It's hard to go a day without seeing news
of violence in some form occurring in schools around the country, and Chicago
is often cited as a city where crime rates in schools are particularly high. In
a new study in the current issue of Sociology of Education, Brown University
sociologist Julia Burdick-Will looked at the effect such violence has on school
achievement among Chicago high school students. She found that while violent
crime has a negative impact on standardised test scores, it doesn't have the
same effect on grades.
"It seems obvious that having fights
in schools is not a good thing for achievement, but it's a really difficult
thing to show," said Burdick-Will, a post-doctoral research associate in
the Population Studies and Training Centre at Brown University, whose study is
titled "School Violent Crime and Academic Achievement in Chicago."
Employing detailed crime data from the
Chicago Police Department, administrative records from Chicago Public Schools,
and school climate surveys conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School
Research from 2002 to 2010, Burdick-Will compared fluctuations in year-to-year
violent crime rates with changes in both student standardised test scores and
annual grade point averages.
Students are distracted
She found that violent crime in schools
adversely affects reading and math scores on standardised tests, but has no
influence on GPAs.
Burdick-Will said the results suggest that
violent crime rates affect the amount of material learned by the entire student
body, but not the study skills or effort of individual students. GPAs, she
points out, not only reflect learning, but also student behaviour and standing
within the classroom. Test scores are a more objective measure of content
knowledge and performance on a given day.
"So you would expect that if what's
really going on is students are distracted and not learning as much and also
not able to perform as well on the day of the test that it would affect their
test scores," Burdick-Will said. "But it wouldn't necessarily affect
how much homework they've turned in over the course of the year. You're still
going to have that kid who is really eager; he or she is just not going to know
Perception of safety relatively unchanged
The study also reveals that students'
perceptions of safety go relatively unchanged, even in years when violent crime
rates are low. One explanation may be that the research only looks at reported
crimes that involved police intervention. There could be many more incidents,
such as shoving in the hallway and verbal altercations, that go unreported but
still have an effect on students' sense of well-being.
While annual violent crime rates generally
fluctuated significantly at individual schools during the eight-year study
period, Burdick-Will found that the average violent crime rate for all high
schools in the district combined changed very little over the study period. The
paper also notes that a few high schools each year accounted for the large
majority of violent crimes in the whole district.
Burdick-Will thinks her research
demonstrates the need for policy changes that consider education and crime
rates together and take into account the "collateral damage" that
crime and violence have on multiple sectors of society.
"In an age of increasing school
accountability and shrinking public budgets, it is important to understand how
policies that on the surface only affect one social sphere, such as policing
strategies, have larger consequences for other social institutions, including
schools, in ways that have lasting impacts on individual life chances and
national levels of inequality," Burdick-Will said.
Picture: Violence from Shutterstock