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How Feelings of Safety at School Affect Educational Outcomes

Johanna Lacoe
Persistent racial and ethnic gaps in educational achievement have focused policy attention on school climate and safety as important elements of educational performance. In a special issue of Educational Researcher focused on safety and order in schools, Cornell and Mayer (2010) argue that school safety and school order are fundamental to studies of the achievement gap, teacher attrition, and student engagement. This paper represents the first large-scale analysis of how feelings of safety at school affect educational outcomes. If student safety affects achievement there may be educational benefits of policies aimed at improving safety and order in schools and classrooms. Academic attainment is a critical step toward future success in adult life, increasing employment and earnings and the probability of other stabilizing life events such as marriage. Studies show that early childhood test scores are positively correlated with future labor market outcomes (Currie & Thomas, 1999). Yet, black and Hispanic students consistently underperform on standardized tests compared to white and Asian students (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, 2008). These racial gaps persist even as test scores have risen for all students. Gaps in achievement extend to college enrollment and completion rates and as a result, whites are more than twice as likely to earn a bachelor's degree as blacks (Western, 2006). Educational gaps translate into differences in wealth accumulation over the life-course, differing rates of marriage (Schneider, 2011), and disparities in future health outcomes (Freudenberg & Ruglis, 2007; Fiscella & Kitzman, 2009). Lower educational attainment is associated with an increased probability of arrest and incarceration: the risk of imprisonment is five times greater for black men with no college degree compared to white men with the same level of education (Lochner & Moretti, 2004; Western, 2006). Identifying the factors that contribute to these gaps is critical to narrowing disparities in later-life outcomes