Effective Instruction: The Forgotten Component in Preventing School Violence

Article excerpt


Incidents of school violence and student misbehavior have received a great deal of media attention. In response, local, state and national policy makers have proposed and implemented a variety of preventive efforts, including zero tolerance policies, metal detectors, and video monitoring. We contend that these strategies reflect narrow definitions of the terms "school violence" and "school safety." Administrators, teachers and students appear to agree that school violence is an issue that encompasses more than instances of injury by physical force. We summarize research showing that behaviors characterized by administrators, teachers, and students as violent and unsafe often are the outcome of a predictable chain of events that begins with academic failure. For this reason, we suggest that efforts to prevent school violence include the promotion of effective academic instruction. By creating schools that facilitate student success, the goal of improving school safety will be addressed.

The issue of school violence has gained national prominence, yet there continues to be confusion over the exact meaning of the term (Furlong, Morrison, & Dear, 1994; Furlong & Morrison, 2000). "Violence" generally is defined as the "exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse" (Merriam-Webster, 2000). Recent responses of local, state and national policy makers to well-publicized and tragic school incidents seem to be in line with this definition of violence. However, "violence" also may be defined as "injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation", "intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force", or "vehement feeling or expression" (Merriam-Webster, 2000). Research suggests that this broader definition of violence may be more in line with what teachers, administrators, and students deal with daily in public schools. According to state and national surveys, teachers report behaviors such as student cursing, grabbing, pushing, verbal threats and intimidation as th e most prevalent forms of violence occurring on school campuses (Furlong et al., 1994; Petersen, Beekley, Speaker, & Pietrzak, 1998; Petersen, Beekley, & Speaker, 1998).

It also is informative to compare trends in the estimated prevalence and reported incidence of school violence with student perceptions of school climate and safety. For instance, between 1993 and 1997 there was a significant decrease in the number of high school students who reported carrying a weapon to school in the prior 30 days, and a general decrease in school crimes serious enough to be reported to the police (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). However, during the same period students reported feeling increasingly less safe at school (US Department of Education, 1999). It seems apparent that students and teachers are concerned not only about violence in the sense of physical force and weapons, but about behaviors such as intimidation, and anxiety provoking behaviors that could be included in a broader definition of violence.

A survey conducted during the 1996-1997 school year found that more than 75% of all schools reported having zero tolerance policies for various drug and violence offenses (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 1998). In addition, there has been an increase in the presence of law enforcement officers and metal detectors in public schools (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 1998). However, evidence suggests that such measures have been ineffective, or even counterproductive, in preventing school violence (Hyman & Perone, 1998; Mayer & Leone, 1999). While at face value, these responses seem appropriate strategies for addressing school violence, they are strictly reactive and may not address a broader definition of "violence" as it is understood by those who experience it our schools (Furlong & Morrison, 2000).

Some states and many individual schools have implemented more enlightened policies to address the more common forms of violence found in schools. …