Study examines school violence

Wednesday, January 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Every year, research is done on school violence, but a new MU comparative study discovered that schools might not be focusing on the correct risk factors.

Motoko Akiba, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at MU, recently completed a study that suggests in the United States higher- achieving male students tend to be the victims of school violence. But in other countries, lower-achieving males are more likely to be targeted. Akiba sampled 7,913 eighth-graders from the United States, 5,695 eighth-graders from Taiwan and 4,110 eighth-graders from Russia.

The study points to inequalities of the U.S. school system as creating a higher risk of school violence.

“We found that schools, which do not provide equal learning opportunities, have higher rates of school violence victimization,” Akiba said. “They may have been placed in a lower academic tracking. They may see that those students don’t get enough attention from teachers, and that kind of inequality may be related to this pattern of low-achievers targeting high-achievers.”

Academic tracking is a school policy that places students’ different courses of study according to the students’ level of academic achievement. More than 30 percent of U.S. schools still use academic tracking for eighth-graders.

Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent of the Columbia School District, said that academic tracking has fallen out of favor.

“Students are grouped at random according to the teacher that will suit their specific needs,” Cowherd said. “We try to keep all the kids going in the same direction and do the best for each individual.”

Based on her study, Akiba’s recommendation for making American schools safer is to create equal opportunity for students regardless of economic status, gender, race or achievement.

“The teachers’ perception of the students’ ability is very important,” Akiba said.

Teachers having a higher expectation of all students would improve equality at schools in the United States, and schools should not use academic tracking programs, Akiba said. Also, schools can provide cultural and diversity training for the teachers and staff.

Anne Cook, a counselor at Derby Ridge Elementary, said her school makes an effort to create an atmosphere of equality.

“A big part of Derby Ridge is creating a sense of community,” Cook said. “Community involves respecting each other’s differences and their strengths and weaknesses. We try to build and reinforce a strong self-worth.”

Akiba said more studies are needed to understand student violence and victimization.

“Many of the studies available are in the field of psychology and other fields that mainly focus on student characteristics, but they don’t look at how the teachers behave or what kind of school characteristics lead to students becoming violent,” Akiba said.

Akiba’s research also shows that the United States does not have the highest rate of school violence. Out of 251,893 seventh- and eighth-grade students from 36 nations studied, Akiba found the United States was almost directly in the middle of the spectrum. The nation with the lowest rate of school violence was Denmark and the highest was Hungary.

The study also points to parental involvement as a factor related to school violence. Schools that expect more parental involvement had lower rates of violence.

“I think it’s always important that parents be involved with their children, but I think there are lots of reasons why children become violent or can become violent,” Cook said. “It is hard for me to make generalizations.”

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