The Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) school safety report on incidents involving kids age 5 to 18 shows crime went up slightly in 2011, but that it's been steadily declining since 1992.
This might come as a surprise in light of high profile school shootings.
Following the slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary, a lot of parents began fearing for their kids' safety. In the months after Sandy Hook, it seemed the media reported on schools being locked down because of threats every week.
In fact, there have been 31 school shootings since the 1999 tragedy at Colorado's Columbine High School. It's easy to understand why a lot of people think schools have gotten more dangerous.
"Terrible shootings give people the wrong impression about safety of our schools," University of Virginia education professor Dewey Cornell told us.
In reality, Cornell added, "Schools have been getting safer since the 1990s."
Indeed, the BJS report shows that there were 34 homicides in American schools in 1992-1993 — that number went down to 11 by the 2010-2011 school year.
The number of overall "victimizations" (theft, violent crime, and "serious violent crime") has gone down too. There were 4.2 million victimizations in 1992-1993 but only 1.2 million in 2010-2011.
What are schools doing to make their students so much safer? For one thing, the entire country has gotten safer. When school violence peaked in the early '90s, schools also got funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to prevent youth violence.
This funding gave America's schools money for violence prevention programs and for mental health services for students. Since 1999, 49 states have also passed anti-bullying laws.
"We've seen a huge movement in education to improve mental health services for children," Cornell says. "We have federal laws mandating special education services [and] a push towards recognizing the problem of bullying."
These efforts have all made schools safer. Ironically, the reaction of many schools to recent shootings could actually make schools less safe, according to Cornell. He fears that schools are putting resources into armed guards that should be going into mental health services for students.
"I'm concerned because I see schools that have had to make cutbacks in prevention measures," he said. "When we have a school shooting in Connecticut, those dollars get routed the wrong way."
[Thumbnail image provided by Reuters/Jim Young.]
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