Educational Researcher How Safe Are Our Schools?
Matthew J. Mayer and Michael J. Furlong EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER 2010 39: 16 DOI: 10.3102/0013189X09357617 The online version of this article can be found at:

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681) chance of being a violent crime victim on a given day during the school year. Because the experiences of their children and periodic media coverage may increase their concern. School safety stakeholders often read and interpret statistics reporting prevalence and incidence data. concomitant with increases in juvenile crime (Snyder & Sickmund.4%) experienced theft at school in 2006 or that 43% of middle schools reported weekly incidents of school bullying during the 2005–2006 school year (Dinkes.3102/0013189X09357617 © 2010 AERA. 1998). remains a concern. parents and others naturally ask: How safe are our schools? The response of researchers has been that schools are generally safe (Dinkes. For example. Those behaviors that typically fall under the term school violence constitute a small percentage of the constellation of behavioral events at school. Do the relatively rare yet tragic high-profile school shootings represent a greater concern than the long-term psychological effects of dayto-day bullying. violence E ach day parents watch their children go off to school. 2013 . These rates vary based on race/ethnicity. pp. policy. 39.700 (5.Vol. Kemp. News coverage of school shootings involving multiple victims during the 1990s further focused public attention on school safety. 1978). 2007). gender. and acceptable behaviors at school. & Baum. or about 1 violent incident at a large comprehensive high school every other day. marginal. Common standards of risk and harm that could advance policy and practice are lacking. trusting the system of education to keep them safe. The National Center for Education Statistics began issuing annual data reports on school safety in 1998. Having neither a quantitative referent base of a broader array of student behaviors associated with school violence nor definitive means of quantifying unacceptable. and other key variables. No. Conceptually. Although not widely recognized. Prevalence is generally Educational Researcher.aera. School violence and disruption. does the resultant rate of 1. Department of Education. it is possible to consider the relations depicted in Figure at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. Disorder in Our Public Schools (U. National surveys that inform research.This article identifies some of the conceptual and methodological challenges that must be addressed and calls for a 10-year national strategic plan to improve school safety.500 secondary students (3. 2009)? Considering the 767. school psychology. urbanicity. highly variable interpretations of the seriousness of school violence incidents are possible. 1.76 victimization experiences per 10. Despite this attention to violent school events. http://er. Mayer and Michael J.000 violent crimes at school reported in 2006 spread across 26.aera. there was limited consensus about what constitutes school violence and disorder and how to gauge accurately and reliably the overall safety status of American 16 EDUCATIONAL RESEArCHEr Downloaded from http://er. Progress in the field of school safety has been hindered by the lack of a coherent conceptual structure to guide measurement and research. but this alone has not fully quelled these concerns because of a lack of consensus about what constitutes safety. Furlong Schools are basically safe places for children. There are no extant data that map precisely to all of these categories—this limitation leads us to a key consideration. & Williams.S.How Safe Are Our Schools? Matthew J. student behavior/ attitude.000 student–school days represent a major problem? These data suggest that a child has about a 1 in 5. 7–15) but came to the forefront with the issuance of the 1978 report Violent Schools–Safe Schools: The Safe School Study Report to Congress (U. National Institute of Education. how is meaning attached to the observation that 909. understanding that its compartments are not empirically derived but that they informally and broadly summarize behavioral events in schools. pointed to ongoing issues with school disorder nationally. Keywords: at-risk students. although in decline through the mid.S. 16–26 DOI: 10. it remains unclear how seriously the statistics should be taken relative to adult views of what constitutes a reasonable degree of safety and how unsafe behaviors are considered relative to the much more common proacademic and prosocial student behaviors that occur daily in schools. Hamburg. intimidation. Presenting the same data in different ways may lead parents and guardians to feel more or less comfortable regarding their children’s safety based on varying probability estimates. pp. late 1990s. 1984). However. this issue of Educational Researcher. school violence incidents peaked around 1993 and were described as an epidemic in the early 1990s (Elliott. each attending school for about 165 days (assuming absences).4 million students ages 12 to 18. and practice have been designed for different purposes and can present conflicting findings. and incivility experienced by students at school? What is the connection between school safety statistical reports based primarily on survey indicators and the real-life experiences of students in schools? General Awareness of School Violence and Disorder Aspects of school violence have been a concern throughout modern American history (see Cornell & Mayer. 1999). A report in 1984. & Lin-Kelly.

Based on these and other sources such as school records and administrator records. theft). the answer would likely be no and lead to the conclusion that schools are among the safest places for America’s youth (Modzeleski et al.. and this situation is impeding movement toward forming a national safe school agenda. friends.. Engaged Behaviors Bullying. Disruption. and (d) Monitoring the Future Study. as in the instances of new disease outbreak annually.4%– 5.g. based on recent data wherein 32% of secondary students reported being bullied at or around school (Dinkes et al.g. SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology. constitute a public health risk? Statistically. bullying. law enforcement). survey data can be used to assess victimization events (e. yet devastating for all involved. The situation presented in this section sets the stage for discussion of definitional and measurement issues. researchers have developed a picture of trends in school violence and disorder at the national level taken from multiple data sources. personal experiences. missing school due to fears for personal safety). CA: Sage. and others and represent official and unofficial accounting of discrete or grouped incidents. Do horrific school shootings. As discussed by Borum. Modzeleski. the CDC’s YRBSS data derived from anonymous school-based surveys show continuing or increasing problems during roughly the same period for high school students’ reports of having been threatened or injured with a weapon and missing school due to safety concerns (see Figure 3). students. In contrast. administrators. JANUArY/FEBrUArY 2010 Downloaded from http://er. the school safety field lacks consensus on how to approach these matters. or avoidant behaviors (e. Bierman. based on an average of 21 student deaths per year. teachers. not to mention parents who fear that similar harm may befall their children while in school. 2001).g. and making practical meaning for those in the trenches—parents. In fact. 21 during a particular year). 2013 17 .g.. parents. The school safety waters are further muddied when the concept of harm—a relative construct—is considered. Conversely.. this provides little consolation to the bereaved families. Incivility FIGURE 1. students. 2003. Thus far. other data may address self-reports of student fear. and Jimerson in this special issue of Educational Researcher (pp. teachers. including but not limited to (a) School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). and represents the risk of experiencing the condition. (c) Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey (YRBSS).   Conceptual representation of school disorder compared with overall student behaviors. Columbine) Marginally Acceptable Behaviors Theft Serious Violent Crime Personal Attack Appropriate.. Intimidation.... pp. and others affected. being physically attacked. 2008). and Problem Behaviors School Disorder Outsider Adult Shootings at School School-Associated Shootings (e. Despite limited consensus on essential school safety indicators. Mayer. given as the number (or rate) of incidents of a condition of interest (event or disease) present in a population at a given point in time. research-to-practice linkage. Adapted from “School violence and disruption” by M. from 1996 to 2006. anxiety.. Musher-Eizenman. & Dubow. fighting. (b) School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). lawand rule-breaking behavior. 27–37). Edwards-Leeper.000 years). Nansel et al. Examination of SCS trend data derived from personal interviews suggests major declines in school crime overall since around 1993. J. Goldstein. 880-888. Positive.. although the actual prevalence of school-based homicides is extremely low (the typical school would experience such an occurrence once every at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. the public could perceive schools as unsafe based on media reports of the incidence of school-based homicides (e. Ladd.5%)” (Eaton et al. 2008).. However. “During 1993–2007. threatened with a weapon). 2003. 2006. avoiding parts of the school building. contrary to other data suggesting sharp declines from 1993 onward in indicators of school safety problems. schoolgenerated data can be used to monitor violations of school rules (e. Cornell. and incivility in schools be considered a serious public health risk factor? In this instance. Boxer.g.Overall School Behaviors School Violence. the answer would probably be yes. Incidence is generally given as the rate of new events emerging within a specified time frame. When examining these findings in toto. Data from these sources originate from local community officials (e. 2008.g. albeit rare. 2004. intimidation. nationally. a significant linear increase occurred in the percentage of students who did not go to school because of safety concerns (4. 2009) and several lines of research that point to pronounced long-term psychosocial harm to large numbers of affected youth (Arseneault et al. should widespread and long-term day-today bullying. with some leveling off from 2001 to 2006 (see Figure 2). how is it possible to conclude whether schools are becoming more or less safe over time or how safety indicators compare with some broadly accepted tolerance level? This question is addressed below in the section on major data trends. Thousand Oaks. the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) indicated. and so forth.aera.

1993 7.4 2005 7. which provides general arrest data and the National Incident-Based Reporting System.8 5. analyze. 2004). Chicago.9 6 2007 7. and at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. and serious violent crime. Mayer. in particular. the unrealistic standards adopted by many states linked to the persistently dangerous schools component of the Unsafe Schools Choice Option in the law (Mayer & Leone. and most data come from anonymous self-report ­ surveys that do not 12 Percentage of Respondents 95% C. Total crime includes theft. state. Detroit.4 4.5 1997 7. Miami. per 1. in the entire nation.4 1995 8. problems exist nationally with several major violence data collection and reporting approaches. no national database provides a record of the same students’ school safety–related experiences annually throughout secondary school.7 5. violent crime.C. For example. education leaders. Definitional and Measurement Issues Federal.   Results of Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey. Cleveland.5 FIGURE 3. San Diego. Reporting driven by the No Child Left Behind law has been of limited value because of the variable approaches used across states and. There are no standardized methods of collecting and reporting school-based crime incidents nationally. 18 EDUCATIONAL RESEArCHEr Downloaded from http://er. 2009). and local agencies collect.9 6. 10 8 6 4 2 0 Threatened or Injured With a Weapon at School (past year) Missed School for Safety Concerns (past 30 days) allow tracking specific respondents over time. at and away from school. and report school violence data using highly variable methods. Above and beyond the impact of No Child Left Behind. as of September 2007. had no persistently dangerous schools (United States.aera.. 2005). D. Testimony at a 2003 House Congressional Hearing indicated that the major cities of Los Angeles. 2007).I. representing approximately 26% of reported crime nationally (Justice Research and Statistics Association.4 4 1999 7. For example. Baltimore. For instance. 1993–2007. with data reflecting infractions of criminal law and/or school rules as well as victimization episodes (Leone. 2000). Malmgren. 2013 . and local government— grappling with school safety challenges. the Federal Bureau of Investigation administers the Uniform Crime Reporting Program.2 2001 8. which.000 students 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 At School 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 92 78 Year 72 74 73 61 64 55 73 60 55 48 56 46 63 49 144 155 150 135 121 102 101 Away From School 138 139 129 119 117 117 95 FIGURE 2. 1992–2006.3 4.6 Year 2003 9. school personnel. reported detailed incident data from 37% of law enforcement agencies. only 52 schools in six states were classified as persistently dangerous in 2003–2004 (Snell.2 5. & Meisel.180 160 Rate per 1.   Rate of total crime against students ages 12 to 18.000 students.

and respondent errors. (b) characteristics of the individuals and schools. Fisher. a somewhat more eclectic approach is necessary. 2004) and inferential limitations due to uses for which the surveys were never validated (Furlong & Sharkey. 2006). Victimization self-reports via the NCVS are also vulnerable to problems. sociology. in that at present it lacks a unifying framework and is more often studied in a piecemeal fashion within discipline domains—education. Johnston. This theoretical fragmentation may contribute to the so-called research-to-practice gap. victims’ failure to report crimes. or system inability to pursue cases. 1993. O’Malley. (b) stages of development. Major national surveys have demonstrated risk of bias driven by extreme response sets (responses that tend to be anchored at one part of a scale. and time frames (Leone et al. The desire to better understand the status of school safety is linked to future research. including sampling frame and instrumentation. Sharkey. and Bachman (2001) provided insightful discussion of how theory applied to drug abuse meshed more or less well with goals of the Monitoring the Future Survey. a more general orientation to relevant variables. not adjudications and convictions. drug use. and public health—that communicate incompletely with one another. Sharkey. Linkage to Theoretical Models School safety and order encompass a wide range of student and adult behaviors and systemic processes. in fact. counting multiple suspensions of a particular student as one suspension) counts and protocols for reporting based on individuals versus incidents. Crime incident data can lead to biased estimates of the extent of violent acts and number of perpetrators in a community because they reflect arrests. 2006). hindering meaningful interpretation (Morrison. this research did not entail a coherent explanatory approach driving variable selection but. and telescoping effects (inaccurately recalling sooner or later than events occurred. 2000..g. 1991). rather. such as poor recall.” Johnston et al. particular theoretical positions drive specific empirical tests.g.. directions to respondents differing across administrations. emotional. (2001) pointed to much of the research embracing “middle-range” theories that map to “minor testable hypotheses”. practice. types of violence or disorder. the interest often is focused on learning more about (a) victimization experiences. Cross-cutting threads in school safety involve well-run schools with positive student engagement and outcomes and overall psychological and physical safety for all stakeholders. Fourth. citing comments of Merton (1957). and theory development remains in at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. where through iteration. the history of social and behavioral inquiry. For school violence and safety data collection and analysis. Schulenberg. Furlong and Sharkey reported on the Monitoring the Future Study. these considerations suggest that the school violence field is developing in a manner similar to other areas of social-behavioral research. citing work by Bachman and colleagues. no theories are embraced by most of the field. Furlong. and behavioral factors purportedly linked to outcomes. 2002). addressing (a) types of involvement. and both efforts were discontinued because it was evident that not all crimes were being reported and that reporting was influenced by administrator idiosyncratic interpretation of the reporting requirements (California Legislative Analyst Office. (d) foundational theories of human behavior. 2006). such as substance abuse. and practices vary. & Peterson. and disseminated among schools and allied agencies. includes dozens of theoretical models and their derivatives. and local survey providers often being untrained and unprepared for survey administration (Cross & Newman-Gonchar. (c) sets of social. More localized surveys have demonstrated problems in terms of consistently following standardized administration protocols. differing approaches to recording suspension data across school districts can result in reliability and validity problems. started formal school crime reporting twice. Johnston et al. going beyond a narrower focus on school violence.. Developing theoretical coherence is critical for purposes of developing a system of meaning that informs research. Beyond survey administration issues. Peterson. such as how the school’s system of rules is understood and implemented. & Redding. First. questions emerge regarding linkage to theory. A noteworthy investigation in New York State uncovered serious underreporting of school violence in many schools. Large-scale surveys tapping into similar domains can vary significantly with respect to analysis goals linked to instrumentation design and can produce data that are incongruent across differently defined and targeted populations. Third. where about one third of a sample of audited schools failed to report approximately 80% of violent incidents (Office of the New York State Comptroller. interpreted. policy. psychology. violence. Bates. 2013 . Second. and planning for the future. such JANUArY/FEBrUArY 2010 19 Downloaded from http://er.. There is no uniform school safety data collection and recording framework.We believe that the low number of schools identified as persistently dangerous is also a byproduct of ambiguity and a lack of consensus over which safety indicators and databases are most salient and what is actually being measured. Lyberg. health habits) would be linked to established theoretical foundations and well-conceived conceptual frameworks. Reiss & Roth. But this is not necessarily the case. for example in the recording of duplicated versus unduplicated (e. Several key points they raised with respect to drug use might be applied to violence and other socialpsychological concerns. where validity of questions about substance use was not empirically established. Redding. Mathiowetz. and do not include behaviors that escape law enforcement due to lack of detection. citing Cattell’s (1966) description of an “inductive-hypothetico-deductive spiral. 2004). including research on substance abuse. Groves. comprehension difficulties. funding. Likewise. and (e) related contextual variables. Taken as a group. & Sudman. Biemer. For example. positive behavioral supports) that often use outcome measures such as office disciplinary referrals have been criticized for not necessarily capturing the most relevant data reflecting violence and disruption in a school (Morrison. & Yetter. A reasonable expectation for researchers and other stakeholders in the social and behavioral sciences would be that major national surveys of important social issues (e. 2006). & Smith. Furlong.aera. (d) risk and protective factors across ecological levels. argued that in the absence of coherent theory. (c) systemic factors. Systems-change initiatives (e.g. The State of California. and (e) units of measurement and analysis. and programmatic implementation to address need. 2004). criminology. which in turn influence refinement of theory. there are problems with how results and other school safety data are organized. O’Farrell. Beyond considering definitional and measurement issues.

especially when they seek fundamental meaning as well as integrity of analysis. including behaviors related to school violence and victimization. 2005. lawmakers approving funding. taps into more general crime victimization experiences of the overall adult U. They noted that year-to-year changes in violent crimes across the two surveys moved in the same direction about 60% of the time. or are they a benefit. Highly eclectic approaches. legislators addressing crime. 2003. this can be misleading. which collects information biannually from students in Grades 9 to 12. including who was being measured. Do seeming contradictions in trends based on different indicator variables constitute a problem. the 25% increase in serious violent crime from 201. stratification. response coding rules. Kish. and unequal selection probability weighting) that can entail multiple methods for calculating the standard error of statistics.g. lack theoretical coherence and can inhibit systematic research and development of effective prevention approaches. making long-term trend analysis challenging.800 in 1997 to 252. For instance. which are typically larger than those of a simple random sample due to the design effect (the ratio of the variance of a statistic under a particular sample design to the variance of that statistic under simple random sampling for a sample of equal size. should this be recorded as a single victimization or several? Protocols can vary. Researchers need to work with models that (a) propose theory that promotes understanding of complex social-emotional-behavioral issues. In addition.. reported annually since 1972 (redesigned in 1992). Stakeholders examining year-to-year changes in data need to be mindful of point versus interval estimates (e. which currently reaches a national probability sample of about 76. was administered in 1995.. and (c) support scientific investigation that is responsive to emerging knowledge and withstands the challenges of experimental science.S. which collects data from elementary and secondary administrators. as well as respondent ages. 2007). and patterns of concordance of different surveys over time. Epidemiologists studying patterns of violence. population. Major national surveys reviewed here use complex sampling designs ( neighborhood mobility or crime and violence in the local school community. beginning in 1976. Justice system officials developing policy. Above and beyond the topical content focus of a data collection system are the end users who dictate relevance and utility. and 2007. The YRBSS can help track the emergence and development of targeted risk behaviors of interest. and criminologists studying these issues all would be interested in officially reported crime data to support their efforts. Departments of Education and Justice have documented significant declines in school violence and disorder since the early 1990s (Dinkes et al. with plans to continue biennial surveys. was originally administered in the 1999–2000 school year. This.700 in 1998 seems noteworthy but is statistically nonsignificant at the . law enforcement officials developing interventions. Statistics from national school safety surveys using probability samples include interval estimates that are driven by standard error. 1999. includes questions on student victimization experiences at school (with data on 8th. Recent reports from the U. Meaning and utility—not just beauty—rests in the eye of the beholder. affects interpretation of change. Downloaded from at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. The larger NCVS survey. These trade-offs map to researchers’ understanding of school violence data. 1974). The Monitoring the Future annual survey of high school seniors. Rand and Rennison identified multiple aspects of the surveys that accounted for differing statistics on crime. helping investigators better understand disparate aspects of school safety? Rand and Rennison (2002) discussed apparent contradictions between a NCVS-reported 15% drop in crime from 1999 to 2000 and a Uniform Crime Reporting Program report showing year 2000 figures at a stable level compared with previous year data. while providing convenient lenses through which to view and consider diverse phenomena.000 households. and protocols for recording a series of victimizations. Other factors must also be considered when evaluating trend data for change. policy makers developing a national strategic agenda. We opened the door to this discussion earlier. 2009).and 10th-grade students from 1991 onward). in turn. such as crime victims’ perception of system responses to their reports. means and confidence intervals). state. as well as the experiences of secondary students. if a student was victimized several times in one day by the same bully perpetrator. Although it is tempting to read the data as point estimates.05 level as a result of high standard errors. counting rules for multiple victims versus incidents. Kish & Frankel.S. and local human services agencies providing support programs are each uniquely dependent on victimization data collected through surveys. 2001. and local policy makers trying to respond to violence and disruption in the schools.and safety-related behaviors. The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Other related information is available from the Schools and Staffing Survey. Some of the trend differences across surveys can be understood as a function of previously discussed definitional and measurement 20 EDUCATIONAL RESEArCHEr issues. excepting the 2001–2002 school year. Thinking About the Nature of Trend Data There are limited and incongruent national-level measurements of school violence and disorder that span considerably different time periods. The National Center for Education Statistics School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). (b) provide a foundation for evidence-based interventions. victimization measurement of persons versus households. socialenvironmental factors may contribute to differential reporting behaviors regarding crime and victimization. addresses a wide range of health.aera. which includes teacher reports of school climate and specific problems at school such as physical attack and threats on teachers (National Center for Education Statistics. with biennial data collections. particularly when public policy issues are involved. 2013 . More parsimonious approaches such as radical behaviorism may be useful for understanding discrete behaviors and related interventions but offer relatively little breadth and depth to inform the understanding of and responses to school safety needs. 1964. For example. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey (YRBSS). Researchers are both constrained and liberated at times by their choice of theoretical approaches. suggesting that from about 1993 to 1999 there were striking declines in recorded school crime (see Figure 2). whereas other indicators suggested less pronounced changes or even increases (see Figure 3). Specific survey data efforts such as the CDC’s YRBSS may better support the work of epidemiologists than the needs of federal. which collects victimization and related data from student respondents.

5% of 12th-grade students. Thomas. theft and personal attack. 30. with lower values for Hispanic and Asian students (27. Research-based data collection—having critical impact on research analysis and subsequent practice—can be designed for highly divergent researcher or practitioner needs.7%.9% and 29. Skiba et al.2%) were significantly higher compared with females (5. respectively.0001) students.6%.6% and 33.1%.000. For the same year. and 44. at 35 versus 23 incidents per 1.8% of students in Grades 9 to 12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school during the preceding 12 months. on the bus. or elsewhere.3%) compared with Blacks (27. 2004. social. tripped.6% and 18.9% of 6th-grade students to 23.1% of seniors reporting receiving threats without a weapon (no injury involved). and percentages for Black students were significantly different from those for Asian students (p < .000 students (Dinkes et al. American Indians (including Alaska Natives).05). and 8. compared with older students. CDC YRBSS data indicate continuing problems in schools with students threatened or injured with a weapon at school. age. or spit on. Rates have remained relatively stable from 1993 to 2007. Bierman. researchers may design an intervention for students with learning disabilities that does not address the practical needs identified by teachers (MacMillan & Speece. and rural settings were 34. respectively) at different levels (p < . Mayer (in press) found evidence across multiple NCVS SCS data sets of day-today low-level aggressive behaviors of intimidation and incivility in school accounting for a much larger part of students’ anxiety. Hispanic. Percentages of White.8% reporting having been injured.001). sexual assault. Black. and practice can differ dramatically between researchers and practitioners. As was the case with violent victimization. Urbanicity data were not publicly released for the 2007 NCVS survey due to methodological redesign. Data from the 2007 NCVS SCS on bullying/peer victimization show that almost 80% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that it took place inside school. 2009). respectively).2%). shoved. 32. These informational windows can overlap while retaining somewhat unique foci. This leaves the concerned stakeholder with awareness that data collection and analysis systems are anything but unified and that they serve various purposes. research-driven data collection. students’ psychological wellbeing is affected negatively by constant low-level aggression in schools and an overall atmosphere of incivility (Boxer et al. This relates to a broader theme in multiple areas of educational. Data from 2007 show little change. 8.000. and Whites (26. with slightly lower values in urban schools (26. and urbanicity. with percentages ranging from 42. the CDC YRBSS. data parsed by urbanicity were unavailable for 2007). with 11% of students reporting that they had been pushed. and urban schools were significantly higher than schools in other settings (p < . respectively.0%. 26. a school violence prevention researcher studying a new intervention in anger management would tend to focus on experimental conditions that may not align well with students’ ability to learn and use new anger management techniques and may not mesh well into the daily processes and procedures of schools (Mayer & Van Acker.2%) were about 50% more than that of 12th-grade students (6.0%). where Other denoted students reported as Asians. Pacific Islanders. and Other. The percentages reported by males (10. Black. Black. 2003. Some significant differences existed across racial and ethnic groups. 7. and 21 per 1. 19. 2008).05). & the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. Data collection that is well linked to a theoretical framework will tend to support the work of researchers aligned with that framework but may not necessarily provide valuable data for other stakeholders. where the linkage among theory. race. and 34.01).4%. as opposed to outside the building on school grounds. and high-profile. in 2007.9%..05). Significant differences were present in percentage rates between White and both Black (p < . and behavioral research. and those of more than one race.. and the Monitoring the Future Study. ages 15 to 18. What about more general threats of harm to students? Monitoring the Future survey results show that from 1976 to 1996. Violent victimization rates in schools for 2005. NCVS data from 2006 show that student-reported violent crime in secondary schools— including simple assault and serious violent crimes of rape.aera. Percentage rates for 9th-grade students (9. Violent victimization rates per 1. Males and females reported being bullied (30. and Other students bullied were similar (34. In 2007. Ladd. suburban. often providing an incomplete view of what is happening in schools. A growing body of research has demonstrated that above and beyond the harmful effects of bullying (Arseneault et al.0001). respectively (with no statistically significant differences for gender).3%). p < . However.7%.much like a disease outbreak. with specific indicators providing different insights into day-to-day life at school. 9. with 26. In addition. Younger students ages 12 to 14 experienced higher levels of victimization. with reported percentages for White students at 6.9%. the differences of White. 2013 .5%) and females (21. respectively). JANUArY/FEBrUArY 2010 21 Downloaded from http://er.000 (p < . for males and females. Rates of bullying in 2005 were similar in suburban and rural schools (28. 2003. these data varied by gender. For example. about 20% to 25% of high school seniors reported being threatened without a weapon (no injury involved). and aggravated assault—was 29 per 1. Black.. 1999). nonsignificant). it lacks the more comprehensive data collection tools that would be useful for designing school safety programming that spans ecological levels. 2006). and includes a number of school safety–related questions. Likewise. Nansel et al. and Hispanic each compared with Other were nonsignificant. with the difference highly significant (p < .001) and Asian (p < . for students reported as White.0%) and no statistically significant differences between any pair of settings.. However. a larger percentage of younger students reported being bullied.01) and Hispanic students (p < .000 students ages 12 to 18 at school were 27. addressing not only individual and interpersonal phenomena but systemic processes as well. the violent victimization rate was 32 and 25 per 1. robbery. across urban.7%.05. Hispanic. Reported percentages for White students were significantly different compared with Hispanic (p < . with disaggregated data showing males (30.6%. Current Indicators: What Is Going on in Schools? We return to the core question: How safe are our schools? We will focus on indicators from the NCVS and SCS. 2001) at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. respectively. fear. 2006. 7. and Asian. and there were no significant differences among the first three categories of race.6%. 32% of secondary students reported being bullied at or around school during the prior 6 months. and avoidant behaviors compared with a model incorporating less frequent.

are somewhat different. However. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). depression. gang members accounted for 80% of all serious and violent crime in the sample. and having some degree of emotional-behavioral difficulties (Hildyard & Wolfe.000 youth gangs and 785. Howe. The harm is real. these data suggest that significant violence.aera. Guns. threatening behaviors. Youth gang members’ age range varies. and rural communities. 2002. Tremblay. developing limited social communication skills. 2000. & Peterson. Youth gang violence affects urban. Children who experience neglect over the long haul are generally at elevated risk for poor academic performance. experiencing poor peer relations. suburban. & McDuff. 2013 . Supreme Court ruled in favor of a student claiming harm resulting from chronic harassment at school that school authorities did not adequately address. There is general agreement regarding the likelihood of harm from severe abuse. when school violence was considered by many as having reached epidemic levels (Elliott et al. the U. While considering these data on school violence and disorder. in the Rochester study. Lynch & Cicchetti.500 or more) reported gang problems. 2003). education. Dahlberg. Results from the 2006 National Youth Gang Survey indicate that in 2006 law enforcement in 3. anxiety.S. there is no definitive proof of what drove the reductions. or is it linked to the larger community in which the school is situated? We next consider several related community-based factors. According to data from the CDC WISQARS (Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System). (b) there is no highly tangible evidence of harm (e. it is possible to consider these ongoing day-to-day problems as constituting a form of systemic educational neglect when not meaningfully addressed. In the related Denver study. As a group. In light of this ruling. ages 5 to 19. 2008). as well as engagement in more delinquent and violent behaviors. Much like instances of obvious severe physical and sexual abuse. 1998). Many of these issues are addressed later in this special issue in the article by Borum and colleagues concerning school shootings. and (c) the systemic resources required to ameliorate such long-term neglect are more extensive and require long-term strategic approaches. 1998. approximately 14 were schoolrelated homicides. were killed by firearms in the United States in 2005—some were suicides and some of the homicides involved adult perpetrators of teen victims. social work. Esbensen.S. Kendall-Tackett& Eckenrode. Freng. and juvenile justice paints a general picture of great difficulties children experience as a result of multiple forms of abuse and neglect (Johnson. Some of these indicators are at less than half the levels seen in the early 1990s. Like neglect on an individual level. & Bernstein. & Loeber. Smailes.958 children and adolescents. Huizinga.. Krug. but the systems try to stabilize the situation through crisis intervention to make sure no further harm occurs as a result of the violence. there can be serious long-term harm to children who attend schools where such toxic climates exist. Bates. Questions emerge as to the circumstances surrounding gun access and usage in these school shootings. harassment. and Loeber (2004) reported that. 1996. Youth gang members are at increased risk for violent victimization. Vitaro. 1996). Yet social systems aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect may not respond as well in such instances because (a) much of the damage occurs very slowly over time. where effects of gang activity. Keiley. But is the situation in schools a stand-alone concern. with noted problems in a number of inner-city environments. In fact. which suggests that progress has been made toward the reduction of school violence incidents.. Thornberry. 2001) suggests that some factors act as buffers or sources of protection that reduce the odds of having deleterious developmental outcomes. Huizinga. Several factors have been linked to juvenile access to guns and child and adolescent gun-related deaths: (a) illegal gun markets Downloaded from http://er. situations of serious but not life-threatening disruption or violence are more common. & Pettit. & Zwi.These highlights taken from national surveys point to continuing safety problems in schools. Percentage of law enforcement reporting gangs ranged from about 15% in rural counties to 51% in suburban counties and 86% in larger cities. with routine behaviors of drug and/or alcohol involvement mediating the link between gang membership and risk for increased victimization (Taylor. a circumstance associated with students experiencing fear and anxiety and altered academic and social-emotional trajectories (see Cornell & Mayer. and avoidant behaviors (Lynch. Of these deaths. Research on resilience (Luthar & Cicchetti. reduced self-esteem. Thornberry. 2008). 2003. McGloin & Widom. in press). and incivility is more difficult for 22 EDUCATIONAL RESEArCHEr systems to resolve. 2. the persistence in schools of lower level bullying. with most members in their early teens to mid-twenties.000 youth gang members ( at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. Brown. Masten et al.400 cities (population of 2. school shootings). bullying.. National estimates for 2006 point to more than 26. in Davis v. The literature in psychiatry. the educational and community systems respond quickly and decisively to instances of extreme violence in the schools (e. bruises on the body) often associated with physical abuse. it may be instructive to consider an analogy to the harm caused to children by child abuse and neglect. this issue). The United States has among the highest rates of firearm-related deaths for youth and adults among industrialized nations (Mercy.g. although overlapping. Exposure to community violence among youth—sometimes involving gangs—has been linked to development of posttraumatic stress. Despite the attention that incidents of deadly violence have received. 2001). 2004). 1999. male and female gang members accounted for 63% of all delinquent behaviors (not counting gang fights). Dodge. using longitudinal data based on a sample of elementary and middle school students at risk for delinquency.. Department of Justice. and related threatening and intimidating behaviors continue in schools (Mayer. 2000). 2005. long-term neglect. and other statistics have remained fairly consistent. Guns have played a key role in community and school-related violence and are a deeply embedded part of American culture. Here. and more difficult for educational systems to address. compared with non–gang members (Gatti. and neighborhood violence can intrude on schools. Cohen. Summarizing key results from the Rochester Youth Development Study and the Denver Youth Survey. As is the case with prolonged neglect. and Infusion of Community Violence Into Schools Schools exist within and connected to local communities. access to guns. The harm is clearly evident. we highlight what is known about youth access to guns. psychology. the effects for children who experience chronic. Community Factors: Gangs.g. 1999. Margolin & Gordis. However. Widom & Maxfield.

as discussed earlier in the article. Three recent studies addressed this issue. Welsh. accounting for 47% of the variance in firearm-related youth deaths (Murnan. The research also identified the ameliorative role of families’ active participation in school activities and administration—an outcome negatively associated with poverty (Evans. What are the standards of risk for harm. Watkins (2008) examined community. Unanswered Questions and Next Steps in Research. 2013 . per student self-reports (Brown. there is a need to begin asking these questions. 1998). while having limitations. Sor. of storing loaded and unlocked guns (Okoro et al. policy. researchers embracing varying theoretical frameworks. and Jenkins (1999) studied communities and schools in Philadelphia. policy. Clearly.. These standards of risk not only need to satisfy the technical requirements of research but must map in a meaningful way to those of the people making decisions about how to keep schools safe and must resonate with families and others on a commonsense level. school safety. The field needs to begin the gradual process of developing a consensus for a framework with which it can address risk of harm to students in a manner that bridges the needs of all relevant constituents—statistical analysts. Franke. compared with suburban and rural youth.(Braga & Kennedy. and similar initiatives for change. That study. 2. 2005. foundations. The previous discussions suggest the need for continued research to better explain factors and processes across ecological levels. One of the problems thus far has been the disorganization and lack of coherence in the field. Schuster. Greene. YRBSS. what is going on in America’s schools. and how do they mesh with societal commitment to address the risk?  It is easy to do a little historical research in education. 3. 1. residential turnover. 2008).aera. There may be more questions than answers regarding school violence. which received methodological criticism (Hoffman & Johnson. What should be measured. The next steps are to articulate a transdisciplinary framework that can better meet these measurement objectives. state-. Here we identify five key questions that we argue should take priority in a strategic agenda for research. school. and practice should be linked to some type of theoretical orientation. how should it be measured. duplicated. showed no systematic relation between student weapon carrying and surrounding community poverty. SSOCS) are not following an approach that reflects a common need to inform research. Does seeking perfection automatically set schools and communities up not only for failure but for a process where stakeholders tend to rationalize away seemingly unobtainable goals? Effective planning is usually linked to attainable goals. 2004). and (f ) relatively easy availability of firearms. Research. going back to formative debates and legislative enactment surrounding Goals 2000. 2000). 2006). and others supporting research in school safety should have a guidepost by which to formulate JANUArY/FEBrUArY 2010 23 Downloaded from http://er. Educators and policy makers do not know what acceptable risk means with regard to school safety. (d) widespread practice. & Wright. & Price. and community-level challenge far beyond the purview of schools. The Chicago study likewise found that schools could be successful while embedded in a community experiencing high violence rates. 2004). stood somewhat alone until a study of schools in Chicago addressed similar issues (Kirk. Policy. (b) prevalence of local firearm ownership. and practice in the coming years. The analysis. and practice. and student influences on weapon carrying in school. finding that schools could offer programming that mitigated the harmful effects of community violence and that schools were not necessarily at the mercy of nearby community violence. What are the primary research questions and the methodologies to answer them?  There needs to be a strategic plan (in our at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. educational leaders. What are acceptable and unacceptable degrees of risk.). and parents and other stakeholders. Virtually every such initiative has avoided the politically hot topic of setting a less-than-perfect goal and has unrealistically sought 100% attainment of a goal (reading achievement. and what can be done about it. policy. and Practice Although there are dozens of unanswered questions about school violence and disorder and the current safety of schools. within a 10-year completion cycle) developed by the field to suggest key areas to be researched and generally preferred methodological approaches for that research. Sheley & Wright. 4. Collectively. resulting in fragmented. 2004. nor do they have a way of defining what they really expect to do about it. in school and community (Sheley. & Halfon. etc. teachers and allied school and agency professionals. 2001). and community violent crime. (e) higher weapon-carrying rates among inner-city youth. and to what does it connect?  Measurement of school safety not only must link to the previous two questions but must provide meaningful information to all stakeholders. Federal agencies managing the major surveys relating to school safety (NCVS. These questions pertain to this article’s focus on the overall safety of schools but go further to address other concerns associated with school safety. and inefficient efforts. It would be difficult to argue that these efforts theoretically align with the common research orientations used by allied disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences that address at-risk youth and related factors. policy makers. 2004)—and found an association of reduced delinquency with increased academic engagement of students. SCS. (c) increased likelihood of having loaded and unlocked guns at home among families in communities with high crime and gang activity (Vacha & McLaughlin. with school program effects operating somewhat independent of community factors. McGee. What is known about the infusion of community-level violence into the schools? Most school violence studies have focused on school or student characteristics but have not concurrently analyzed data across multiple levels of the ecology (Watkins. in homes with children (2 million or more). Bastian. it is important to identify a core set as high-priority targets. and how should they be defined?  Earlier sections of this article posed questions about acceptable risk based on daily or annual probabilities of being victimized or otherwise experiencing harm. No Child Left Behind. 1995). 2000). Dake. Federal agencies. managing gun access by youth is a national-. analyzing survey responses from a subset of students in Grades 8 to 12 from the 1994–1995 administration of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

policy. theory-research-practice linkages. New York: Cambridge University Press. Determination of what constitutes safety remains fluid and relative. P. & Kennedy. K. Borum. & Jimerson.. & Sudman. The proposed taskforce to address Question 4 could also be given the task of addressing this question. Violence in American schools. Violence and Victims. A. Peer rejection. S. L. Newcombe. Institute of Education Sciences. and associated harm to students.. Review of school crime reporting. & Dubow.. 526 U. and service delivery systems over the past 30 years—albeit a painfully slow process. Discussion of related issues—general public awareness of school safety. J. D. G. Cornell. Similarly. Braga. R. 161–184. 130–138. D.. 691–704. but among the most prominent models are social-ecological. Department of Education.. Dinkes. K. The environment of childhood poverty.. 1–131. at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on August 14. U. School safety efforts could benefit from taking some historical lessons (what worked well and not so well) from the 30-year Systems of Care saga (Stroul. & Mayer. and intimidation.S. policy development. (1991). Data quality in student risk behavior surveys and administrator training. and practice toward those ends. Collectively. and concerned community members) are interdependent. Hawkins. The illicit acquisition of firearms by youth and juveniles.. Monroe County Board of Education. Dinkes. & Osher. Davis v. New York: Guilford. References Arseneault. Trzesniewski. Paige. What can be done about school shootings? A review of the evidence. S.aera. N. theft. Conclusion In this article we asked. The field has been driven by many midrange theories. 2002).. June 6.. Department of Education. F.. developmental. it will be critical to articulate a practical and achievable vision for linking research. Brown. Cornell. J. D. (2008). Journal of School Violence. Elliott. Cross. future expectations. J. the major federal agencies and allied professional organizations could establish a combined interagency and transdisciplinary task force whose charge over a period of 18 to 24 months would be to establish a 10-year agenda for moving school safety research forward. S.S. S S04). Pediatrics. 118. R. M. 379–388. Sacramento: Author. & Newman-Gonchar. 33–36. U. Evans. K. Toward this end.. Most noteworthy.. Shanklin. S. conceptual considerations. U. B. R. R. (2008). including ways to combine our most useful conceptual frameworks. A first step in that direction is to identify key questions and launch a longer term national strategic plan. there are some valuable lessons to be gained by examining the challenges and successes of the now more than 400 schools that have implemented multiyear projects via the Federal Safe Schools/Health Student Initiative (Furlong.. the early work of the Child and Adolescent Service System Program in the 1980s and subsequent Systems of Care approaches represent a confluence of streams of change in empirical research. R. (2006). there exist neither standards for assessing the degree of seriousness of problem student behaviors nor standards of harm that distinguish between crisis events or experiences and chronic low-level victimization. policy. E. 2. L. & Baum. Biemer. K. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. P.longer term planning and foster efficient use of scarce resources. Z. Goldstein. Surveillance Summaries. L. 77–92.S. 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