Analysis Finds Failing Public Schools Racked by Violence

The Commonwealth Foundation released today an alarming new analysis of school violence that uncovered more than 4,500 criminal acts occurred at the 141 public schools scoring worst in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.

Using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe Schools Online, policy analysts at the free-market think tank discovered more than 100 indecent or sexual assaults and 225 indecent exposures; nearly 2,600 assaults on students and staff; more than 330 cases of reckless endangerment, and more than 500 weapons possessions and terroristic threats occurred at these academically failing schools in the 2009-2010 school year.  On average, only 32 percent of students at these schools were able to reach proficiency in reading, 38 percent in math.

“When the ‘Three Rs’ have turned from reading, writing and arithmetic to run, report and recover, we don’t have a state of education, we have a state of emergency,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “As many adults debate whether a school rescue bill is needed in Pennsylvania, children trapped in these violent and failing public schools are forced to survive unconscionable, undeniable and unacceptable conditions.” 

Students currently attending all the schools identified in the analysis would be eligible for rescue under proposed legislation. 

Among the lowest rates of academic performance with high rates of violence were schools in Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading and York.  Wilkinsburg High School, Pittsburgh, mustered 16 percent proficiency in math, but ranked among the highest in violence at 128 incidents of crime for every 100 students. 

Philadelphia schools accounted for more than half of those on the academically failing list, including Germantown High School, where only 8 percent of 11th graders scored proficient in math, with only 17 percent in reading.

“To let children suffer in the status quo when successful and tax-saving alternatives abound is simply unjust,” said Brouillette, a former high school teacher, school board member and father of four children.  “Giving parents and children options to choose a viable education in a safe environment isn’t just right because it saves kids, it will also save taxpayer money.”

The Commonwealth Foundation supports the expansion of school choice programs in Pennsylvania, including significant expansion of the state’s successful Education Improvement Tax Credit program, charter schools, and opportunity scholarships like those recently proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett. 

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Editor’s Note: For a PDF version of the Policy Points click here.

For the full spreadsheet of violence data on all 141 schools, click here.

For more information on school choice, visit or contact Jay Ostrich, director of public affairs at 717.649.6547.