Thursday, April 16, 2009

America Gets a D+ in School Violence Prevention

Community Matters - an organization whose mission is to "collaborate with schools and communities to engage, equip and empower young people to become change-agents and peacemakers" - has released a 10-year Report Card on School Violence Prevention covering the period since the Columbine tragedy. In summary, the report card indicates that the traditional "outside-in" approach that school and law enforcement officials have used to reduce violence in the wake of Columbine - $10 billion spent on security guards, metal detectors, zero-tolerance punishments and the like - have done little to improve the quality of a day in the life of the average student.

Community Matters Founder Rick Phillips asserts:

"What is needed is an 'inside-out' approach that focuses on strengthening relationships and actively empowering young people to improve the school climate and change social norms."

The Report Card evaluates performance in seven different areas:
  • Federal Funding - D
  • Legislation and Policies - D
  • On-Campus Security Measures - C-
  • Prevention Programs and Curriculum - C
  • Staff Involvement - C
  • Youth Involvement - D
  • School/Community Partnerships - D+

Federal Funding gets low marks because the amount of funding has been cut in recent years as memories of Columbine fade and other national priorities rise to the top. The report also points out that funds have been spent on the wrong things, and that accountability for results is lacking in the funding process.

Legislation of "No Child" and zero-tolerance policies have had the adverse impact of distracting from addressing the root causes of school violence. "Problem students" are shuttled away to special programs without looking for the source of the "problem". According to Phillips:

"Schools need to reach out to all students, particularly marginalized students. They must empower and equip these young people with the skills, support and opportunities to intervene effectively among their peers to reduce bullying and violence and to improve school climate."

Youth Involvement gets a low rating because students continue to be seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Schools need to do a better job of engaging young people as partners in decision-making and school improvement activities.

In conclusion, the report is intended to spark a renewed conversation about school violence-prevention efforts and, more importantly, call us to action. Addressing school violence and bullying is not the responsibility of schools alone. It is a public health crisis that can only improve if all sectors of the community (students, parents, teachers, administrators, government officials,
leaders of youth-serving organizations, law enforcement officials, and other community members) work together.

From the federal government perspective, the Department of Peace legislation (H.R. 808) would go a long way toward addressing the root causes of violence in schools and making sure programs that are proven to work at reducing violence get the funding they need to be effective in the most needed environments. Contact your Congressperson today and ask them to support H.R. 808.

Please also support the Youth PROMISE Act - H.R. 1064 and S. 435 - for youth violence reduction by sending Congress a letter on

Let's work to get our grades up!


  1. Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls their weapon) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is fired) is only 5 seconds. If it is the intent of a school district to react to this violence, they will do so over the wounded and/or slain bodies of students, teachers and administrators.

    Educational institutions clearly want safe and secure schools. Administrators are perennially queried by parents about the safety of their schools. The commonplace answers, intended to reassure anxious parents, focus on the school resource officers and emergency procedures. While useful, these less than adequate efforts do not begin to provide a definitive answer to preventing school violence, nor do they make a school safe and secure.

    Traditionally school districts have relied upon the mental health community or local police to keep schools safe, yet one of the key shortcomings has been the lack of a system that involves teachers, administrators, parents and students in the identification and communication process. Recently, colleges, universities and community colleges are forming Behavioral Intervention Teams with representatives from all these constituencies. Higher Education has changed their safety/security policies, procedures, or surveillance systems, yet K-12 have yet to incorporate Behavioral Intervention Teams. K-12 schools continue spending excessive amounts of money to put in place many of the physical security options. Sadly, they are reactionary only and do little to prevent aggression because they are designed exclusively to react to existing conflict, threat and violence. These schools reflect a national blindspot, which prefers hardening targets through enhanced security versus preventing violence with efforts directed at aggressors. Security gets all the focus and money, but this only makes us feel safe, rather than to actually make us safer.

    Some law enforcement agencies use profiling as a means to identify an aggressor. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression; “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.” We can and must assess objective, culturally neutral, identifiable criteria of emerging aggression.

    For a comprehensive look at the problem and its solution,

  2. Wow! Thanks for the awesome comment John. You basically reinforced the findings of the Report Card that we need to get the students involved. I'll definitely check out the White Paper you recommended.
    Violence B. Gawn

  3. Thanks for initiating a dialogue about this. So much of the time - I think the statistic is something like 85% - there is no intervention during a school act of violence or bullying. It is critical for schools to understand the levels of bullying (physical, social and emotional) in and around the building so that they can take practical steps to improve the climate for learning.

  4. The National Association of School Psychologists has a web page set up to make it easy to send a letter to your Representative and Senators to get support for the Youth PROMISE act to address school violence, among other things:

  5. Dear Sirs and Madams,

    Please read the information regarding to a research about coexistence and violence school that will be presented in 6th May 2009, Brazil.

    Yours faithfully,

    RITLA (Latin American Technological Information Network), in association with the Brazilian Federal District Board of Education/GDF, is implementing a plan of student coexistence in schools of the State Education Network. The project aims to encourage good coexistence processes and the prevention of violence in Primary and High School. Part of this process was a qualitative and quantitative research, representative of all students and teachers of the Federal District Education Network between the 5th grade of Primary Education and the 3rd year of High School. The research contemplated six schools for each Directory of Regional Education - DRE (Four Primary Schools –upper grades – and two High Schools). It focused on the achieving of a diagnosis about school coexistence, using the following methods: investigating the social relationships, the explicit and implicit conflicts in school environment; identifying the perceptions of students, teachers and of the Technical-Pedagogical Staff about these conflicts and violence; mapping the different types of incidents, as well as their frequency and severity.

    From June to September of 2008, about 10.000 questionnaires were applied for students and 1300 for teachers in 84 schools. Besides, interviews and focal groups were realized with students and teachers. Brasilia has 620 schools, about 505.000 students and about 45.000 teachers (Brazilian Federal District Board of Education/GDF report from 2008 –
    The idea of developing a research about coexistence and violence in school, conducted by the Federal District Board of Education/GDF, as a way to support concrete actions, is a pioneering enterprise in Brazil. It represents a fundamental stage in understanding and portraying the reality as a decisive step in the attempt to stimulate a non-violent atmosphere in schools and create the habit of dialogue and conflict resolution, helping to improve the quality of teaching and learning and avoiding the most common everyday problems to increase and develop to severe outcomes.
    The research was focused on the achieving of a diagnosis about school coexistence, using the following methods: investigating the social relationships, the explicit and implicit conflicts in school environment; identifying the perceptions of students, teachers and of the Technical-Pedagogical Staff about these conflicts and violence; mapping the different types of incidents, as well as their frequency and severity

    The conclusive result of the research will be published in a book that will be presented in May 2009.

    Using the same approach, seminars were promoted under the title of School Coexistence: discussing and thinking about alternative outcomes. They were based on the first results of the analysis that integrates the Plan of School Coexistence in Brazilian Federal District Education Network and took place between October and December 2008, with the aim to raise awareness and deepen the debate on violence and school coexistence. The return of the collected data to the various stakeholders in the field of education and in school life was a critical phase of work, both to disseminate and discuss the main features of the real picture of schools as to identify a series of topics that require the most attention. New seminars will be conducted from the final outcome of the investigation.
    Among the activities planned for 2009 we can highlight the course “Youth, Diversity and Coexistence School” which begins in May. The course will be taught by specialists in each subject, and organized, coordinated and monitored by RITLA-SEEDF. This project aims to train a group of 640 teachers and coordinators for the upper grades of primary education by encouraging them to face the complex discussion of violence in schools and stimulating them to reflect deeply about the subject.
    The following important questions will be discussed during the course: violence and society, youth, family and school, violence and discrimination in the school environment, gender and sexuality in school, school coexistence, mediation, drug trade and consumption in the school context, gangs, adolescents in conflict with the law, among others things. The conclusive result of the discussions will be used to produce a project of social intervention at purpose of helping to build a new kind of coexistence in school environment.

    This course aims to providing a contribution to the construction of better relationships in the school environment, in order to make it a safe and protective place for all stakeholders to discuss and talk about everyday phenomena that occur in this context.

    Rede de Informação Tecnológica Latino-Americana
    Red de Información Latinoamericana
    Latin American Technological Information Network

    SHIS QI.09, Conj.15, Casa 15 - Lago Sul
    Cep : 71625-150, Brasilia, DF
    Tel/fax: (55) 61 3248-3805 e 3248-5607