U.Va.-Led Virginia High School Safety Study Creates One-Page Reports to Aid Schools

December 8, 2008 — Should Virginia high schools "Be Strict or Be Supportive"? "How Should Schools Respond to Student Threats of Violence?" "How Much Teacher Victimization Occurs in Virginia High Schools?"

Those are the titles of three one-page reports issued by researchers at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education who are assessing data collected as part of the Virginia High School Safety Study.

This spring, the researchers released their first findings. U.Va. professors Dewey Cornell, Anne Gregory, Xitao Fan and Peter Sheras reported that conditions in Virginia high schools are generally safe and that serious acts of violence are rare.

The research team has continued its analysis of the data — collected from 7,400 students and 2,900 teachers in 296 Virginia high schools — and has now launched the series of one-page reports to make its findings more accessible.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to identify effective practices that will help Virginia high schools to be safe and supportive environments that improve student achievement and success, because of the unparalleled cooperation we received from Virginia high schools and the departments of Education and Criminal Justice Services," Cornell said.

In partnership with the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Center for School Safety of the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the first three reports were mailed this week to all superintendents, high school principals and "Safe and Drug-Free Schools" coordinators in Virginia.

Each report answers a separate question. "Be Strict or Be Supportive?" compares two competing strategies of school discipline and finds that schools that are both strict about rules and supportive of students had safer conditions, as indicated by lower levels of student victimization and bullying. The report reveals that zero-tolerance policies were not necessarily associated with safer schools. Instead, school staff members "should be authoritative rather than authoritarian."

The second report addresses the question, "How Should Schools Respond to Student Threats of Violence?" and found support for a model of student threat assessment previously developed in the Curry School.

The third report, "How Much Teacher Victimization Occurs in Virginia High Schools?" offers a summary of the frequency of acts against teachers ranging from being threatened with a weapon to being addressed by a student in a rude manner.

The reports are available online. More will be released in the coming year.
The Virginia High School Safety Study is the first comprehensive statewide examination of safety conditions in Virginia high schools that includes information from students, teachers and administrators. A press release on the first findings of the study is online.

— By Rebecca Arrington