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Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-97
NCES: 98030
March 1998

Stringency of Security Across School Characteristics

From school-reported information on the types of security measures and police presence at the schools, a composite variable was developed to determine how stringent security was in public schools during 1996-97. Security measures were considered to be stringent if a police or other law enforcement representative such as a guard was present full-time and students passed through metal detectors on a daily basis or were subject to random checks with metal detectors. Moderate security measures were defined as either a full-time policeman or guard with no metal detectors and no controlled access to the school building, or a part-time guard with or without metal detectors and controlled access to the school building.

Schools with no regular guard but with metal detectors were also considered to have moderate security measures. Schools with low security measures were those with no guards, no metal detectors, but controlled access to the school building. Schools were considered to have no security measures if there were no guards, no metal detectors, and no controlled access to the school.

Overall, security was considered stringent in 2 percent of public schools (Table 24). Security was moderate in 11 percent of schools, but most, 84 percent, had low security, and another 3 percent had no security (Figure 11).

Violence Prevention Programs

A majority of public school principals (78 percent) reported having some type of formal school violence prevention or reduction programs (Tables 25 and 26). The percentage of schools with both 1-day and ongoing programs (43 percent) was almost double the percentage of schools with only ongoing programs (24 percent) and quadruple the percentage of schools with only 1- day programs (11 percent).

Schools in which a serious crime was reported were more likely to have violence prevention programs than those in which no crime or only less serious crime had occurred (93 percent compared with 74 and 79 percent, respectively; Tables 25 and 27). Schools with serious crime also had more programs per school. They reported a mean of 6 programs per school compared with 3.4 violence prevention programs in schools with no crime or lesser crimes only (Table 27).

In some public schools, incidents during 1996-97 requiring police contact were used to modify or introduce new violence prevention programs. Of schools with violence prevention programs that had reported one or more crimes in 1996-97, 31 percent had used these incidents to introduce or modify their violence prevention programs (Table 28).

School principals were asked if, during the 1996-97 school year, they had any formal programs or efforts intended to prevent or reduce school violence. Selected components of prevention/reduction programs were listed and principals were asked if any of their programs included each of the following program components:

  • Prevention curriculum, instruction, or training for students (e.g., social skills training)

  • Behavioral programming or behavior modification for students

  • Counseling, social work, psychological, or therapeutic activity for students

  • Activities involving individual attention for students (e.g., tutoring, mentoring)

  • Recreational, enrichment, or leisure activities for students

  • Student involvement in resolving student conduct problems (e.g., dispute or conflict resolution or mediation, student court)

  • Training, supervision, or technical assistance in classroom management for teachers

  • Review, revision, or monitoring of schoolwide discipline practices and procedures

  • Community or parent involvement in school violence prevention programs or efforts

  • Reorganization of school, grades, or schedules (e.g., school within a school, "houses" or "teams" of students)

The prevention curriculum, counseling/social work, and review/revision of schoolwide discipline practices were components used most often by schools with violence prevention or reduction programs (89 percent, 87 percent, and 85 percent, respectively), while reorganization of school, grades, or schedules was used least often (28 percent; Table 29). With the exception of community/parental involvement, which 48 percent of schools reported using, between 63 percent and 81 percent of the schools with violence prevention or reduction programs reported using the remaining components.

Participation in Violence Prevention Programs

When asked how many students in their schools participated in violence prevention programs that directly served students, 50 percent of principals in schools with violence prevention programs reported that all or almost all of their students participated (Figure 12 and Table 30).

When asked what proportion of teachers and staff in the schools were substantially involved in the programs, 44 percent of principals in schools with violence prevention programs reported all or almost all (Table 31). Fifty-one percent of elementary school principals reported that all or almost all of their staff were substantially involved in school violence efforts or programs compared to 40 percent of middle schools and 26 percent of high schools. Forty-six percent of medium-sized schools reported that all or almost all of their staff were involved in violence prevention programs, compared to 32 percent of large schools.

Summary and Conclusions

Providing a safe and disciplined learning environment in which our children can learn is a national and worthy priority. The FRSS Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey on School Violence was conducted to estimate the incidence and frequency and seriousness of school related crime and violence during the 1996-97 school year. A nationally representative sample of 1,234 regular schools participated in the study, and data were weighted to national totals of all regular public schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The sample size was not large enough to yield reliable estimates for incidents with very low incidence such as murder and suicide at school. However, the survey provided estimates for a number of other school-related violent and nonviolent crimes. Data obtained regarding the occurrence of crime reflect only incidents that occurred at school, including those that took place in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at school sponsored events or activities.

Almost half of all public schools reported no incidents of the types of crimes examined during the 1996-97 school year. However, other schools experienced a variety of crimes ranging from minor to very serious offenses. Serious violent crime in schools was of particular interest since it speaks to the safety of our children in their schools. Schools reported incidents of suicide, rape or sexual battery, robbery, and physical attacks or fights with a weapon--all of which were considered serious violent crimes. One in 10 public schools experienced at least one of these crimes, which occurred at a rate of 53 incidents per 100,000 students, during 1996-97. Serious violent crimes were more likely to occur in large schools. Thirty-three percent of schools with 1,000 or more students experienced a serious violent crime compared with 4 to 9 percent in small and medium-sized schools. Large schools also had a ratio of 90 incidents per 100,000 public school students, compared with the medium-size schools, with 38 serious violent crimes per 100,000.

Higher percentages of middle and high schools experienced serious violent crime than elementary schools. Schools in central cities, while more likely to experience serious violent crime than those in towns and rural locales, did not differ significantly from urban fringe schools in terms of the percent of schools reporting at least one incident. City schools also reported a much higher ratio of violence than those in towns, with 95 incidents per 100,000 students compared with 28 per 100,000 students attending schools in towns.

Less serious crimes were also examined since they also threaten the order and safety of schools. Less serious crime for which data were obtained included incidents of physical attacks or fights without a weapon, theft or larceny, and vandalism. The rate of less serious crime was nearly 20 times that of serious violent crime with 949 incidents per 100,000 students.

Overall, 38 percent of public schools reported vandalism, 31 percent reported theft, and 28 percent had at least one physical attack or fight in which no weapon was used during 1996-97.

Students attending schools with crime experience a learning environment in which discipline and safety are jeopardized. The study found that efforts to prevent or reduce violence were being implemented in 78 percent of public schools. Those in which serious crime was reported were more likely to have these programs than those with no crime or only less serious crimes (93 percent compared with 74 and 79 percent, respectively).