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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 2, Issue 4, Topic: Elementary and Secondary Education
Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2000
By: Phillip Kaufman, Xianglei Chen, Susan P. Choy, Sally A. Ruddy, Amanda K. Miller, Jill K. Fleury, Kathryn A. Chandler, Michael R. Rand, Patsy Klaus, and Michael G. Planty
 
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the report of the same name. The report is a joint effort of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The numerous data sources are listed at the end of this article.
 
 

Overview

Schools should be safe and secure places for all students, teachers, and staff members. Without a safe learning environment, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. In fact, as the data in this report show, more victimizations happen away from school than at school.1 In 1998, students were about two times as likely to be victims of serious violent crime away from school as at school.

In 1998, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of more than 2.7 million total crimes at school. In that same year, these students were victims of about 253,000 serious violent crimes at school (i.e., rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault). There were also 60 school-associated violent deaths in the United States between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998-including 47 homicides.

The total nonfatal victimization rate for young people declined between 1993 and 1998. The percentage of students being victimized at school also declined over the last few years. Between 1995 and 1999, the percentage of students who reported being victims of crime at school decreased from 10 percent to 8 percent (figure A). This decline was due in part to a decline for students in grades 7 through 9. Between 1995 and 1999, the prevalence of reported victimization dropped from 11 percent to 8 percent for seventh-graders, from 11 percent to 8 percent for eighth-graders, and from 12 percent to 9 percent for ninth-graders.

Figure A.-Percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported criminal victimization at school during the previous 6 months, by grade level: 1995 and 1999.

Figure A.-Percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported criminal victimization at school during the previous 6 months, by grade level: 1995 and 1999.

NOTE: This figure presents the prevalence of total victimization, which is a combination of violent victimization and theft. "At school" means in the school building, on school property, or on the way to or from school.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 1995 and 1999. (Originally published as figure 3.1 on p.8 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

However, for some types of crimes at school, rates have not changed. For example, between 1993 and 1997, the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past 12 months remained constant-at about 7 or 8 percent. The percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who reported being in a physical fight on school property in the past 12 months also remained unchanged between 1993 and 1997-at about 15 percent.

As the rate of victimization in schools has declined or remained constant, students also seem to feel more secure at school now than just a few years ago. The percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported avoiding one or more places at school for their own safety decreased between 1995 and 1999-from 9 to 5 percent. Furthermore, the percentage of students who reported that street gangs were present at their schools decreased from 1995 to 1999. In 1999, 17 percent of students ages 12 through 18 reported that they had street gangs at their schools, compared with 29 percent in 1995.

There was an increase in the use of marijuana among students in grades 9 through 12 between 1993 and 1995, but no change between 1995 and 1997. In 1997, about 26 percent of students in these grades had used marijuana in the last 30 days. In 1995 and 1997, moreover, almost one-third of all students in grades 9 through 12 (32 percent) reported that someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property-an increase from 24 percent in 1993.

Therefore, the data shown in this report present a mixed picture of school safety. While overall school crime rates have declined, violence, gangs, and drugs are still evident in some schools, indicating that more work needs to be done.

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Report Organization

This report, the third in a series of annual reports on school crime and safety from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), presents the latest available data on school crime and student safety. The report repeats many indicators from the 1999 report but also provides updated data on fatal and nonfatal student victimization, nonfatal teacher victimization, students' perceptions of safety and the presence of gangs, and students' avoidance of places at school. In addition, it provides new data on students' reports of being the target of derogatory hate-related language and seeing hate-related graffiti at school.

The report is organized as a series of indicators, with each indicator presenting data on a different aspect of school crime and safety. It starts with the most serious violence. There are five sections to the report: Violent Deaths at School; Nonfatal Student Victimization-Student Reports; Violence and Crime at School-Public School Principal/ Disciplinarian Reports; Nonfatal Teacher Victimization at School-Teacher Reports; and School Environment. Each section contains a set of indicators that, taken together, describe a distinct aspect of school crime and safety.

Rather than relying on data from a large omnibus survey of school crime and safety, this report uses a variety of independent data sources from federal departments and agencies including BJS, NCES, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each data source has an independent sample design, data collection method, and questionnaire design, all of which may be influenced by the unique perspective of the primary funding agency. By combining multiple and independent sources of data, it is hoped that this report will present a more complete portrait of school crime and safety than would be possible with any single source of information.

However, because the report relies on so many different data sets, the age groups, the time periods, and the types of respondents analyzed can vary from indicator to indicator. Readers should keep this in mind as they compare data from different indicators. Furthermore, while every effort has been made to keep key definitions consistent across indicators, different surveys sometimes use different definitions, such as those for specific crimes and "at school." Therefore, caution should be used in making comparisons between results from different data sets.

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Key Findings

Some of the key findings from the various sections of this report are as follows:

Violent Deaths at School

From July 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998, there were 60 school-associated violent deaths in the United States. Forty-seven of these violent deaths were homicides, 12 were suicides, and one was a teenager killed by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. Thirty-five of the 47 school-associated homicides were of school-age children. By comparison, a total of 2,752 children ages 5 through 19 were victims of homicide in the United States from July 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998. Seven of the 12 school-associated suicides occurring from July 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998, were of school-age children. A total of 2,061 children ages 5 through 19 committed suicide that year.

Nonfatal Student Victimization-Student Reports

Students ages 12 through 18 were more likely to be victims of nonfatal serious violent crime-including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault-away from school than when they were at school. In 1998, students in this age range were victims of about 550,000 serious violent crimes away from school, compared with about 253,000 at school.

  • The percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property2 has not changed significantly in recent years. In 1993, 1995, and 1997, about 7 to 8 percent of students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club on school property in the past 12 months.
  • In 1998, 12- through 18-year-old students living in urban, suburban, and rural locales were equally vulnerable to serious violent crime and theft at school. Away from school, however, urban and suburban students were more vulnerable to serious violent crime and theft than were rural students.
  • In 1998, younger students (ages 12 through 14) were more likely than older students (ages 15 through 18) to be victims of crime at school. However, older students were more likely than younger students to be victimized away from school.
Violence and Crime at School-Public School Principal/Disciplinarian Reports

In 1996-97, 10 percent of all public schools reported at least one serious violent crime to the police or a law enforcement representative. Principals' reports of serious violent crimes included murder, rape or other type of sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery. Another 47 percent of public schools reported a less serious violent or nonviolent crime (but not a serious violent one). Crimes in this category include physical attack or fight without a weapon, theft/larceny, and vandalism. The remaining 43 percent of public schools did not report any of these crimes to the police.

  • Elementary schools were much less likely than either middle or high schools to report any type of crime in 1996-97. They were much more likely to report vandalism (31 percent of elementary schools) than any other crime (19 percent or less).
  • At the middle and high school levels, physical attack or fight without a weapon was generally the most commonly reported crime in 1996-97 (9 incidents per 1,000 middle school students and 8 incidents per 1,000 high school students). Theft or larceny was more common at the high school than at the middle school level (6 vs. 4 incidents per 1,000 students).
Nonfatal Teacher Victimization at School-Teacher Reports

Over the 5-year period from 1994 through 1998, teachers were victims of 1,755,000 nonfatal crimes at school, including 1,087,000 thefts and 668,000 violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault). This translates into 83 crimes per 1,000 teachers per year.

  • In the period from 1994 through 1998, senior high school and middle/junior high school teachers were more likely than elementary school teachers to be victims of violent crimes (most of which were simple assaults) (38 and 60 crimes per 1,000 senior and middle/junior high school teachers, respectively, vs. 18 crimes per 1,000 elementary school teachers).
  • In the 1993-94 school year, 12 percent of all elementary and secondary school teachers were threatened with injury by a student, and 4 percent were physically attacked by a student. This represented about 341,000 teachers who were victims of threats of injury by students that year and 119,000 teachers who were victims of attacks by students.
School Environment

Between 1995 and 1999, the percentages of students who felt unsafe while they were at school and while they were going to and from school decreased. In 1995, 9 percent of students ages 12 through 18 sometimes or most of the time feared they were going to be attacked or harmed at school. In 1999, this percentage had fallen to 5 percent (figure B). During the same period, the percentage of students fearing they would be attacked while traveling to and from school fell from 7 percent to 4 percent.

  • Between 1993 and 1997, the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who reported carrying a weapon on school property within the previous 30 days fell from 12 percent to 9 percent (a 25 percent reduction).
  • Between 1995 and 1999, the percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who avoided one or more places at school for fear of their own safety decreased, from 9 to 5 percent. The 1999 percentage, however, still represented 1.1 million students.
  • Between 1995 and 1999, the percentage of students who reported that street gangs were present at their schools decreased. In 1995, 29 percent of students reported gangs being present at their schools. By 1999, this percentage had fallen to 17 percent.
  • In 1997, about 51 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 had at least one drink of alcohol in the previous 30 days. A much smaller percentage (about 6 percent) had at least one drink on school property during the same period.
  • There was an increase in the use of marijuana among students between 1993 and 1995, but no change between 1995 and 1997. About one-quarter (26 percent) of 9th- through 12th-graders reported using marijuana in the last 30 days in 1997. However, marijuana use on school property did not increase significantly between 1993 and 1995, nor between 1995 and 1997.
  • In 1995 and 1997, almost one-third of all students in grades 9 through 12 (32 percent) reported that someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property. This was an increase from 1993, when 24 percent of such students reported that illegal drugs were available to them on school property.
  • In 1999, about 13 percent of students ages 12 through 18 reported that someone at school had used hate-related words against them. That is, in the prior 6 months someone at school called them a derogatory word having to do with race/ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. In addition, about 36 percent of students saw hate-related graffiti at school.
Figure B.-Percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported fearing being attacked or harmed at school during the previous 6 months, by race/ethnicity: 1989, 1995, and 1999.

Figure B.-Percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported fearing being attacked or harmed at school during the previous 6 months, by race/ethnicity: 1989, 1995, and 1999.

NOTE: Comparisons between the 1989 data and the 1995 data and 1999 data should be made with caution due to the changes in the questionnaires. Also, the 1980 data include students ages 12 through 19. Includes students who reported that they sometimes or most of the time feared being victimized in this way. "At school" means in the school building, on the school grounds, or on a school bus.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 1995 and 1999. (Originally published as figure 13.1 on p.31 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Footnotes

1 The reader should be cautious in making comparisons between victimization rates on school property and elsewhere. These data do not take into account the number of hours that students spend on school property and the number of hours they spend elsewhere.

2 Definitions for "on school property" and "at school" may differ.

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Data sources:

NCES: Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 1993-94, "Public School Teacher Questionnaire," "Private School Teacher Questionnaire," "Public School Questionnaire," and "Private School Questionnaire"; Fast Response Survey System, "Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey on School Violence," FRSS 63, 1997.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 1992-98 (annual). Joint NCES and BJS: School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 1989, 1995, and 1999. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The National School-Based Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 1993, 1995, and 1997; School-Associated Violent Death Study (SAVD), 1997-98; and Vital Statistics of the United States, 1997 and 1998.

Other: The FBI's 1997 and 1998 Supplementary Homicide Reports and the following article:

Kachur, S.P., et al. (1996). School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, 1992 to 1994. Journal of the American Medical Association 275 (22): 1729-1733.

For technical information, see the complete report:

Kaufman, P., Chen, X., Choy, S.P., Ruddy, S.A., Miller, A.K., Fleury, J.K., Chandler, K.A., Rand, M.R., Klaus, P., and Planty, M.G. (2000). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2000 (NCES 2001-017 or NCJ-184176).

Author affiliations: P. Kaufman, X. Chen, and S.P. Choy, MPR Associates, Inc.; S.A. Ruddy, A.K. Miller, and J.K. Fleury, ESSI; K.A. Chandler, NCES; and M.R. Rand, P. Klaus, and M.G. Planty, BJS.

For questions about content, contact either Kathryn Chandler at NCES (kathryn.chandler@ed.gov) or Michael Planty at BJS (Michael.Planty@usdoj.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2001-017 or NCJ-184176), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (http://nces.ed.gov) or the BJS Web Site (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/), or contact the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-732-3277.

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