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Which Students Are More Likely to be Victims of School Violence? New Report Provides Answers

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August 01, 2017 09:26 am


In the past decade, the rate of violent incidents occurring in public schools declined by nearly half, but middle schools and schools that serve mostly students of color still experience higher rates of violence than other schools, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Between School Years (SYs) 2005–06 and 2015–16, the rate of rape, sexual assault, physical attack, and other violent acts declined from 31 incidents to about 18 incidents per 1,000 students across all public schools, according to Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16.

Middle schools reported the highest rate of violent incidents in both school years: 27 incidents per 1,000 students in SY 2015–16 and 52 incidents per 1,000 students in SY 2005–06. By contrast, high schools and primary schools respectively reported 16 and 15 violent incidents per 1,000 students for SY 2015–16.

Similarly, schools that serve predominantly students of color also reported the highest rates of violence in both school years, although the rates have declined by about half. In SY 2015–16, schools serving 50 percent or more students of color reported 21 violent incidents per 1,000 students, compared to a report of 40 incidents per 1,000 students in SY 2005–06. By contrast, schools where 95 percent or more of students are white reported just 15 violent incidents per 1,000 students in SY 2015–16.

The survey, which ED has administered six times since SY 1999–2000, identifies national trends by asking a nationally representative sample of school principals about the prevalence of violence and crime in their schools. This latest report includes responses from more than 2,000 school principals.

Student bullying also declined during the past ten years. In SY 2005–06, approximately 25 percent of all public schools reported that student bullying happened at least once a week. By SY 2015–16, that percentage had decreased by half to 12 percent of schools, according to the new report. Middle schools continue to report student bullying at higher rates than other schools, though. In SY 2015–16, 22 percent of middle schools reported daily or weekly occurrences of student bullying compared to 15 percent of high schools and 8 percent of primary schools. However, middle and high schools had comparable rates of cyberbullying in SY 2015–16 as 26 percent of each school type reported at least weekly incidents. Only 4 percent of primary schools reported daily or weekly acts of cyberbullying.

The majority of public schools have implemented one or more formal programs designed to prevent or reduce school-based violence and bullying, the report notes. Such programs range from specific curricula or instruction on topics such as conflict resolution, anti-bullying, and dating violence prevention; counseling and psychological support; and training on social-emotional learning, including anger management skills.

In SY 2015–16, such programs were most prevalent in schools that serve predominantly students of color. For example, among schools where 50 percent or more of students are of color, 92 percent of schools provided a formal prevention curriculum or training, the report says. By contrast, 86 percent of schools where fewer than 5 percent of students are of color offered such instruction. Similarly, 42 percent of schools that serve predominantly students of color engaged students in restorative discipline practices that focus on repairing harm caused by wrongdoing and preventing future incidents by building positive relationships. Only 15 percent of schools that served the highest percentage of white students used such approaches. Research shows that discipline policies that emphasize prevention, student support, and a positive school climate can reduce student misbehavior and incidents of violence.

These recent findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety support previous reports that show a decline in the national rates at which teens experience violent and nonviolent crimes in their schools and surrounding communities. Yet, historically underserved students remain more likely to witness and experience violent acts firsthand and face a greater risk of exposure to violence. African American and Latino students also report greater feelings of fear of being harmed at school and in their communities, as do middle and high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender.

Exposure to and fear of violence, such as gun violence, domestic violence, or physical bullying, can traumatize individuals and impact the social and emotional behavior of students at home and in school. Efforts that make students feel safe, engaged, connected, and supported create the positive school climate students need for academic success. Furthermore, research shows that these “conditions for learning” are associated with improved grades and test scores; strong attendance; positive relationships between students, adults, and their peers; minimal engagement in risky behaviors; and may even narrow achievement gaps.

Kristen Loschert is editorial director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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