School Violence Worldwide Linked To Competitive Test Scores

A Penn State study shows a significant link between school violence on a global scale and educational inequality.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the United States is not the front-runner in school violence but places roughly in the middle of the international pack, says Dr. David P. Baker, professor of education and sociology. Despite keen media attention, outbreaks of mass violence such the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 are still comparatively rare. A far more pervasive problem is violence in the form of physical assaults, bullying and threats of violence, say the researchers.

National patterns of school violence have little or no co-relation with the amount of violence among adults in a country or social trends such as the rate of divorce. Instead, these patterns are strongly influenced by inequities in the educational systems that, in turn, create inequities in academic attainment. Regarding root causes, school violence must be considered a separate issue from juvenile delinquency, says Dr. Gerald K. LeTendre, associate professor of education.

“Our data indicates that an increase in the variation of achievement in math was associated with an increase in the percentage of students victimized by school violence,” Baker notes. “The more school systems produce a set of academic winners and losers, the more likely they are to create an atmosphere leading to in-school violence. This does not mean that nations should stop trying to raise scores, but they should be careful to raise the performance among all students. Persistent inequality in national resources produces both long-term and immediate problems for nations, the most pressing of which may be school violence.”

LeTendre and Baker are co-authors of the book, “National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling,” recently published by Stanford University Press. Chapter Six, “Safe Schools, Dangerous Nations: The Paradox of School Violence,” was written in collaboration with Dr. Motoko Akiba, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The researchers made extensive use of the Third International Study of Mathematics and Sciences (TIMSS), which in 1994 assembled a considerable amount of data from schools in 41 nations across the fourth, 8th and 12th grades. For some analyses, they employed figures from the TIMSS-99, an identical study carried out in 1999 with 50 nations.

According to TIMSS statistics, the United States is just about at the global average in terms of school violence, with student reports of victimization by other students being the highest in Hungary, Rumania, and the Philippines.

“Student reports of victimization are our best measure for looking at how much day-to-day violence occurs in classrooms, bathrooms, hallways, locker rooms and gyms. Even in countries with a peaceful image such as New Zealand and Canada, more students reported being the victim of violence than in the United States,” LeTendre says. “Although some American schools suffer from extreme violence, most U.S. schools appear to have less violence than is found in Korea, Spain or Australia, at least from the viewpoint of the students themselves.”

If a country is serious about reducing rates of school violence, it has to commit itself to improving the quality and the equality of its schools, says Baker.

“A nation cannot rely on drastic punishment of violent students with so-called `zero tolerance’ policies alone,” LeTendre adds. “If policy makers want schools to be a safe and productive place for students to study, they need to provide higher quality instruction and more equitable distribution of opportunities to learn, not just more metal detectors.”

From Penn State

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