Media coverage of mass school shootings in recent years has led the public to believe school violence is on the rise, when it is in fact at its lowest levels in decades.
More pervasive forms of aggression, such as name calling and racial or gender slurs, affect thousands of students, but tend to remain out of the public consciousness.
The nation’s leading researchers in psychology, social work and education tackle these and other issues in a special Educational Researcher issue devoted to research on school safety, which was released on Feb. 11 to coincide with an American Educational Research Association policy briefing in Washington, D.C.
Ron Avi Astor, the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development and Professor of Social Work and Education, authored the issue’s final article on future directions for research in the field and policy recommendations to ensure that research on school safety is factored into school practices.
“A lot of this research is not getting out there, and with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, we recommend that school climate be closely integrated into academic outcomes,” Astor said.
Zero tolerance and increased security measures on campuses have been shown to be inadequate or even dysfunctional, and they tend to be implemented with a one-size-fits-all approach. Often, these strategies increase fear and a sense of the school as an unsafe place, Astor said.
Localized data, such as how many students in an area use drugs or are in gangs and at what grades, is readily available and more useful in addressing school safety, but schools rarely utilize this information, he said.
Such information can help schools assess what they need to overcome in terms of school safety and what kind of program would fit their needs. The information could be integrated into the school’s mission and used to improve teaching as well, Astor said.
A potential part of the new No Child Left Behind reauthorization could require schools to measure their own school climate and connect it to academic outcomes, such as test scores, so that schools can address both in reform efforts, he said.
“This would allow us to look on a national level at a pool of schools that managed to improve school climate and academics, but are kind of under the radar because we only focus on academics,” Astor said. “Currently, No Child Left Behind focuses on the negative, but this would allow us to learn from the good examples that are doing it best.”
To view the special issue of Educational Researcher, visit http://www.aera.net/publications/Default.aspx?menu_id=38&id=9144