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Persistently Dangerous Schools: The “Scarlet Letter”

The future of testing and accountability is dominating discussion over the reauthorization of NCLB, but another of the law's provisions--the designation of "persistently dangerous schools" -- also finds itself under the microscope. The law mandates that each state establish criteria to identify "persistently dangerous" schools so that students would then be free to transfer to another school. At the end of the 2007 school year, however, only 46 schools out of 94,000 were tagged as "persistently dangerous." Even after factoring in that schools are generally secure places for students, it's fairly obvious that some schools were underreporting incidents and/or states had selected narrow criteria. The Department of Education's inspector general, in a report released in October 2007, concluded that the provision is flawed and needs to be strengthened. But is it merely ineffective or actually counterproductive? School safety expert Kenneth Trump believes that the "persistently dangerous" component, by inadvertently pressuring officials to under-report and other unintended consequences, could actually be creating less safe schools. The label, says Trump, is the “Scarlet Letter of the education community.”

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) has introduced a bill that changes “persistently dangerous school” to “schools which do not have a safe climate for academic achievement,” hoping to erase the stigma the existing label inflicts. In addition, the more benign title, which goes along with additional federal funding, will encourage states to take the problem of school violence more seriously.

You can find resources on addressing the root causes of school violence and ways you can support legislation that deals effectively with these issues at NEA's School Safety page.