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Finding schools' danger zones

Studies on school violence usually focus on children and what can cause them to act violently.

But three studies from researchers at the University of Michigan look at ways schools themselves may contribute to violent behavior.

The researchers went to five high schools and seven middle and elementary schools, all in the Midwest, to find out where students and teachers thought most of their schools' violence takes place and what is done and should be done about it.

Ron Astor, an assistant professor of social work, and doctoral students Heather Meyer, Ronald Pitner, and William Behre conducted the studies.

The research offers a different approach to dealing with school violence, Mr. Astor says.

"With these studies, we targeted a context rather than a type of kid, which is less stigmatizing," he says. "We were trying to get schools to address a simpler problem like: What do we do in those 10 minutes during the day in the halls where most of our fights occur?"

The first of the studies asked focus groups of students to look at maps of their school and point out areas where they felt violence occurred.

Students, teachers, and administrators were asked about their roles and responsibilities, and about steps that need to be taken when violent acts occur in schools.

Of 166 reported acts of violence at the high schools studied, all occurred in locations where few or no adults were present. About 40 percent of the incidents took place in hallways between class periods, while another 20 percent happened in cafeterias during lunch time. Other problem areas were gyms, auditoriums, and parking lots.

Teachers in the study expressed reluctance to take on responsibility for intervention in areas of the school outside their classrooms for a multitude of reasons, from high pupil-teacher ratios to how the schools are organized.

A second study dealt with middle school and elementary educators, and a third study looked at students in those schools. The research found different perceptions about the common areas in those schools when compared with high schools. Unlike high school teachers, for example, elementary teachers consider hallways and cafeterias as spaces they are in charge of.

After having 400 students in grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 map dangerous public areas in their schools, the researchers also found that middle school students identified more dangerous areas in their schools than elementary-age children.

The researchers examined differences between students in grade 6 who were part of an elementary school and those who were in middle school, finding that those in middle schools identified more areas as dangerous. Elementary teachers in the study expressed a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for spaces outside the classroom than middle school teachers did.

The study on high schools is published in the spring issue of the American Educational Research Journal. The other studies are available through Mr. Astor at 1080 South University, School of Social Work, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1106.

Private school autonomy

An analysis of educational policies in 22 nations suggests that, in many countries, private schools give up some of their autonomy when they accept government-funded subsidies.

John F. Jennings

"There's a lesson here for American private schools: Control follows money," says John F. Jennings, the director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, which released the report last month. "If states pass vouchers, they'll have to find some way to hold private schools accountable for tax dollars."

The report, researched and written by consultant Nancy Kober, analyzed private school policies and practices in most European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The degree of government control over private schools is greatest, the study concludes, in countries that heavily subsidize private and religious schools.

In Germany, Ireland, and Portugal, for example, private schools must adhere to government course syllabi. In Austria and France, teachers in certain subsidized private schools are even selected by the government, with some input from the private school. And private school students in most of the nations studied must pass national exams before they move on to certain grade levels or receive a diploma.

"Although the U.S. begins with a lower level of private school regulation than many other countries," the report concludes, "our current baseline of regulations sets a precedent for government involvement that could be expanded if a perceived need arose." The full text of the report is available online at: (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

-- Candice Furlan & Debra Viadero

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Pages 33-38

Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Research Notes
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