ED's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) administers a variety of state and national programs under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA, Title IV A) that are focused on efforts to develop and maintain safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools. Drug and violence prevention activities under these programs are carried out in elementary and secondary schools, as well as in institutions of higher education. While there is now a lengthy set of school-based drug prevention curricula that have been evaluated using rigorous designs, much less evidence is available concerning effective violence prevention strategies in school settings.
The need for evidence-based violence prevention programs is particularly critical for middle schools, whose students experience the highest rate of school-based violence relative to students in other grades. The most recent data available from the National Crime Victimization Survey show that in the 2006–07 school year, 4.3 percent of students aged 12 through 18 reported that they had been victims of a crime at school (DeVoe, Bauer, and Hill 2010). Data also indicate that the rate of victimization in 2007 for nonfatal violent crimes at school for students aged 12 through 14 was 67 incidents per 1,000 students, compared with the rate for students aged 15 through 18, which was 49 incidents per 1,000 students (Dinkes, Kemp, and Baum 2009). Students were also more likely to experience a violent event in middle schools (41 per 1,000) than in elementary (26 per 1,000) or secondary (22 per 1,000) schools. Data also indicate that bullying is a significant problem. In the 2007–08 school year, 44 percent of middle schools, compared with 21 percent of primary schools and 22 percent of high schools, reported weekly or more frequent incidents of bullying (Dinkes, Kemp, and Baum 2009).
Violence prevention strategies in schools can be divided into two broad types: curriculum-based programs and whole-school (or environmental) strategies. Curriculum-based programs are implemented in a classroom setting and typically aim to improve students' social and problem-solving skills for dealing with conflict and managing violence. Whole-school (or environmental) approaches seek to influence the school environment through a variety of strategies, such as increasing supervision of the school grounds, clarifying rules and consequences for student behavior, establishing reward systems to encourage positive behaviors, and training staff in classroom management.
While evaluations of curriculum programs have yielded statistically significant results, their effect sizes are modest. A meta-analysis of school-based violence prevention evaluations from a mix of experimental and quasi-experimental designs reported an average effect size of 0.10 (Cohen's d) for classroom-based social skills programs (Wilson and Lipsey 2005). RiPP (Meyer and Northup 2002a, 2002b, 2006) is an example of such a curriculum and is one of two prevention programs selected for this study. RiPP has been subjected to three discrete evaluations by the program's developers. One of these compared one classroom receiving RiPP to a nonmatched comparison classroom in the same school. In the second study, eight schools self-selected either to implement RiPP or be in the control condition. The third study used an experimental design. The two nonexperimental studies found that students who were exposed to RiPP reported significantly less physical aggression and lower levels of peer provocation than students in the comparison group but reported no significant differences in nonphysical aggression or drug use. Findings regarding self-reported delinquent behaviors were mixed (Farrell, Valois, and Meyer 2002; Farrell, Valois et al. 2003).
The single experimental evaluation of RiPP took place in 27 classes of 6th-graders in three urban middle schools. The evaluation found that after 1 year of exposure to RiPP, students reported fewer serious fight-related injuries and more participation in peer mediation compared with students in the control group but no difference on weapons-related violence or threats to teachers. School records showed fewer in-school suspensions and disciplinary violations for violent offenses for the students exposed to RiPP but no differences in out-of-school suspensions. The statistically significant outcomes were not maintained either 6 months or 1 year later (Farrell, Meyer, and White 2001). In addition, intervention classrooms in two of the study schools were subsequently randomized either to receive an additional year of RiPP or not to receive an additional year. In this case, based on school records, there were fewer violent offenses for the RiPP group 1 year after the treatment group received 2 years of RiPP and the control group received 1 year of RiPP (Farrell, Meyer et al. 2003).
A few school-based programs have sought to prevent violence by means of a whole-school approach such as the schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (PBS) approach (Sugai and Horner 1994; Sprague, Sugai, and Walker 1998) and the whole-school component of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Three evaluations of the whole-school approach examined changes in student outcomes without using any comparison group (Barrett, Bradshaw, and Lewis-Palmer 2008; Bradshaw, Mitchell, and Leaf 2010; Metzler et al. 2001), and a fourth used an experimental design in 63 elementary schools. The investigators from the latter study reported that the program led to an improvement in school staff members' perceptions of school safety and an increase in the proportion of 3rd-graders meeting state reading assessment standards (Horner et al. 2009). In addition, two evaluations have examined student outcomes after combining characteristics of both whole-school and curriculum-based approaches. One of these evaluations studied the approach using nonmatched, comparison schools (Sprague et al. 2001), and the other evaluation used an experimental design with a sample of eight schools (Orpinas et al. 2000). Neither study reported statistically significant differences on the targeted behavioral outcomes.
The study's research questions for impacts and implementation are provided in Table ES-1.