School Violence: Associations with Control, Security/enforcement, Educational/therapeutic Approaches, and Demographic Factors

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the extent to which three approaches to violence prevention and response were associated with the incidence of school crime and disruption after accounting for the influence of demographic variables. Secondary data analyses were conducted with four subsets of the sample of principals who completed the National Center for Education Statistics' School Survey on Crime and Safety. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses conducted with Sample 1 (n = 426) and Sample 2 (n = 459), respectively, identified four approaches, labeled educational/therapeutic, control, security/enforcement, and crisis plans. Confirmatory factor analyses with Sample 3 (n = 382) validated the constructs of school crime and disruption. Hierarchical regression analyses with Sample 4 (n = 440) indicated that demographic characteristics (e.g., enrollment, neighborhood crime) were associated with school crime, school disruption, or both. After accounting for demographic influences, security/enforcement (e.g., law enforcement, suspensions) was significantly associated with school crime and disruption

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Preventing and responding to school violence and disruption is a national priority. Although students are safer at school than away from school and there has been a decrease in school-based incidents of homicides, thefts, assaults, and other violent crimes since the early 1990s (DeVoe, Peter, Noonan, Snyder, & Baum, 2005), any act of violence at school is cause for concern. Policy decisions have been made mandating schools to use strategies to promote safety and security; however, these decisions have often been made swiftly, without the benefit of empirical scrutiny (Pagliocca & Nickerson, 2001). Therefore, it is critical to identify approaches to school violence that can be reliably measured and assess the extent to which these strategies are associated with decreased violence.

School Approaches to Preventing and Reducing Violence

Schools use a variety of strategies to prevent and reduce violence, which may be conceptualized broadly as emphasizing physical safety and security or focusing primarily on psychological safety. A focus on physical safety is often characterized by a "get tough" approach that includes zero tolerance policies (e.g., suspending students who violate school rules), restricting autonomy through the use of punitive measures, and policing functions, such as hiring resource officers and installing metal detectors (Noguera, 1995; Pagliocca & Nickerson, 2001). Approaches concerned with psychological safety are often educational or therapeutic, with the assumption that improving school climate, involving parents, teaching conflict resolution, and counseling prevent and reduce school disruption and crime (Noguera; Pagliocca & Nickerson).

Nine out of ten principals perceive very strict policies as essential for keeping schools safe (National School Safety Center, 2001). Zero tolerance has been argued to have led to decreased school violence in the late 1990s by discouraging students from engaging in violence to avoid harsh consequences (Axtman, 2005). Zero tolerance is also intended to provide punishment uniformly, regardless of socioeconomic status (SES; Axtman). In addition, courts tend to rule in favor of schools that use zero tolerance policies (Stader, 2004). The trend to control crime by hiring law enforcement officers and installing security hardware is reflected in state laws. For example, the School Safety Program (1994) legislation was established in Arizona for placing School Resource Officers on school grounds. Despite their increasing use, there has been considerable criticism of zero tolerance and related approaches, largely because of the lack of research regarding their effectiveness (Skiba, 2000). Students who have been suspended from school are more likely to be referred for disciplinary actions in the future (Tobin & Sugai, 1996). …