National Center for Education Statistics

Public school safety and discipline: New data on practices, procedures, and violent incidents at school

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Crime and violence at school not only affects the individuals involved, but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community [1]. There are many different components to measuring students’ safety at school, and NCES conducts and supports regular surveys on school crime and safety. Our new report, Public School Safety and Discipline, 2013-14 provides data on school safety practices and procedures, and also contains school reports of school crime incidents [2].

Improvements in monitoring and communication can help to ensure students, teachers, and parents have the information they need at the right moment. There have been increases in the use of some types of technology in schools. For example, the percentage of schools that used one or more security cameras to monitor the school in 2013-14 (75 percent) was higher than it was in 2009-10 (61 percent). The percentage of schools which had an electronic notification system that automatically notifies parents in case of a school-wide emergency was also higher in 2013-14 (82 percent) than in 2009-10 (63 percent). Further, the percentage of schools which had a structured anonymous threat reporting system (e.g. online submission, telephone hotline, or written submission via dropbox) was higher in 2013-14 (47 percent) than in 2009-10 (36 percent). The percentage of schools that prohibited student use of cell phones and text messaging was lower in 2013-14 (76 percent) than in 2009-10 (91 percent).

Another indication of the level of safety at school is the percentage of schools reporting that violent incidences occurred during the school year. It is important to note that the nature of the NCES data collections on school crime do not enable cause and effect linkages between activities designed to improve school safety and actual decreases in school crime.  Overall, the percentage of public schools reporting that a violent incident occurred at school [3] was lower in 2013-14 (65 percent) than in 2009-10 (74 percent) [4]. Also, the percentage of schools reporting a serious violent crime was lower in 2013-14 (13 percent) than in 2009-10 (16 percent).  In 2013-14, there were about 16 violent crimes per 1,000 students compared to 25 per 1,000 students in 2009-10.

Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14

Figure. Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school.
SOURCE: School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) 2009–10 and School Safety and Discipline 2013-14.

In addition to crimes, discipline problems at school are also of interest. Several types of discipline problems were reported at lower rates in 2013-14 than in 2009-10, including: student racial/ethnic tensions, student bullying, student sexual harassment of other students, and student harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, 15.7 percent of schools reported that student bullying happens at least weekly in 2013-14, compared to 23.1 percent of schools in 2009-10. There were no measurable differences in the percentage of schools reporting, “widespread disorder in classrooms,” “student verbal abuse of teachers,” or “student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse.”

In addition to this new report on school crime, NCES produces an annual summary report on school crime, Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Also, NCES has recently released a series of tabulations on bullying that showed bullying rates are lower in 2013 than they were in 2011

[1] Brookmeyer, K.A., Fanti, K.A., and Henrich, C.C. (2006). Schools, Parents, and Youth Violence: A Multilevel, Ecological Analysis. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35(4):504–514.; Goldstein, S.E., Young, A., and Boyd, C. (2008). Relational Aggression at School: Associations With School Safety and Social Climate. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 37: 641–654.

[2] This blog compares estimates from Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013–14 and School Survey on Crime and Safety. Respondents to the Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013-14 were offered options of completing the survey on paper or online.  The School Survey on Crime and Safety was conducted as a mail survey with telephone follow-up.  Differences in these survey methods may impact inferences.

[3] “At school” was defined as activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.

[4] Respondents were asked to report the number of incidents, not number of victims or offenders.

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