The rate of violent incidents in the nation’s public schools fell between the 2009-2010 and 2013-2014 school years, a period in which security measures such as surveillance cameras became more widespread, according to new federal data released Thursday.
The reported reduction in violence comes even as high-profile crimes, including the 2012 shooting of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., have pushed school safety concerns into the nation’s consciousness.
Sixty-five percent of U.S. public schools reported at least one violent incident in 2013-2014, according to the new report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That’s down from 74 percent in 2009-2010. The rate of violent incidents also fell, from 25 for every 1,000 students to 15 per 1,000 students.
The proportion of schools reporting serious violent incidents — a category including rape or attempted rape, fighting with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon — fell from 16 percent to 13 percent during the same time period.
As might be expected, violence was more prevalent among high schoolers than younger students: More than 90 percent of the nation’s public high schools reported a violent incident, compared with 53 percent of elementary schools.
The new report on public school safety and discipline was based on a survey sent to a nationally representative sample of 1,600 schools in 2014. It asked schools to report on the frequency of specific discipline problems as well as on safety and discipline plans, practices and training.
The data show that security measures are becoming increasingly prevalent at schools, continuing a trend that began more than a decade ago following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings that killed 13 in Colorado.
The proportion of schools using surveillance cameras increased from 61 percent to 75 percent between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, while the proportion using an electronic system to notify parents of school emergencies increased from 63 percent to 82 percent.
And there also was a significant increase in the number of schools asking children to practice what they should do in case of a shooting on campus. Seventy percent of schools performed such drills last school year, up from 52 percent in 2009-2010. Suburban schools were more likely to drill for active shooters than urban or rural schools.
The prevalence of security personnel did not increase substantially: About 43 percent of schools reported having full- or part-time security personnel on campus at least once a week in both 2009-2010 and 2013-2014.
The proportion of schools that limit access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites remained virtually unchanged at 92 percent, but schools did become more lax about technology in one regard: 76 percent of schools banned the use of cellphones in 2013-2014, far fewer than in 2009-2010 (91 percent).
Nearly four in 10 schools reported that student bullying happens at least once a month, and 5 percent reported that student sexual harassment happens monthly. It’s difficult to compare those figures to previously published data, which showed the number of schools that reported such problems at least once a week.
Federal education officials cautioned that there are methodological differences between the last survey, in 2009-2010, and the new report, which could have influenced the results.
The earlier survey was conducted by the Census Bureau, and it was completed with pen and paper, for example, whereas the newly released data comes from a survey conducted online by contractors for the NCES.