IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

New Data Available on Crime and Safety in Public Schools

The prevalence of crime in America’s public schools continues to be a topic of much concern and discussion among parents, students, educators, and policymakers. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides the latest data to help inform conversations and debate about school safety.

The report, Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools, presents new information from the 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). SSOCS is a nationally representative survey of school principals that collects detailed information on both incidents of crime in U.S. public schools and the practices and programs schools have implemented to promote school safety.

This report presents selected findings on a wide range of topics, including violent and nonviolent incidents, disciplinary problems and actions, security measures, security staff, mental health services, and limitations on crime prevention. In addition to presenting updates for data that have been published in prior SSOCS reports, the new report highlights topics not covered in previous reports, including the number of incidents involving the use or possession of a firearm or explosive device at school as well as the percentage of schools that have “panic buttons” or silent alarms that directly connect to law enforcement in the event of an incident.

Data on both school crime incidents and school safety practices are available by various school characteristics, such as school type, enrollment size, and locale (i.e., whether the school is located in an urban, suburban, or rural area).  

One key finding highlighted in the report is that most schools have written plans for various emergency scenarios. In school year 2017–18, the most common types of plans reported were for responses to natural disasters (94 percent), active shooters (92 percent), and bomb threats or incidents (91 percent).

 



 

The report also presented other key findings from the 2017–18 school year:

  • Seventy-one percent of U.S. public schools reported that at least one violent incident occurred at school during the school year.
  • Three percent of schools reported that there was at least one incident involving the possession of a firearm or explosive device at their school.
  • Forty-six percent of traditional public schools had a school resource officer present at school at least once a week, compared with only 19 percent of charter schools. Conversely, a higher percentage of charter schools than of traditional public schools had a security guard or other security personnel present at least once a week (35 vs. 21 percent).
  • Restorative circles were used more frequently in schools with a higher enrollment of minority students. A restorative circle is a formal mediation process led by a facilitator who brings affected parties of a problem together to explore what happened, reflect on their roles, and find solutions that address individual and community concerns. Among schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment, half (50 percent) reported involving students in restorative circles. However, in schools with lower minority enrollment (20 to 50 percent), a lower percentage of schools reported involving students in restorative circles (38 percent).
  • Fifty-one percent of schools provided diagnostic mental health assessments to evaluate students for mental health disorders, and 38 percent provided treatment to students for mental health disorders.

To access the full report, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019061.pdf. SSOCS:2018 data files will be released later this year. Due to the sensitive nature of SSOCS data, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full SSOCS:2018 restricted-use data file. A public-use data file—with some sensitive variables removed—will be released after the restricted-use data file.

 

By Sam Correa and Melissa Diliberti (AIR) and Rachel Hansen (NCES)

 

 

New Data Show Growth in Online Bullying

A vast majority of middle and high school students have an online presence, resulting in heightened awareness and concern about cyberbullying. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that reports of students being bullied online or by text are growing.

According to results from Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 20 percent of students reported being bullied during the 201617 school year. Of those students, 15 percent reported being bullied online or by text, which is an increase from 11.5 percent during the 201415 school year.

During the 201617 school year, students’ reports of bullying online or by text were found to differ by sex, race, and school level. For instance, three times as many female students reported being bullied online or by text (21 percent) as male students (7 percent), and about 17 percent of White students reported being bullied online or by text, compared with 12 percent of students of other races. Also, a higher percentage of high school students reported being bullied online or by text (19 percent) than middle school students (12 percent).

In the 2017 School Crime Supplement (SCS), students reported being bullied online or by text in higher percentages than did students being bullied only in person in three key types of bullying.

  • Students who reported being bullied online said they were made fun of, called names, or insulted more often (74 percent) than students who reported being bullied in person only (63 percent).
  • 90 percent of students bullied online reported that rumors were spread about them, compared to 62 percent of those who reported being bullied in person only.  
  • 39 percent of students being bullied online reported that they were excluded from activities on purpose, compared to 23 percent of students who reported being bullied in person only.

 



 

Browse the full report for more bullying estimates from the 2016–17 school year.

 

By Rachel Hansen

 

References

Lessne, D., and Yanez, C. (2016). Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime and Victimization Survey (NCES 2017-015). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017015.pdf.

Yanez, C., and Seldin, M. (2019). Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime and Victimization Survey (NCES 2019-054). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Forthcoming.

New Report on Crime and Safety in Schools and College Campuses

Crime in the nation’s schools and college campuses has declined overall during the past two decades, according to a report released on April 17, 2019. Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2018 highlights new information on a wide array of data points, including youth opioid use, perceptions of bullying, and active shooter incidents in educational settings. The report also covers topics such as victimization, school conditions, school environment, safety and security measures at school, and criminal incidents at postsecondary institutions.

In 2017, students ages 12–18 experienced 827,000 total victimizations (i.e., theft and nonfatal violent victimization) at school and 503,800 total victimizations away from school. These figures represent a rate of 33 victimizations per 1,000 students at school, compared to 20 victimizations per 1,000 students away from school. From 1992 to 2017, the total victimization rate and rates of specific crimes—thefts, violent victimizations, and serious violent victimizations—declined for students ages 12–18, both at school and away from school.

This edition of Indicators of School Crime and Safety includes an analysis of active shooter incidents, which represent a small subset of the possible violent incidents that occur at schools. While rare, these events are of high concern to all those interested in the safety of our nation’s students. From 2000 to 2017, there were 37 active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools and 15 active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions. During this period, there were 153 casualties (67 killed and 86 wounded) in active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools, and 143 casualties (70 killed and 73 wounded) in active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions.

Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, the most recent period available, there were 18 homicides of school-age youth (ages 5–18) at a school out of the 1,478 homicides of school-age youth in the United States. During the same period, 3 of the 1,941 total suicides of school-age youth occurred at school.

In 2017, about 20 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. Between 2005 and 2017, the percentage of students who reported being bullied at school declined overall and for most of the student and school characteristics examined.

 



 

Of the students who were bullied in 2017, about 56 percent felt that those who had bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them. A higher percentage of female students (62 percent) than male students (48 percent) reported that those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them.

 



 

The new report included a special analysis that shows that the percentage of 8th-graders who reported using heroin during the past 12 months decreased from 1.4 percent in 1995 to 0.3 percent in 2017. The percentage also decreased from 1.1 to 0.2 percent for 10th-graders and from 1.1 to 0.4 percent for 12th-graders during the same period. This 0.4 percent of 12th graders reflects 15,900 students, who were recent users of heroin. The use of OxyContin and Vicodin during the past 12 months also generally decreased for 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders between 2005 (the first year of data collection for these survey items) and 2017.

 



 

There were also decreases for other types of substance abuse. The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least once during the previous 30 days decreased from 47 to 30 percent between 2001 and 2017. Also, the percentage of students in grades 9–12 reporting marijuana use at least 1 time during the previous 30 days in 2017 (20 percent) was lower than the percentage for 2001 (24 percent).

Other findings – elementary and secondary schools

  • About 99 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they observed the use of at least one of the selected safety and security measures at their schools in 2017. The three most commonly observed safety and security measures were a written code of student conduct (95 percent), a requirement that visitors sign in and wear visitor badges or stickers (90 percent), and the presence of school staff (other than security guards or assigned police officers) or other adults supervising the hallway (88 percent).
  • About 6 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being called hate-related words at school during the school year in 2017, representing a decrease from 12 percent in 2001. This percentage also decreased between 2001 and 2017 for male and female students as well as for White, Black, and Hispanic students.
  • The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported having been in a physical fight anywhere in the previous 12 months decreased between 2001 and 2017 (from 33 to 24 percent), as did the percentage of students in these grades who reported having been in a physical fight on school property (from 13 to 9 percent).

 



 

Other findings – postsecondary Institutions

  • The number of on-campus crimes reported in 2016 was lower than the number reported in 2001 for every category except forcible sex offenses and negligent manslaughter offenses. The number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus increased from 2,200 in 2001 to 8,900 in 2016 (a 305 percent increase).
  • Race, religion, and sexual orientation were the categories of motivating bias most frequently associated with the 1,070 hate crimes reported on college campuses in 2016.

To view the full report, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2019047.

New Data Available on Prevalence of Recognized Student Acceptance Groups

Schools can help to foster students’ understanding of diversity and create environments where students feel safe and welcome. One way to do this is by organizing student groups whose purpose is to promote acceptance of other students. The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) collected data on the presence of recognized student acceptance groups during the 2015–16 school year from a nationally representative sample of 3,500 K–12 public schools. The questionnaire asked whether schools had student groups that promote acceptance of students’ sexual orientations[i] and gender identities,[ii] of students with disabilities, and of cultural diversity.

Among all public schools, groups that promote acceptance of students with disabilities were most common. Some 27 percent of schools reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities during the 2015­–16 school year, compared with 21 percent that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity and 12 percent that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities.


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools reporting the presence of recognized student acceptance groups, by school level and purpose of student group: School year 2015–16

1Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. The total also includes combined schools. Combined schools are schools that have a combination of grades that cannot be categorized as primary, middle, or high schools, including K–12 schools. 
2Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one’s emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex. Gender identity was defined for respondents as one’s inner sense of one’s own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth. An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students' sexual orientations and gender identities provided to respondents was a Gay-Straight Alliance.
3An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students with disabilities provided to respondents was Best Buddies.
4An example of a student group to promote acceptance of cultural diversity provided to respondents was a Cultural Awareness Club.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. 
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 37.


All three types of acceptance groups were more common in high schools than in middle or primary schools. The most common type of student acceptance group varied by school level. For example, among middle schools, the percentage of schools that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities (32 percent) was higher than the percentage that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity (22 percent) or acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities (12 percent). This pattern was similar for primary schools. Among high schools, the percentage of schools that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students’ sexual orientations and gender identities (50 percent) was higher than the percentage that reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of students with disabilities (45 percent).

During the 2015–16 school year, all three types of student acceptance groups were more commonly found in schools in cities and suburbs than in schools in rural areas. For example, 30 percent of schools in cities and 26 percent of schools in suburbs reported having a student group that promotes acceptance of cultural diversity, compared with 10 percent of schools in rural areas.


Figure 2. Percentage of public schools reporting the presence of recognized student acceptance groups, by purpose of student group and school locale: School year 2015–16

1Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one's emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex. Gender identity was defined for respondents as one's inner sense of one's own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth. An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students' sexual orientations and gender identities provided to respondents was a Gay-Straight Alliance.
2An example of a student group to promote acceptance of students with disabilities provided to respondents was Best Buddies.
3An example of a student group to promote acceptance of cultural diversity provided to respondents was a Cultural Awareness Club.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 37.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES, and Melissa Diliberti, AIR


[i]Sexual orientation was defined for respondents as one’s emotional or physical attraction to the same and/or opposite sex.

[ii]Gender identity was defined for respondents as one’s inner sense of one’s own gender, which may or may not match the sex assigned at birth. Different people choose to express their gender identity differently. For some, gender may be expressed through, for example, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions. Gender expression usually ranges between masculine and feminine, and some transgender people express their gender consistent with how they identify internally, rather than in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth.

What Are Threat Assessment Teams and How Prevalent Are They in Public Schools?

As part of the Safe School Initiative, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service authored a report in 2004 that described how schools could establish a threat assessment process “for identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are intended to prevent and reduce school violence and are adapted from the U.S. Secret Service’s threat assessment model.

The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) collected data on the prevalence of threat assessment teams in schools for the first time in 2015–16 from a nationally representative sample of 3,500 K–12 public schools. The questionnaire defined a threat assessment team as “a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are usually composed of some combination of school administrators, teachers, counselors, sworn law enforcement officers, and mental health professionals.

While 42 percent of all public schools reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year, the prevalence of threat assessment teams varied by school characteristics.


Percentage of public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, by school level and enrollment size: School year 2015–16

1Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


For example, a higher percentage of high schools (52 percent) than of middle (45 percent), primary (39 percent), and combined schools (28 percent) reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year. Further, 57 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 1,000 or more students reported having a threat assessment team, compared with 31 percent of schools with an enrollment size of less than 300 students; 40 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 300–499 students; and 45 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 500–999 students.

Threat assessment teams were also more prevalent in schools that had at least one security staff[i] member present at school at least once a week during the 2015–16 school year (48 percent of schools with security staff present vs. 33 percent of schools without security staff present). The percentage of schools reporting a threat assessment team was also higher in schools that reported at least one violent incident[ii] had occurred at school during the 2015–16 school year (44 percent) compared with schools that had no violent incidents (35 percent).

How often a threat assessment team meets can be an indication of how active the team is in the school.  The majority of schools with a threat assessment team in 2015–16 reported that their teams met “on occasion” (62 percent), followed by “at least once a month” (27 percent), “at least once a week” (9 percent), and “never” (2 percent).


Among public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, percentage distribution by frequency of threat assessment team meetings: School year 2015–16

!Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES and Melissa Diliberti, AIR

 

[i] Security staff includes full- or part-time school resource officers, sworn law enforcement officers, or security guards or security personnel present at school at least once a week.

[ii] Violent incidents include rape or attempted rape, sexual assault other than rape (including threatened rape), physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery (taking things by force) with or without a weapon.