Study: Schools Have Gotten Safer

Students report feeling safer, face less victimization than 1990s and early 2000s

Getty Images
March 30, 2018

American schools have grown safer over the past two decades along a number of axes, according to a variety of new measures released as a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on Thursday.

The report, which aggregates data from a variety of surveys of school safety, captures the state of U.S. schools for the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years. Although schools have not grown safer across all measures, a number of statistics indicate that as crime and violence have declined in America at large, so too have they fallen in America's primary and secondary schools.

Victimization rates for students, including both theft and nonfatal violent victimization, have declined almost continually since their peak in 1993. There were about 24 in-school victimizations per 1,000 students in 2016, compared to almost 200 per 1,000 students in 1993. That decline persists across all categories the BJS analyzed: thefts, violent victimizations, and serious violent victimizations.

Students also self-report feeling less afraid of attack or harm at school. Twelve percent of students reported fear in 1995; that number dropped to 3 percent by 2015. The number of students reporting fear of attack or harm outside of school also fell, from 6 percent in 1999 (when the relevant survey first started asking) to 2 percent in 2015.

Part of this decline in fear and victimization is attributable to the fact that schools have become less violent places overall. When BJS began tracking the question in 2001, 20 percent of students age 12 to 18 reported gang presence in their school; after a peak in 2005, that number was down to 11 percent in 2015.

Students are also fighting less: 16 percent reported being in a physical fight on school property in 1993, compared to 8 percent in 2015. And students are carrying weapons less frequently; when asked if they had carried a weapon on school property in the past month, 12 percent said yes in 1993, compared to 4 percent in 2015. In the 2015-16 school year, there were 1,600 incidents of firearm possession in schools reported, with an average rate of three firearm possession incidents per 100,000 students.

Drugs also appear to be less prevalent on school campuses. Since a peaking at 32 percent in 1995, the percentage of students reporting that illegal drugs are available to them on campus has dropped to 22 percent as of 2015.

Incidences of hate speech and hate-related graffiti on campus may also be down. Seven percent of students reported being the target of hate-related words in 2015, down from 12 percent in 2001; 36 percent reported seeing hate-related graffiti in 1999, while 27 percent reported the same in 2015 (2015 was, however, an increase from the 25 percent rate in 2013). White students were the least likely to report being targeted by hate speech—6.3 percent—while self-identified "others" (including Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and persons of two or more races) were most likely—11.4 percent.

While the overall trend for many measures is positive, crime and violence nonetheless remain an issue in America's schools. There were 28 incidents of violence, theft, or other crime per 1,000 students in the 2015-16 school year, with 79 percent of public schools reporting at least one offense. Nine crimes per 1,000 students were reported to the police, with those reports coming from 47 percent of schools.

The number of violent deaths at schools has remained relatively constant since 1993, with some fluctuation but no overall positive or negative trend. In the 2014-15 school year, 47 students, staff, and nonstudent school-associated individuals died. That number is composed of 28 homicides, 17 suicides, and two killings by law enforcement officers.

Still, children are relatively unlikely to be killed at school. Of the 1,168 homicides in the 2014–15 school year affecting those between ages 5 and 18, Just 1.7 percent occurred at school. The same is true of suicides—of the 1,785 suicides in the same years by those between ages five and 18, just 0.5 percent occurred at school.

While violence remains a problem on campus, the BJS's analysis generally confirms other research on the safety of U.S. schools. Amid rising concerns about school gun violence, a report from Northeastern University researchers found that school shootings have actually declined since the 1990s.

Published under: Schools