keep bullying at a very low rate? It seems good enough for me. Since it is true that bullying is all too common. I wouldn’t like my son and daughter to grow in an environment filled with them. I’ll try researching more on this. Thanks for the great read!

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