NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Zero-Tolerance Policy Yields Results

September 19, 2014

Philadelphia's schools have struggled with violence. In fact, the 2014-2015 school year was the first time that the school district was not placed on the list of "Persistently Dangerous Schools" by the state's Department of Education.

Even so, the Philadelphia School District had 2,485 violent incidents during the 2013-2014 school year -- hardly an indication that the district is problem-free. Perhaps, writes Stacia Freedman for, the district should take a cue from the Freire Charter School, a Pennsylvania middle and high school that has taken great steps to stop violence within the classroom.

According to Kelly Davenport, head of the school, Freire has a "zero-tolerate" policy on physical violence, verbal violence and bullying. Students from fifth to twelfth grade are held to high standards of behavior, not only in their classrooms but even outside of school grounds. Any violence results in expulsion, and there are no second chances.

How does Freire deal with conflict? Mediation.

  • All students are free to take their peers, or their teachers, to mediation. If the mediation is successful, the parties will sign a contract.
  • Any violations of the contract will result in another round of mediation.

Has it worked? Friedman reports that Freire Charter School found itself on the nation's "Best High Schools" list by U.S. News and World Report in 2013, and 94 percent of its graduates that year went straight to college. The graduation numbers are especially impressive in Philadelphia, a city with a high dropout rate.

Freire also works hard to get scholarships for its students as they head to college. In 2014, students earned $59,665 per student in scholarship money.

The school has focused on keeping parents involved. Its "Power School" software program informs parents of students' grades, attendance and behavior, and students struggling in classes are matched with peer tutors, who are paid to help struggling students, under the supervision of adults.

Freire plans to open another charter school in Wilmington, Delaware, in 2015. Wilmington was recently labeled "the most dangerous small city in America."

Source: Stacia Friedman, "Violent schools? A Philadelphia charter has answers,", September 11, 2014.


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