How Safe Are Our Schools?
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook.
Another school year begins, and parents ask, “Will my children be safe at school?” As a parent, I pay attention to the media reports of school violence, but the researcher in me is cautious and wants to see what the latest national data on crime in schools actually say about school safety.
It turns out that highly publicized school attacks and media reports of school violence skew the picture of how safe our nation’s schools really are. This accompanying graphic shows the danger teachers face in the classroom, but overall national level data show that schools are safer today than they were in the early nineties.
The 16th annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety report released this summer contains the most recent data available on school crime and student safety drawn from a variety of national data sources from the FBI to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. AIR researchers analyzed and summarized the data from multiple sources. Here’s what the latest school crime and safety report found:
According to the Supplemental Homicide Reports and the School-Associated Violent Deaths Study:
- During the 1992–93 school year, there were a total of 2,721 homicides among school-age youth ages 5–18 (34 occurred at schools).
- During the 2010–11 school year, there were a total of 1,336 homicides among school-age youth ages 5–18 (11 occurred at schools).
In other words, during the 2010–11 school year, there were fewer homicides among 5 to 18 year olds, and less than 1 percent of those homicides happened at schools. Overall, the percentage of youth homicides occurring at schools remained at less than 2 percent of the total number of youth homicides over all available survey years (1992–93 to 2010–11).
Students’ reports of being afraid of attack or harm at school are collected through the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Between 1995 and 2011, the percentage of students who reported being afraid of attack or harm at school decreased from 12 to 4 percent.
Complementing this information are data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey on public school students reporting carrying weapons.
- In 1993, 22 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported carrying a weapon anywhere on at least one day during the previous 30 days, and 12 percent reported carrying a weapon specifically on school property.
- In 2011, 17 percent of students reported carrying a weapon anywhere, and 5 percent reported carrying a weapon specifically on school property.
At the state level, the Schools and Staffing Survey provides information on U.S. public school teachers’ reports of being threatened with injury or being physically attacked by one of their students. The most recent data available show that on average 10 percent of public school teachers reported being threatened with injury and 6 percent reported being physically attacked by a student during the 2011–12 school year. (See also accompanying infographic).
No data can make the isolated incidents of school violence and homicides occurring at schools any less tragic for families, communities, and our country. The parent in me will always worry about my child but the researcher in me knows that, overall, schools are safer today than they were a decade ago.
Simone Robers is task leader and co-author for the annual publication “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” a joint publication of the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.