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Researchers Argue for New Approach to School Safety

A group of researchers make a pitch for a broader, more integrated, and more evidence-based approach to conquering school violence problems in the February issue of Educational Researcher.

"School violence is not a single problem with a single solution," said Matthew J. Mayer, the Rutgers University professor who helped guest-edit the special issue, which features contributions from scholars from eight disciplines. "We all work with similar youths but sometimes we've operated from within our own silos."

At a forum held on Capitol Hill last week to publicize the issue, the researchers argued that, instead of initiating zero-tolerance policies and suspending students, schools ought to think more broadly about ways to improve school safety and discipline.

Among some of their other points, the scholars said:


  • Although school violence is an important concern, its levels have actually declined since the 1990s;

  • Bullying, which is pervasive, can cause long-term psychological harm to children;

  • To prevent bullying, schools need more effective prevention programs and climate assessments that take a pulse of the day-to-day incivility that occurs within schools;

  • School suspensions foster a downward spiral of academic failure, disengagement, and antisocial behaviors in problem students, and they disproportionately affect students from traditionally disadvantaged minority groups; and

  • Research evidence supports newer schoolwide approaches to improving school discipline by teaching students positive behaviors and helping them learn how to recognize and manage their own emotions.

You can read the full text of the articles, as well as the PowerPoint slides from the April 8 event, on the Web site of the American Educational Research Association, which publishes the journal.

The Capitol Hill location for last week's briefing was not coincidental, by the way: The Youth PROMISE Act, a bill proposed by U.S. Representative Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, a Virginia Democrat, also argues for using similar sorts of research-based approaches to curbing crime and gang violence.

"If we can take evidence-based approaches," Scott told the gathering, "we are much more like to reduce crime and save our children than we are today."

Who said politicians never listen to researchers?

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