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Students' Reports of School Crime: 1989 and 1995
April 12, 1998

Statement by:
Pascal D. Forgione, Jr., Ph.D.
U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics
National Center for Education Statistics
At the release of the report

BACKGROUND
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) are pleased to release a joint report that address the issue of crime and safety in the Nation's schools. The data used in this report are taken from the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). While victimization data are routinely available for persons ages 12 and older through the BJS's basic National Crime Victimization Survey, the items added through the School Crime Supplement give more information about the schools attended by students and about such issues as students' reports of school efforts to control violence, drug availability, and gangs. The School Crime Supplement has been done twice-as a collaboration between the National Institute of Justice and BJS in 1989 and again as a collaboration between NCES and BJS in 1995.

Crime at school is a complex issue requiring a comprehensive research strategy to fully understand. While the SCS and this report focus on information garnered from students about their perceptions, attitudes, and behavior in regards to crime at school, other sources of data are needed to place this information in context. Last month, NCES release the report, "Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-1997", which analyzed data collected from schools about serious crime incidence at school and measures taken to prevent it. While essential for understanding serious crime incidence at school and school policies designed to prevent it, the earlier report does not fully capture the day-to-day experiences students have with crime at school. For any number of reasons, student experience with crime at school may not reach the attention of school officials. The present report addresses this important gap by focusing directly on student reports of criminal activity occurring at school.

The four topics covered in this report are: 1) students' reports of victimization at school, 2) students' reports of drug availability at school, 3) students' reports of street gangs at school, and 4) students' reports of guns at school. Apart from the gun estimates, data from both the 1989 and 1995 survey were analyzed. More information about guns at school was collected in 1995 than in 1989, so comparable estimates across these years were not generally available on this topic. "At school" for this collection was defined as in the school building, on the school grounds, and on a school bus. Any person age 12 through 19 who had attended a school leading to a regular high school diploma, and who had been enrolled some time during the 6 months preceding the interview was considered to be a student.

As noted earlier, the SCS is collected as part of the NCVS, a household survey in which all persons ages 12 and older in a sample of households are interviewed either by phone or in person about their experiences with crime in the preceding six months. Households remain in the sample for three years, and interviews are done year-round by the Census Bureau. One sixth of the sample is interviewed in January and July, one sixth in February and August, one sixth in March and September, and so forth. In both 1989 and 1995, the School Crime Supplements were administered in January through June. Thus, all households in the samples were included. Approximately 10,000 students participated in each year.

VICTIMIZATION: WHAT PERCENT OF STUDENTS WERE THE VICTIMS OF CRIME AT SCHOOL IN 1995, AND HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO 1989?
In 1995, approximately 14.6 percent of students ages 12 through 19 indicated that they had been the victims of one or more crimes at school, a crime being either a physical attack; the loss of property directly by force, weapons, or threats; or theft of property from desk, locker, or some other place at school. In 1989, this figure was 14.5 percent.

Victimization can be subdivided into two basic components, property victimization and violent victimization. Students who had property taken from their desk, locker, or some other place at school, were counted as being the victim of a property crime.

 

Students who indicated that they had been the victim of either a physical attack, or had lost property by force, weapons, or threats was considered to have experienced violent victimization. There was no statistically significant difference between the percent of students in 1995 (11.6 percent) who reported property victimization and those who reported it in 1989 (12.2 percent). A different picture emerges with regards to violent victimization. In 1995, 4.2 percent of students reported that they had suffered violent victimization at least once compared to 3.4 percent in 1989. While relatively small, this difference of .8 percentage points was statistically significant and represented an increase of about 270,000 students.

DRUG AVAILABILITY: WHAT PERCENT OF STUDENTS REPORTED THAT DRUGS WERE AVAILABLE AT SCHOOL IN 1995, AND HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO 1989?
Looking at student reports of drug availability, a small increase occurred in the percent of students reporting they could obtain drugs at school. In 1995, 65.3 percent of students ages 12 through 19 indicated that either marijuana, cocaine, crack, or uppers/downers were available (either easy or hard to obtain) at school, while in 1989, this estimate was 63.2 percent. Much of the change can be attributed to the increase in the percent of students reporting that marijuana was easy to obtain at school. In 1995, this figure was 36.4 percent, up from 30.5 percent in 1989.

STREET GANG PRESENCE: WHAT PERCENT OF STUDENTS REPORTED THAT STREET GANGS WERE PRESENT AT THEIR SCHOOLS IN 1995, AND HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO 1989?
There was a dramatic increase in students who reported that street gangs were present at school in 1995 compared with 1989. The percent of students ages 12 through 19 reporting street gang presence at school was 28.4 percent in 1995, nearly double the 15.3 percent who reported street gang presence in 1989. Such increases were reported by a broad spectrum of students indicating that the problem was not isolated to one type of school or community. For instance, while the percent of students from central cities reporting street gang presence at school increased to 40.7 percent in 1995 from 24.8 percent in 1989, an increase of similar magnitude could be seen among students from suburban areas (26.3 percent versus 14.0 percent), and from non-metropolitan areas (19.9 percent versus 7.8 percent).

GUNS AT SCHOOL: WHAT PERCENT OF STUDENTS REPORTED GUNS AT SCHOOL IN 1995, AND HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO 1989?
As noted earlier, there were few comparable gun questions between the two surveys. The only "gun" item that was common across the two collections asked students if they had taken a gun to school for self-protection purposes. In both 1989 and 1995, less than one half of one percent of students reported taking a gun to school. The 1995 School Crime Supplement also included items about knowing another student who brought a gun to school and seeing another student with a gun at school. Altogether, 12.7 percent of students ages 12 to 19 reported knowing another student who had brought a gun to school, and 5.3 percent reported seeing another student with a gun at school.

CONCLUSION
Overall, a mixed picture about school crime emerges from this report. Crimes and other threats to a safe school environment such as drug availability, gang presence, and guns at school are reported with some frequency. With the noteworthy exception of gang presence, the situation in 1995 was not much different than it was in 1989. (On the issue of guns at school, there was little comparable data between 1995 and 1989 preventing a cross year comparison).

Because of the importance of the student perspective in this picture of school crime, current plans call for the Supplement to become a biennial survey starting in 1999. These plans illustrate NCES and BJS commitment to continued collection and reporting of information about safety and discipline in our schools.

Link To:
Students' Reports of School Crime: 1989 and 1995 (Report)

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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