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Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2006

Executive Summary

Our nation's schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning, free of crime and violence. Any instance of crime or violence at school not only affects the individuals involved but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community (Henry 2000).

For parents, school staff, and policymakers to address school crime effectively, they must possess an accurate understanding of the extent and nature of the problem. However, without collecting data, it is difficult to adequately gauge the scope of crime and violence in schools given the large amount of attention devoted to isolated incidents of extreme school violence. Ensuring safer schools requires establishing good indicators of the current state of school crime and safety across the nation and periodically monitoring and updating these indicators. This is the aim of Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

This report is the ninth in a series of annual publications produced jointly by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the U.S. Department of Justice. This report presents the most recent data available on school crime and student safety. The indicators in this report are based on information drawn from a variety of independent data sources, including national surveys of students, teachers, and principals, and data collections from federal departments and agencies, including BJS, NCES, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent data collection for each indicator varied by survey, from 2003–04 to 2005. Each data source has an independent sample design, data collection method, and questionnaire design or is the result of a universe data collection. All comparisons described in this report are statistically significant at the .05 level. In 2005, the unit response rate for the School Crime Supplement did not meet NCES statistical standards; therefore, interpret the 2005 data from Indicators 3, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17, and 20 with caution. Additional information about methodology and the datasets analyzed in this report may be found in appendix A Acrobat PDF File (168 KB).

This report covers topics such as victimization, fights, bullying, disorder, weapons, student perceptions of school safety, teacher injury, and drugs and alcohol. Indicators of crime and safety are compared across different population subgroups and over time. Data on crimes that occur outside of school grounds are offered as a point of comparison where available.

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Key Findings

In the 2004–05 school year, an estimated 54.9 million students were enrolled in prekindergarten through grade 12 (U.S. Department of Education forthcoming). Preliminary data on fatal victimizations show youth ages 5–18 were victims of 28 school-associated violent deaths from July 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005 (21 homicides and 7 suicides) (Indicator 1). In 2004, students ages 12–18 were victims of about 1.4 million nonfatal crimes at school, including about 863,000 thefts5 and 583,000 violent crimes6 (simple assault and serious violent crime)—107,000 of which were serious violent crimes (rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) (Indicator 2). These figures represent victimization rates of 33 thefts and 22 violent crimes, including 4 serious violent crimes, per 1,000 students at school in 2004. Some of these indicators document that student safety has improved. The victimization rate1 of students ages 12–18 at school2 declined from 73 victimizations per 1,000 students in 2003 to 55 victimizations in 2004.3 However, other aspects of crime have not improved. The number of homicides of school-age youth ages 5–18 at school was higher in 2004–05 than in 2000–01 (21 vs. 11 homicides), but remained below the number of homicides of school-age youth for most years in the 1990's.4 Violence, theft, drugs, and weapons continue to pose problems in schools. In 2005, 25 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported that drugs were made available to them on school property and 8 percent of students were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the previous 12 months. The following section presents key findings of the report.

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Violent Deaths

  • From July 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005, there were 21 homicides and 7 suicides of school-age youth (ages 5–18) at school (Indicator 1). Combined, this number translates into about 1 homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school per 2 million students enrolled during the 2004–05 school year.

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Nonfatal Student Victimization

  • In 2004, students ages 12–18 were victims of about 1.4 million nonfatal crimes at school, including about 863,000 thefts and 583,000 violent crimes—107,000 of which were serious violent crimes (rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) (Indicator 2).
  • In 2004, students ages 12–18 were more likely to be victims of theft at school than away from school (Indicator 2). That year, 33 thefts per 1,000 students occurred at school and 27 thefts occurred away from school (Indicator 2).
  • Total crime and theft victimization rates for students both at school and away from school were lower in 2004 than 2003 (Indicator 2). In 2003, there were 73 victimizations per 1,000 students at school, compared with 55 victimizations in 2004. Theft victimization at school declined from 45 victimizations per 1,000 students in 2003 to 33 victimizations of students in 2004.
  • Away from school, total crime and violent crime victimization rates for students also decreased between 2003 and 2004 (Indicator 2). In 2003, there were 60 victimizations per 1,000 students away from school, compared with 48 victimizations in 2004. Violent victimization declined from 32 victimizations per 1,000 students in 2003 to 21 victimizations in 2004.
  • In 2005, 4 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being victimized at school during the previous 6 months: 3 percent reported theft, and 1 percent reported violent victimization (Indicator 3). Less than half of a percent of students reported serious violent victimization.
  • Between 2003 and 2005, the percentage of students reporting victimization declined (from 5 to 4 percent), as did the percentage reporting theft (from 4 to 3 percent); there were no measurable declines in the percentages reporting violent and serious violent crime during the same period (Indicator 3).
  • In 2005, 10 percent of male students in grades 9–12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past year, compared with 6 percent of female students (Indicator 4).
  • Hispanic students were more likely than White students to report being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in 2005 (10 vs. 7 percent) (Indicator 4).

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Threats and Attacks on Teachers

  • In 2003–04, teachers' reports of being threatened or attacked by students during the previous 12 months varied according to their school level (Indicator 5). Secondary school teachers were more likely than elementary school teachers to have been threatened with injury by a student (8 vs. 6 percent). However, elementary school teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to report having been physically attacked (4 vs. 2 percent).
  • Ten percent of teachers in central city schools reported in 2003–04 that they were threatened with injury by students, compared with 6 percent of teachers in urban fringe schools and 5 percent in rural schools (Indicator 5). Five percent of teachers in central city schools were attacked by students, compared with 3 percent of teachers in urban fringe and 2 percent in rural schools.
  • Public school teachers were more likely than private school teachers to have been threatened (7 vs. 2 percent) or physically attacked (4 vs. 2 percent) by students in school (Indicator 5). Among teachers in central city schools, those in public schools were at least five times more likely to be threatened with injury than their colleagues in private schools (12 vs. 2 percent) and at least four times more likely to be physically attacked (5 vs. 1 percent).

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School Environment

  • The percentage of public schools experiencing one or more violent incidents increased between the 1999–2000 and 2003–04 school years, from 71 to 81 percent (Indicator 6). Both primary schools and high schools had lower rates of violent crimes per 1,000 students than middle schools. In 2003–04, there were 28 violent crimes per 1,000 students in both primary schools and high schools, compared with 53 violent crimes in middle schools.
  • In 2003–04, 2 percent of public schools reported daily or weekly occurrences of racial tensions among students and 27 percent reported daily or weekly student bullying (Indicator 7). With regard to other frequently occurring discipline problems in public schools (those occurring at least once a week), 11 percent of principals reported student verbal abuse of teachers, 3 percent reported widespread disorder in classrooms, and 19 percent reported student acts of disrespect for teachers. About 17 percent of public schools reported undesirable gang activities and 3 percent reported undesirable cult or extremist activities.
  • The prevalence of frequently occurring discipline problems was related to school enrollment size in the 2003–04 school year (Indicator 7). In general, principals in large schools were more likely to report discipline problems than principals in small schools. Thirty-four percent of principals at schools with 1,000 or more students reported student acts of disrespect for teachers at least once per week, compared with 21 percent of those at schools with 500–999 students, 17 percent of those at schools with 300–499 students, and 14 percent of those at schools with less than 300 students.
  • In 2005, 24 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that there were gangs at their schools (Indicator 8). Students in urban schools (36 percent) were more likely to report the presence of gangs at their school than suburban students (21 percent) and rural students (16 percent).
  • The percentage of students reporting the presence of gangs increased from 21 to 24 percent between 2003 and 2005 (Indicator 8). The percentage of students at urban schools reporting the presence of gangs at school increased from 31 to 36 percent during this period.
  • In 2005, one-quarter of all students in grades 9–12 reported that someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property in the past 12 months (Indicator 9).
  • Eleven percent of students ages 12–18 reported that someone at school had used hate-related words against them, and more than one-third (38 percent) had seen hate-related graffiti at school in 2005 (Indicator 10).
  • In 2005, 28 percent of students ages 12–18 reported having been bullied at school during the last 6 months (Indicator 11). Of these students, 58 percent said that the bullying had happened once or twice during that period, 25 percent had experienced bullying once or twice a month, 11 percent reported having been bullied once or twice a week, and 8 percent said they had been bullied almost daily.
  • Of those students who reported bullying incidents that involved being pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on (9 percent), 24 percent reported that they had sustained an injury7 during the previous 6 months as a result (Indicator 11). While no measurable differences were found by sex in students' likelihood of reporting a bullying incident in 2005, among students who reported being bullied, males were more likely than females to report being injured during such an incident (31 vs. 18 percent).

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Fights, Weapons, and Illegal Substances

  • In 2005, 36 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported they had been in a fight anywhere, and 14 percent said they had been in a fight on school property during the previous 12 months (Indicator 12). In the same year, 43 percent of males said they had been in a fight anywhere, compared with 28 percent of females, and 18 percent of males said they had been in a fight on school property, compared with 9 percent of females.
  • Nineteen percent of students in grades 9–12 in 2005 reported they had carried a weapon anywhere, and about 6 percent reported they had carried a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days (Indicator 13). Males were two times more likely than females to carry a weapon—either anywhere or on school property—in all survey years (1993–2005). In 2005, for example, 10 percent of males carried a weapon on school property, compared with 3 percent of females, and 30 percent of males carried a weapon anywhere, compared with 7 percent of females.
  • In 2005, 43 percent of students in grades 9–12 consumed at least one drink of alcohol anywhere, and 4 percent consumed at least one drink on school property during the previous 30 days (Indicator 14). Hispanic students (8 percent) were more likely to use alcohol on school property than White, Black, or Asian students (4, 3, and 1 percent, respectively).
  • Twenty percent of students in grades 9–12 in 2005 reported using marijuana anywhere during the past 30 days, and 5 percent reported using marijuana on school property during this period (Indicator 15). At school, Hispanic students (8 percent) and American Indian students (9 percent) were more likely to report using marijuana than White or Black students (4 and 5 percent, respectively).

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Fear and Avoidance

  • In 2005, approximately 6 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they were afraid of attack or harm at school, and 5 percent reported that they were afraid of attack or harm away from school (Indicator 16). The percentage of students who reported that they were afraid of being attacked at school (including on the way to and from school) decreased from 12 to 6 percent between 1995 and 2001; however, no difference was detected in the percentage of students who feared an attack away from school between 1999 and 2005.
  • Black and Hispanic students were more likely than White students to fear for their safety regardless of location in 2005 (Indicator 16). Nine percent of Black students and 10 percent of Hispanic students reported that they were afraid of being attacked at school (including on the way to and from school), compared with 4 percent of White students. Away from school, 7 percent of Black students, 6 percent of Hispanic students, and 4 percent of White students reported that they were afraid of an attack.
  • In 2005, 6 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they had avoided a school activity or one or more places in school in the previous 6 months because of fear of attack or harm: 2 percent of students avoided a school activity, and 4 percent avoided one or more places in school (Indicator 17). Consistent with most previous years, students in urban areas in 2005 were the most likely to avoid places in school: 6 percent of urban students reported that they had done so, compared with 4 percent of suburban and rural students.

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Discipline, Safety, and Security Measures

  • About 46 percent of public schools took at least one serious disciplinary action against students—including suspensions lasting 5 days or more, removals with no services (i.e., expulsions), and transfers to specialized schools—for specific offenses during the 2003–04 school year (Indicator 18). Of those serious disciplinary actions, 74 percent were suspensions for 5 days or more, 5 percent were removals with no services, and 21 percent were transfers to specialized schools.
  • Four percent of all public schools took one or more serious disciplinary actions in response to students' use or possession of a firearm or explosive device in 2003–04 (Indicator 18). Students' use or possession of weapons other than firearms resulted in at least one serious disciplinary action in 17 percent of schools.
  • In 2003–04, 83 percent of public schools controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours, and 36 percent controlled access to school grounds with locked or monitored gates (Indicator 19). Nearly all public schools required visitors to sign or check in when entering the school building (98 percent), while few schools required either students or visitors to pass through metal detectors regularly (1 percent each).
  • The vast majority of students ages 12–18 reported that their school had a student code of conduct (95 percent) and a requirement that visitors sign in (93 percent) in 2005 (Indicator 20). Metal detectors were the least observed security measure, with 11 percent of students reporting their use at their school.

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1 The victimization rate is based on the number of thefts, violent crimes, or serious crimes per 1,000 students.
2 See appendix B for a detailed definition of "at school."
3 Data in this report are not adjusted by the number of hours that youths spend on school property versus the number of hours they spend elsewhere.
4 Data from 1999–2005 are preliminary and subject to change.
5 Theft includes purse snatching, pick pocketing, all burglaries, attempted forcible entry, and all attempted and completed thefts except motor vehicle thefts. Theft does not include robbery in which threat or use of force is involved.
6 Violent crimes include serious violent crimes and simple assault.
7 Injury includes bruises or swelling; cuts, scratches, or scrapes; black eye or bloody nose; teeth chipped or knocked out; broken bones or internal injuries; knocked unconscious; or other injuries.

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