The Role of Technology in Improving School Safety

Research Questions

  1. What does violence in schools look like? In other words, what are the problems we need to solve?
  2. What are the categories of school safety technologies and is there evidence of their effectiveness?
  3. What do experts think are the most important improvements that can be made to technologies to address the most severe and the most frequent forms of school violence?

Violence in schools negatively affects children’s future life outcomes and the culture and performance of the school. For these reasons, promoting school safety is a national priority for many federal agencies, including the National Institute of Justice. This report focuses on school safety technologies as one among many approaches to prevent and respond to school violence. In the report, the authors summarize existing research on school violence, categorize school safety technologies and describe the available research about them, present six case studies of innovative technologies as used in schools, summarize experts’ views of technologies and safety problems based on interviews, and present experts’ rankings of technology needs to improve school safety produced during two day-long panels. These activities revealed that some of the most pressing safety needs that technology could address relate to (1) enabling two-way communication between teachers and emergency responders; (2) “all-in-one” applications that would integrate currently fragmented and outdated school safety policies, procedures, and training for school staff and parents; (3) advances in social media monitoring; and (4) improved tip lines to make them more robust and effective. Results should be of interest to organizations and individuals involved with K–12 school technology planning, research funding, and product development.

Key Findings

Violence in Schools Is Not Uncommon

  • In the 2009–10 school year, 74 percent of public schools recorded at least one incident of violence, including serious violence, fights, physical attacks, and threats.

Many Factors Affect the Likelihood of Violence Occurring in a School

  • School climate is one element that affects the likelihood of violence occurring in a school. Also, violence is more common in places with the least adult supervision, such as hallways, bathrooms, and stairwells. Males are more likely than females to be victims, as are Hispanic and black students. Other important factors include student behavior and activities, such as substance abuse, mental health symptoms, belief in violence, school misbehavior, and prior exposure to violence.

The Authors Identify 12 Types of School Safety Technologies

  • The technologies identified include employing entry control equipment, ID technology, video surveillance, and school-site alarm and protection systems. Other technologies identified were metal detectors and X-ray machines, anonymous tip lines, tracking systems, mapping schools and bus routes, using violence prediction technology, and social media monitoring.

Recommendation

The authors identify several areas with the potential for improving safety in U.S. schools. These include investments in communication strategies, comprehensive school safety plans, improved tip lines, and improved upkeep of technology. Schools need better information on what works; technology developers should test their technology solutions in real-world settings; and schools should develop an all-hazards safety plan, examine the underlying psychological and social problems that lead to school violence, make sure that the technology being considered will integrate with the school’s current system, and identify the school’s needs, budget, and community values before selecting a technology.

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