To the Editor:
Patrick Mattimore’s Nov. 8, 2006, letter to the editor claiming that violent crimes in schools are neither increasing nor widespread cites multiple academic and federal sources supporting such an assertion.
The problem Mr. Mattimore and others fail to acknowledge, however, is that such claims of declining school violence over the past decade are based on federal and academic reports compiled from limited studies and surveys. They are not based on actual crimes committed at schools and reported to law enforcement.
There is no federal statute for reporting and tracking school crime in the United States. Unlike the U.S. Department of Justice, which collects federal data on crime in major cities, the U.S. Department of Education bases its reports on school crime on a handful of limited research studies and surveys. To claim that school violence has dramatically decreased over the past decade is as irresponsible as claiming that murders are occurring in school hallways every day.
Federal and academic-study statistics grossly underestimate the extent of school violence. Public and media perceptions tend to overstate it. Reality exists somewhere in between, but the failure to track real crimes instead of surveys means we are nowhere close to reality in defining the problem.
The federal government’s “best guesstimate” approach needs to be replaced with consistent tracking of crimes occurring at schools. Flawed policy and funding decisions are a direct result of this poor data.
We cannot change the climate until we change the conversation. The first step must be to change the quality and type of data used to discuss school violence.
Kenneth S. Trump
National School Safety and
A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2006 edition of Education Week as School Crime Data Are Inadequately Tabulated