Accurate Safety Data: First Step in Prevention
To the Editor:
Ron Avi Astor and Rami Benbenishty are right on target with their recognition of the key role improved data collection would have in the movement toward safer schools ("Zero Tolerance For Zero Knowledge," Commentary, July 27, 2005). They also hit the bull’s-eye in noting the flaws of the “persistently dangerous school” component of the No Child Left Behind Act. Their call for greater awareness of accurate school violence data in the broader school community is also a solid recommendation.
Unfortunately, their overall well-stated message conflicts with their opening assertion that there have been “historic reductions” nationally in school violence. If the authors’ overall premise is that school violence data are inadequate, how can we really know if there is a legitimate decline in school crime? Wouldn’t such federal assertions have been generated from limited and questionable school violence data?
Most experienced school safety professionals and educators who are honest will readily admit that federal statistics grossly underestimate the extent of school violence. There is no mandatory federal reporting and tracking law that provides uniform school crime data. Recent national surveys of school-based police officers have also repeatedly found that between 80 percent and 90 percent of officers indicate that school crime nationwide is underreported to law enforcement.
Assertions by federal agencies of dramatic school violence declines are based on limited academic research studies, instead of on uniform national reporting of actual criminal incidents at schools. Such claims continue to mislead educators, parents, and the broader community about the real extent of school crime.
As long as academics, politicians, and even some practitioners continue to perpetuate this faulty assertion that school crime has somehow dramatically declined, we will never reach the most rudimentary step of establishing precise baseline school violence reporting mechanisms.
How then can we solve a problem that we cannot even accurately identify?
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