Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
School Climate & Safety Commentary

What Domestic-Violence Prevention Can Teach Schools

By Alice Gallen — July 26, 2012 4 min read

When “Tara” dropped out of high school to have her baby, few of us were truly shocked. All of her teachers had seen the warning signs along the way: her troubled home environment, her slipping grades, her physical changes, and, of course, the increasing teasing she endured. We could see with 20/20 hindsight the road that led to that day.

It was so easy in retrospect to diagnose what went wrong, but surely there could have been a way to avoid this, we reasoned. While Tara was far down her path toward dropping out when she became my geometry student, the symptoms must have been there in middle school or even earlier.

As I looked back at the students we lost—to juvenile detention, pregnancy, or simple academic failure—I couldn’t help but wonder if we were missing something. There had to be some kind of tool to help figure out whether students were on track for dropping out before they were at imminent risk.

It turned out there was a model for that kind of risk prediction. But it was in the most unlikely of places.

Right now, we’re relying on teachers and parents to observe, analyze, and make decisions, but we're not giving them the tools to go beyond anecdotes and bias."

Five years ago, authorities in Maryland were facing a very different issue, with homicides related to domestic violence. Women who had been repeat victims of domestic violence were all too frequently being murdered by their partners, and police were at a loss for how to stop it. Police officers simply couldn’t tell which cases were more likely to turn deadly. They had an equally hard time understanding why so few of the women who called them—a paltry one in 25—decided to go to a shelter, despite the fact that it improved their survival odds by 60 percent.

In 2007, the state was graced with a solution that seemed almost too simple. Jacquelyn Campbell, an advocate for reducing domestic violence, and a team of researchers had combed through mountains of domestic-violence data and found a small number of key indicators that dramatically increased the likelihood of domestic homicides.

The team developed a simple list of 11 questions for police officers to ask at the scene of any domestic dispute, a “domestic violence indicator.” Answering yes to any one of the first three indicator questions (the most important predictors), or any four of the remaining eight questions, automatically placed a woman in a high-risk group for potential homicide. Police officers were then instructed to give the woman a verbal assessment explaining her risk and connect her to the nearest shelter by handing her a police phone (so the number could not be tracked). If she chose not to accept the help or stay at a shelter at that point, that was up to her.

What kind of impact has this simple indicator assessment had? Despite near-flat rates of domestic-violence homicides nationwide, Maryland has reduced the incidence of such homicides by nearly 40 percent over the last five years.

There’s a lesson in the success of Campbell’s team that could have helped Tara—and could still help millions of students like her.

Students often exhibit signs very early on that they are disengaging from learning, but the biggest barrier to spotting those signs is that teachers, parents, and others can’t tell what is part of the normal growth process and what’s a symptom of something more serious. Much like with the domestic-abuse victims in Maryland, however, a select number of leading indicators can predict whether a student is likely to have a problem in school further down the line. And there’s likely a similar solution to be found in a simple assessment for students.

We need clear steps that parents and teachers can take when they identify high-risk indicators in a student."

By developing a set of questions based on key indicators (many of which have already been widely researched and published), we can equip teachers, parents, and others to assess the likelihood that a student is going to become disengaged and to help solve problems before they become intractable. We would know whether a particular kind of behavior is likely an act of harmless youth rebellion or part of a serious trend toward more dire and harmful behaviors down the line.

And similar to the Maryland model, asking the questions and assessing the risks aren’t enough. We need clear steps that parents and teachers can take when they identify high-risk indicators in a student. Many of those actions likely exist already—efforts such as tutoring programs, after-school activities, support groups, and even alternative education paths—but the challenge lies in linking the right students to the right opportunities when it will make the biggest difference.

Right now, we’re relying on teachers and parents to observe, analyze, and make decisions, but we’re not giving them the tools to go beyond anecdotes and bias. Relying primarily on the professional judgment of adults in the school system is unfair, both to the adults and the students, particularly when they often have access only to fragmented and partial information about students.

spotlight dropout

If by implementing systemwide indicator-assessments we could see even half the impact on education engagement as Maryland has seen in its domestic-homicide rates, we would effectively prevent a quarter of a million students annually from dropping out of school. And we would help keep scores more from disconnecting with education in less obvious and detrimental ways.

Disengaged students don’t need to fall through the cracks. But changing their fate requires us to approach dropping out like the systemic and measurable problem it is—and facing it with a systemic and measurable solution. I know it would have made a world of difference to Tara.

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as What Education Can Learn From Domestic-Violence Prevention

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Director of Athletics
Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington Public Schools

Read Next

School Climate & Safety When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here's What Educators Can Do
Papering over legitimate, negative feelings with phrases like "look on the bright side" can be harmful for teachers and students.
6 min read
Image shows the Mr. Yuck emoji with his tongue out in response to bubbles of positive sayings all around him.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Ingram Publishing/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Teaching's 'New Normal'? There's Nothing Normal About the Constant Threat of Death
As the bizarre becomes ordinary, don't forget what's at stake for America's teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Justin Minkel.
4 min read
14Minkel IMG
Gremlin/E+
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor Invisibility to Inclusivity for LGBTQ Students
To the Editor:
I read with interest “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate” (Special Report: “Getting School Climate Right: A Guide for Principals,” Oct. 14, 2020). The EdWeek Research Center survey of principals and teachers provides interesting insight as to why there are still school climate issues for LGBTQ students.
1 min read
School Climate & Safety As Election 2020 Grinds On, Young Voters Stay Hooked
In states like Georgia, the push to empower the youth vote comes to fruition at a time when “every vote counts” is more than just a slogan.
6 min read
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Brynn Anderson/AP