Fifth-grade realities

file photo by Karen T. Borchers/San Jose Mercury News

Once again, health professionals and researchers asked Oakland’s fifth-graders whether they felt safe at school, if they drank alcohol or used drugs, and whether they had caring relationships and other important things going for them at school and at home.

The findings of the 2008-09 California Healthy Kids Survey included the responses of 77 percent of the school district’s fifth-grade class. While the results haven’t changed much since 2006-07 — or maybe because they haven’t —  they are definitely worth noting.

Here’s what never ceases to alarm me, even though I’ve seen these stats before: About 5 percent of the children surveyed — mind you, they are 10 and 11, for the most part — said they had brought a gun or a knife to their elementary school in the past year. And that about 33 percent of the students, one in three kids, said they had seen a gun or knife at school in the past year.

Not surprisingly, just 46 percent said they felt safe at their school all of the time.

But it’s not just Oakland. I checked the reports on a few other districts, and found similarly disconcerting responses. In Hayward, 40 percent of fifth-graders surveyed said they had seen a gun or knife at school; in Castro Valley, it was 23 percent. Even in Pleasanton, hardly a town with a dangerous rep, 13 percent of fifth-graders said they had seen weapons at the school in the last year, and 2 percent said they had brought a weapon themselves.

What’s going on here?

On the flip side, researchers estimate that 54 percent of the Oakland kids, based on their answers, have strong relationships, high expectations and a connection to their school, elements that are believed to be correlated with a child’s resilience and decision-making abilities. 

Far more — 83 percent — seemed to have those same high resilience factors, or “external assets,” working in their favor at home. Just 41 percent have those connections with their peers.

What strikes you about this report? Does it ring true with your experience working with (or parenting) children of that age group? What can schools do to improve safety and make kids feel safer?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Debora

    It would be interesting to see stats by school. If you subtract out the schools who have little or no student identified evidence of guns and knives you end up with some schools that over half of the students being exposed to this potential violence.

  • oak261

    and as Steven Weinberg pointed out on July 9, OUSD apparently suspends at 1/3 the rate of the State.
    “…Here is the link to the state website:

    I know why. The district is bending over backwards to avoid accusations of discrimination. So they have a policy goal of achieving a suspension rate equal for all ethnic and racial groups.

  • Nextset

    Fifth Grade differences are one thing, now try 10th grade. The differences get larger post puberty. Educrats who want to trick people into thinking the “gap” is going away will use 5th grade stats instead of 10th grade or later.

    One thing that will improve performance for the high schoolers is serious and constant discipline during the high school years. Imposing such discipline would make the minority students and their families unhappy because they don’t like discipline and don’t believe their actions and activity should be so regulated. In any event any discipline system has to move against the minorities more frequently because as a rule they are the most undisciplined. Why isn’t important, they just are (there are several things that cause the minorities to be undisciplined including their higher bastardy rate).

    Short of putting everybody in a football program with a tough coach, what can OUSD do with a bunch of female administrators and teaching staff? I suppose the “best” they can. But any racial quota on discipline seems to equal no discipline.

    Brave New World!

  • ex oakland staff

    Your comment: “… what can OUSD do with a bunch of female administrators and teaching staff? ” does not match my ten years of experience in education in any way. In my 11 years of teaching in public and private schools, the female administrators have been more effective at discipline and maintaining a positive school climate than the men. I know of a couple of situations where women took schools that could be considered nearing “out of control” status and put things right.

    Which gender does discipline better is actually not as important as your main point; OUSD needs to discipline students more consistently and not back down due to complaints from the community. About 4 years ago I had a conversation about suspension rates with an administrator from Belmont. I questioned why their suspension rates were higher than Oakland’s, when they serve a high socio-economic status population with fewer behavior problems. His response was that in Belmont they don’t have to deal with the political fallout from suspension numbers.

  • Nextset

    Ex Oakland Staff: Female Authority is not known for getting control of adolescent males. Is the problem the male reaction to being told what to do by Women – or Women not being willing to draw as many lines and hold them as they should? Who knows. The results speak for themselves.

    The undeerclass which dominates the OUSD student body and the urban school districts already are too frequently the products of female headed households. It would be best if they were exposed to male authority in high schools before they go out into the world of work or military.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    Last year I took a really close look at the results of this survey. Students in rural counties reported feeling the LEAST safe at school. In fact, to me the results were bizarre and inexplicable (as I recall, Lassen County had the highest rate of students feeling unsafe at school — far more than Alameda County).

    While the issue of school safety and whether students feel safe is crucial, in my opinion there’s something so clearly wrong with the survey itself that the press should view it as fatally flawed. I haven’t had time to look at this year’s, so if it’s less obviously screwy than last year’s, I eat my words.