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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 5, Issue 4, Topic: Elementary and Secondary Education
Violence in U.S. Public Schools: 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety
By: Amanda K. Miller
 
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS).  
 
 

In the United States, school safety continues to be a priority for educators, policymakers, parents, and the public (Elliott, Hamburg, and Williams 1998). Schools are responsible for the effective education of their students, and creating an environment in which students and teachers are safe is an important component of the education process. A safe school is necessary for students to learn and teachers to teach.

As a result of highly publicized acts of extreme violence, increased national attention has focused on crime and violence in public schools. Reliable data collection is important in order to understand the extent to which American schools experience crime and violence, and to prevent emerging problems. Because of the need for accurate information on crime, violence, and disorder, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administered the 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), a survey of public schools in the United States. SSOCS is a nationally representative sample of 2,270 regular public elementary, middle, secondary, and combined public schools. It was designed to provide an overall picture of school crime and safety in the United States by asking school principals about the characteristics of school policies, school violence prevention programs and practices, violent deaths at school and elsewhere, frequency of crime and violence, disciplinary problems and actions, and other school characteristics that have been associated with school crime.

The federal government has collected data about the safety of American schools from school principals for several decades. The first large-scale study, the Safe Schools Study, was administered to principals, teachers, and students in the 1970s. Since that time, the Department of Education has periodically collected information about crime and safety from school principals. SSOCS builds upon previous surveys conducted by NCES using the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). These surveys collected a limited amount of information about crime and violence, disciplinary actions and problems, and policies related to school crime. The 2000 SSOCS questionnaire expanded on these topics and included additional topics related to school practices to prevent or reduce crime, violence prevention programs and activities, and other school characteristics that may be associated with the presence of crime at school.

One of the topics covered by SSOCS was violence-related activities that occurred at public schools during the 1999–2000 school year. The focus of this report is the presence of violence and serious violence (a subset of violence) that occurred in American public schools. The incidents of violence collected in SSOCS included rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attacks or fights with and without a weapon, threats of physical attack with and without a weapon, and robberies with and without a weapon. The measure of serious violence is a subset of these items that includes all of the incidents described above with the exception of physical attacks or fights without a weapon and threats of physical attacks without a weapon.

The report from which this summary is excerpted provides the first analysis of the 2000 SSOCS. Additional information about this survey and other school crime surveys can be found at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crime. The following are some of the key findings found in this report:

Incidents of Violence in Public Schools
  • According to school principals, 71 percent of public elementary and secondary schools experienced at least one violent incident during the 1999–2000 school year (including rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attacks or fights with and without a weapon, threats of physical attack with and without a weapon, and robbery with and without a weapon). In all, approximately 1,466,000 such incidents were reported in public schools.
  • One or more serious violent incidents (including rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attacks or fights with a weapon, threats of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with and without a weapon) occurred in 20 percent of public schools.
School Demographic Characteristics and Violence
  • Secondary schools were more likely than elementary, middle, and combined schools to report a violent incident during the 1999–2000 school year (92 percent of secondary schools vs. 61 percent, 87 percent, and 77 percent for elementary, middle, and combined schools, respectively) (figure A). Elementary schools were less likely to report a serious violent crime than middle or secondary schools, between which no difference was detected in their likelihood of reporting a serious violent incident (14 percent of elementary schools vs. 29 percent for middle schools and 29 percent for secondary schools).
  • In the 1999–2000 school year, the size of a school's student enrollment was related to the prevalence of both violent and serious violent incidents. That is, as enrollment size increased, schools were more likely to report one or more violent or serious violent incidents (figure B).
  • City schools (77 percent) were more likely than urban fringe schools (67 percent) to report an occurrence of at least one violent incident during the 1999–2000 school year, while no differences were detected among schools in other locations. When looking at serious violent incidents, however, no such differences were detected when comparing schools in city, urban fringe, or town locations. Rural schools (12 percent) were less likely than schools in cities (27 percent), urban fringe areas (22 percent), or towns (20 percent) to experience a serious violent incident (figure C).
  • Principals reporting that their students lived in neighborhoods with high or mixed levels of crime were more likely to report a violent or serious violent incident than those principals with students who lived in neighborhoods with low levels of crime.

Figure A. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by school level: 1999–2000
Figure A. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by school level: 1999-2000

1Violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

2Serious violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000. (Originally published as figure 1 on p. 7 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Figure B. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by enrollment size: 1999–2000
Figure B. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by enrollment size: 1999-2000

1Violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

2Serious violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000. (Originally published as figure 2 on p. 8 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Figure C. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by urbanicity: 1999–2000
Figure C. Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by urbanicity: 1999-2000

1Violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

2Serious violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000. (Originally published as figure 3 on p. 9 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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Characteristics of the Student Population
  • Schools with the largest percentage (more than 15 percent) of students below the 15th percentile on standardized tests were more likely than those schools with the smallest percentage (0–5 percent) of students below the 15th percentile to have experienced at least one violent or serious violent incident.
  • The percentage of students who principals felt considered academics to be very important was inversely related to the prevalence of violent and serious violent incidents. As the percentage of students who considered academics important increased, the likelihood of schools experiencing a violent or serious violent incident decreased.
School Administrative Practices
  • During the 1999–2000 school year, schools in which students have a larger number of classroom changes in a typical school day were more likely to experience at least one violent or serious violent incident.
School Disorder
  • Schools in which a greater number of serious discipline problems (three or more problems) occurred were more likely to experience a violent or serious violent incident than schools with fewer discipline problems (zero to two problems).
  • Schools that reported at least one disruption (such as a bomb or anthrax threat) were more likely to experience a violent or serious violent incident than those that did not have any disruptions during the 1999–2000 school year.
Relationship Between School Characteristics and Violence and Serious Violence
  • While controlling for other factors, six school characteristics were related to the prevalence of violent incidents in public schools during the 1999–2000 school year, including school level, urbanicity, academic importance, number of classroom changes, number of serious discipline problems, and number of schoolwide disruptions.
  • Five school characteristics were related to the likelihood that a school would experience at least one serious violent incident, while controlling for all other factors: enrollment size, urbanicity, percentage of males, number of serious discipline problems, and number of schoolwide disruptions.
Patterns of School Violence
  • During the 1999–2000 school year, 7 percent of public schools accounted for 50 percent of the total violent incidents that were reported (table A). Approximately 2 percent of schools accounted for 50 percent of the serious violent incidents (table B).
  • When comparing the characteristics of those schools with a high number of incidents (those schools in which 50 percent of violent incidents occurred) to those schools with no incidents or a low to moderate number of incidents, school level, enrollment size, urbanicity, crime where students live, number of classroom changes, number of serious discipline problems, and number of schoolwide disruptions were related to the number of violent incidents.
  • When compared to schools with either no incidents or a low to moderate number of incidents, schools with a high level of serious violent incidents differ by enrollment size, percentage of students below the 15th percentile on standardized tests, student-to-teacher ratio, number of serious discipline problems, number of students transferring from the school, and number of schoolwide disruptions.

Table A. Percent and number of public schools, by percentage of violent incidents: 1999–2000

Percent of violent incidents1
Percent of schools Number of schools Number of incidents
25
1.6 1,300 360,000
50
6.6 5,400 735,000
75
18.0 14,800 1,090,000
100
71.4 58,500 1,466,000

1Violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000. (Originally published as table B on p. 28 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Table B. Percent and number of public schools, by percentage of serious violent incidents:
1999–2000

Percent of serious violent incidents1
Percent of schools Number of schools Number of incidents
25
0.5 434 14,900
50
1.9 1,600 30,100
75
6.5 5,400 46,100
100
19.7 16,200 60,700

1Serious violent incidents include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000. (Originally published as table C on p. 29 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Reference

Elliott, D.S., Hamburg, B.A., and Williams, K.R. (1998). Violence in American Schools: An Overview. In D.S. Elliott, B.A. Hamburg, and K.R. Williams (Eds.), Violence in American Schools (pp. 3–28). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Data source: The 2000 NCES School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS).

For technical information, see the complete report:

Miller, A.K. (2003). Violence in U.S. Public Schools: 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety (NCES 2004–314).

Author affiliation: A.K. Miller, Education Statistics Services Institute.

For questions about content, contact Kathryn Chandler (kathryn.chandler@ed.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2004–314), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877–433–7827) or visit the NCES Electronic Catalog (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch).


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