ERIC Identifier: ED482921
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Larsen, Eric
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education
Violence in U.S. Public Schools: A Summary of Findings.
A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, "Violence in U.S. Public Schools," deals with a subject that has received increasing
attention in recent years as a result of several highly publicized cases of violence in
public schools. The
report provides an initial analysis of data gathered in the 2000 School
Survey on Crime
and Safety (SSOCS), the latest in a series of government-sponsored
studies of school
safety that goes back to the 1970s. A follow-up SSOCS will be conducted
Building on the experience of previous studies, a wide-ranging survey
that asked principals about incidents of crime and violence, disciplinary
problems and actions, use of security measures, policies and practices relating
to safety, and violence
prevention programs and activities in their schools. In addition, principals
were asked to provide information about particular school characteristics.
The survey was sent to the principals of 3,314 schools, which make up
representative cross-sectional sample of regular elementary, middle,
combined public schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In all, there were
2,270 responses (a response rate of 68.5 percent), which provided a
estimating national totals. The salient points for teachers and administrators
analysis of survey findings have to do with the relationships that
exist between school
and student characteristics and the incidence of violence and serious
schools; this digest reviews the key findings with respect to those
SCHOOL AND STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS
The present analysis is concerned with a section of the survey that
lists specific kinds of
crime and violence and asks principals how many incidents of each occurred
school in the 1999-2000 school year. The report focuses on two categories,
crimes that constitute violence and a subset of these that constitute serious
violence: rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight
with or without a weapon (in serious violent incidents, with a weapon),
threat of physical attack with or without a weapon (in serious violent
incidents, with a weapon), and robbery with or without a weapon.
To document the relationship between school characteristics and school
report considers: school demographic characteristics, school administrative
and general school disorder. For school demographic characteristics,
the following are
examined: school level (elementary, middle, secondary, combined); enrollment;
urbanicity (city, urban fringe, town, rural), and neighborhood crime.
In terms of
administrative practices, the report looks at student-teacher ratios,
whether and how
often students changed classrooms between class periods, and whether
the school had
law enforcement personnel. The school disorder characteristics considered
report include reports of serious discipline problems, transfers, schoolwide
and unexcused absences.
In identifying characteristics that are related to school violence,
the report also looks at
the student population of schools, specifically at the percent of:
students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, students scoring
below the 15th
percentile on standardized tests, students likely to attend college,
students for whom
academic achievement is important, and males.
Findings on the 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety indicated that
number of the characteristics studied in the analysis, including size
enrollment, absenteeism, reported crime level of the school neighborhood,
percentage of males in the student population, appeared to be positively
related to the
incidence of school violence. It was not clear, however, which of these
examined by itself without the influence of others, had a positive
relationship to the
prevalence of school violence. In order to control for the influence
of school and student characteristics on one another, the report analyzes
all of the factors simultaneously in relation to violence and serious violence.
SCHOOL AND STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS AND THE PREVALENCE OF VIOLENCE
When each group of school and student characteristics are examined together,
found that just six out of the seventeen factors accounts for the prevalence
Among the school demographic characteristics, two remain: level and
* Secondary schools are more likely to report at least one incident
of violence than
elementary and middle schools, with 92 percent of secondary schools,
87 percent of
middle schools, and 61 percent of elementary schools reporting a violent
serious violence, secondary and middle schools (29 percent) report
the same incidence
of serious violence, while 14 percent of elementary schools report
at least one serious
* Similarly, compared to city schools, those on the urban fringe are
less likely to report a violent incident, while there are no differences
in reports of violent incidents between
city schools and those located in towns or rural areas.
After controlling for other characteristics, the only school management
remains associated with reports of violence is the number of classroom
students make during a typical school day; as the number increases,
the probability of
experiencing a violent incident also increases.
Two characteristics associated with school disorder--the number of schoolwide
disruptions and the number of serious discipline problems--remain positively
the likelihood of a violent incident.
* Schools that reported at least one widely-impacting disruption, such
as a bomb threat, were more likely to also report an incident of violence
or serious violence than schools that had no schoolwide disruptions.
* Schools in which three or more serious disciplinary problems occurred
likely to experience violence or serious violence than schools that
had two or fewer
incidents of disciplinary problems to report.
Finally, all the student population characteristics, including percentage
students, fall away except the importance of academic achievement,
which is negatively
related to the prevalence of violent incidents. As the percentage of
principals believe consider academic achievement to be very important
likelihood of schools reporting a violent incident decreases.
PREVALENCE OF SERIOUS VIOLENCE
As with reports of school violence, many characteristics of schools
and students seem
to relate to serious school violence. In the same statistical analysis
incidence of school violence, all factors associated with serious violence
simultaneously. In this analysis, only five characteristics continue
to show a positive
relationship to serious violence.
* School enrollment size is positively related to the prevalence of
* The only student characteristic that remains associated with serious
violence is the
percentage of males in the student population; as this increases, reports
incidents of violence also increase.
* In terms of school disorder, the number of schoolwide disruptions
and the number of
serious discipline problems reported both relate positively to the
likelihood of one or
more incidents of serious violence.
* In connection with urbanicity, rural schools are less likely than
city schools to report an incident of serious violence, while no differences
are found between schools in cities, the urban fringe, or towns.
PATTERNS OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE
Reported incidents of school violence are distributed among schools
in similar patterns
to crime and violence in the general society. Findings from the 2000
that a disproportionately small number of schools reported a large
amount of violence
and serious violence. Findings show that 18 percent of schools accounted
percent of the reported incidents of violence, while 6.6 percent accounted
percent. With respect to serious violence, 1.9 percent of schools reported
50 percent of the incidents.
To determine the characteristics of schools with high levels of violence,
divided into three groups: those with no violence, those with low to
(1-59 incidents), and those with high levels (60 or more incidents).
These cutoffs were
chosen so that schools with high levels of violence were defined as
accounted for 50 percent of the reported incidents. When these high-level
schools were compared to those with no violence or low to moderate levels,
the following factors were found to be significant: school level, enrollment
size, urbanicity, crime where students live, number of classroom changes,
number of serious discipline problems, and number of schoolwide disruptions.
To determine the characteristics of schools with high levels of serious
were again divided into three groups: those with no serious violence,
those with low to
moderate levels of serious violence (1-8 incidents), and those with
high levels of serious violence (9 or more incidents). A somewhat different
list of characteristics was found to account for high levels of serious
violence: enrollment size, students below the 15th percentile on standardized
tests, student-teacher ratio, number of serious discipline problems, number
of students transferring from the school, and number of schoolwide disruptions.
During the 1999-2000 school year, 71 percent of U.S. public schools
experiencing at least one violent incident, and the total number of
was 1,466,395. With respect to serious violence, 20 percent reported
at least one
incident, and a total of 60,719 incidents were reported. Correspondingly,
36 percent of schools reported at least one violent incident to the police
and a total of 256,876
incidents, whereas 15 percent of schools reported at least one incident
violence to police and a total of 34,281 incidents.
It is important to note that this survey finds, as previous research
has concluded, that
academic engagement and school discipline are significantly related
to the prevalence
of school violence. To understand the nature of school violence, teachers
administrators may analyze the characteristics of schools with low
levels of violence,
high levels of violence, and high levels of serious violence. For example,
high levels of serious violence also have large enrollments, high student-teacher
and high percentages of students performing well below academic standards.
Comparing and analyzing these outcomes may provide information that
administrative practices and school policies on the factors most clearly
National Center for Education Statistics. (2003). Violence in U.S. public
schools: 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety (NCES-2004-314). Statistical
Analysis Report. Washington, DC: Author.