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Preventing Another Columbine:

Curbing School Violence


Q. The Columbine massacre in 1999, and the school shooting that killed 10 people in Red Lake, Minn., in 2005, were horrible. There are so many examples of unpredictable, random school violence. What is to be done to sharply curtail violence in our public schools?


It's not necessary to turn our schools into stalags and buy a lot of high-tech security equipment. Smaller schools appear to be the answer.


Closer relationships between students and the adults who work in schools are stronger defenses against the alienation - "feeling like a number, that nobody cares" - that may be at the root of these violent episodes.


According to education writer David W. Kirkpatrick, serious incidents of violence are rare in small public schools and in private schools. They also have not happened in charter schools, magnet schools and other schools where staff members and students are there by choice of school assignment.


Kirkpatrick said large schools are associated with alienation and distress. Smaller student populations, in a setting where students and staff have chosen to be, tend to make students feel more emotionally stable.


Kirkpatrick lists these facts about school violence:


-- In 1996, one student in four said violence was a problem at their school, and nearly half of the nation's students reported they were afraid to use school restrooms.


-- In 1998, nearly 1,500 youngsters under 18 were arrested for murder or manslaughter.  While most of these occurred off school grounds, they demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. When the listing of crimes is broadened to include rape, theft, and other serious crimes, in that year 2,700,000 students ages 12-18 were victimized in school.


-- On November 9, 2003, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, in the previous school year, the Philadelphia school district "recorded 7,229 serious incidents, of which 976 were weapons violations."  That's 40 incidents per school day in one district.


-- According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, more than one of every 20 high school students skipped at least one day of school because of safety concerns in 2003. One in 11 students surveyed in 2003 said they were threatened with or injured by a weapon on school property within the last year." ("Fearful teens skipping school," (AP), p. A8, Reading Eagle, Reading, PA, July 30, 2004)


How can parents and taxpayers go about convincing their school boards to keep their schools small, and is that cost-effective? The last thing that makes sense is to build a whole new high school - doubling your district's fixed costs.


Instead, you can make a very good case for innovative cost-saving ideas that take advantage of technology and the way students want to learn today: engaged in their communities.


You might want to look in to hybrid schools, in which high-school students attend school part of the day for their core graduation requirements such as English, math, science and history, but then they go offsite for more learning in their interest areas - the arts, business, culinary arts, and so forth - staffed by private-sector adults who aren't necessarily certified teachers but have subject-matter expertise.


Another option for the out-of-school half-day would be to engage in online learning at home supervised by parents, or work in small groups on a co-op basis with a mentor whose salary is paid by the parents.


For the second half of the school day, students who were engaged in those more innovative styles of learning would come to the high school building for their half-day onsite after their peers moved out for their community-based educational experiences.


In this way, you can take a huge high school and cut the student population in half on any given day - plus you could reduce staff and class sizes, with a concomitant reduction in school spending.

Homework: David W. Kirkpatrick is one of the best education writers in the country. Follow his work on


By Susan Darst Williams School Management 09 2008




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