He completely disregarded the student’s meaningful inquiry about student-teacher interactions, instead using the assembly as an opportunity to grandstand, “tough talk” and introduce an ill-conceived zero-tolerance policy. Such principals, who like to summon their inner Joe Clark, are well-intentioned and deserve our respect. However, many of their methods to create a secure environment for their students are ineffective and obscure learning priorities at the school.
Three years ago, CNN reported that a school security administrator for the U.S. Department of Education revealed that the Obama administration plans to create secure schools by improving overall education, getting children more involved in their studies and strengthening school communities. These changes will coincide with a decrease in spending for metal detectors and security personnel and an increase in school counseling services.
Over the past four years, I have conducted research that examines the influence of gangs, drugs and delinquency at school by analyzing the response patterns of tens of thousands of students who completed surveys for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. From the data, I have gained the following insights into effective strategies for educators, counselors and school administrators to cultivate an environment to eliminate school violence:
1. Elevating academic standards at the school is a strategy for reducing school violence. School administrators should regularly monitor the collective GPA of their schools, and devise strategies to cultivate the academic identity of their students.
2. Coping resources and multicultural training should be allocated to teachers who work in tough learning environments. My research suggests that black males in schools with more gang activity may be more likely to be falsely identified as gang members.
3. Schools should measure holistic qualities of their environment. Specifically, schools should measure their: ability to make students feel supported and respected; skill at creating forums for students to express themselves; and ability to critique students without making them feel bad about themselves. Incentives for teachers to become involved with students outside of the classroom, such as through clubs, sports and other activities, could also cultivate more cordial student-teacher relationships.
4. School administrators who find metal detectors and security officers necessary should examine whether these strategies increase insecurities among teachers and students. The wide racial gap that exists between students who pass through metal detectors when they enter school could be evidence of a larger problem of black and Latino students being treated with less deference than white students at school. All security measures should be implemented with compassion and respect. I talk more about this here.
5. School administrators should take specific measures to secure restrooms and routes to school, and determine whether any truancy or lack of participation in school activity is connected to threats of violence. My research suggests that school violence typically takes place in locations that are not monitored by teachers, such as restrooms. Also, since students most vulnerable to gang violence are more likely to walk to school, school administrators should build liaisons with the community, and work with surrounding neighbors to reduce violence outside of the school.
6. Policies should emphasize the role of extracurricular activities in reducing school violence and improving academic success. Students in schools with less gang activity are more likely to participate in extracurricular activity. Routinely, school administrators should survey students to gauge the overall percentage who are participating in spirit groups (for example, cheerleading or pep club); performing arts (for example, band, orchestra or drama); and/or academic clubs (for example, debate team, honor society, math club or computer club). If the percentage is low, specific strategies should be implemented to promote school activities.
Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is a tenured associate professor at Howard University, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education and contributing education editor for The Root. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.