Zero tolerance, security programs not supported by evidence
EDITORS: Professor Russell Skiba is an expert on school safety and discipline and can provide insights into the effectiveness of school anti-bullying programs, which the Indiana legislature is considering mandating statewide. Other states are considering similar approaches. Skiba directs the Safe and Responsive Schools Project at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University Bloomington. He has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and coauthored the federal response to school shootings, “Early Warning Timely Response.” He can be reached at 812-855-5549.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Anti-bullying legislation being considered in Indiana closely reflects researchers’ best knowledge about violence prevention in schools, says Russell Skiba, director of the Safe and Responsive Schools Project in the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University Bloomington.
There is little to no evidence that zero tolerance and school security measures have had “any impact whatsoever” on school safety, according to CEEP reports
(http://www.indiana.edu/~safeschl/zero.html). In fact, research conducted at the University of Maryland has found a negative association between the use of school security measures and student and teacher perceptions of school safety.
“It is extremely important that we stick to the facts in offering schools information about violence prevention,” Skiba said. “Our learning curve on the prevention of school violence has been extremely steep since Columbine.”
Rigorous evaluations of school violence prevention programs commissioned by Congress, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, and the U.S. Surgeon General have all found prevention of bullying to be among the most effective programs for reducing school violence. Research has demonstrated that these school-wide efforts have reduced incidents of bullying and diminished fighting by up to 50 percent. These findings contradict recent statements criticizing legislative interest in school-wide bullying programs as merely “feel good” measures and unwarranted.
Skiba described a focus on zero tolerance and school security measures as misplaced and misleading.
“In the period after Columbine, we responded out of fear and often moved too quickly to put reactive measures in place,” he said.
Bullying has been shown to be a serious threat to school safety with potentially deadly repercussions, he pointed out. Studies have found a host of negative outcomes for both bullies and their victims, ranging from school refusal and depression to suicide and physical violence.
“When the Secret Service, in the most comprehensive analysis of school shootings to date, finds that 71 percent of the perpetrators viewed their acts as retribution for bullying by their classmates, we had better take that seriously,” Skiba said.
To review a nationally recognized bullying prevention program, visit http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/safeschools/bullying/overview.html.