Tracking the Numbers
Is school violence on the rise?
Kenneth S. Trump, the outspoken president of the Cleveland consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, says he can look at the past school year and conclude yes.
Mr. Trump made headlines last month when his company released data pegging the number of school-related violent deaths in 2003-04 at 48—more than in the past two school years combined and the deadliest since before the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, according to Mr. Trump’s data.
William Modzeleski, the associate deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of safe and drug-free schools, called Mr. Trump’s tally “a good jumping-off point,” but he also dismissed the list as “basically a LexisNexis search.”
The federal government “has a very rigorous vetting process for getting these numbers—you can’t just pull these things off a newspaper stand,” Mr. Modzeleski said.
But the problem is that the 1998-99 school year is the most recent for which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education can offer final school-death tallies. After that, the agencies have released only preliminary figures up through the 2002-03 school year.
“There’s a lag because it’s a costly, time-consuming process if you want a good number,” Mr. Modzeleski said.
For instance, he pointed out that the government goes beyond newspaper accounts to official sources such as schools, police, and coroners. And it uses a narrow definition for school-related violence, he said, that some of Mr. Trump’s incidents wouldn’t meet—including at least 12 incidents that involved people over the age of 19.
Mr. Trump, however, contends that he uses the same definition for school-related crime as the federal government. He includes violence by or against students or anyone else that happens on school property, on the way to or from school, or while traveling to or attending a school-related event. He said his data are collected using multiple sources, including print and electronic news reports, professional contacts, and other national sources.
Still, his Web site includes a disclaimer that the school-death data are neither exhaustive nor scientific.
A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week