Dive Brief:

  • Upticks in school violence increase the likelihood of elementary students transferring schools, according to a study published this week in American Educational Research Journal.
  • Researchers, who studied six years of data from Baltimore City public elementary school students, found those who are not on free or reduced-price meal programs or live in safer neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to exit when compared to the average student. 
  • Students from the most violent neighborhoods are the least likely to transfer. A doubling of school crime rates, which is possible with just a few incidents, leads to a less than 2% increase in the odds of transfer for that student subgroup. These findings suggest school violent crime is something that could push out the most advantaged students, the authors say.  

Dive Insight:

The researchers also warn that school violence levels, and types of crimes, shift from year-to-year. 

“Some students may leave one school because they experienced violence for another that they think is safer, only to find that in the next year their new school experiences more violence than expected,” Julia Burdick-Will, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology and education at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. “In this case, students might be inclined to move again in the following year, leading to even more instability in their academic trajectories.”

In addition, the study’s authors said students are more sensitive to violence on school grounds or in the area immediately surrounding the school, rather than neighborhood violence.

“This means that creating a safe school environment could reduce violence-related transfers even in a larger neighborhood with high crime rates,” Burdick-Will said. “By focusing on providing a safe zone immediately around a school, administrators and policymakers can potentially increase stability in enrollment patterns at the district level.”

Previous studies have shown Black students are more likely to change schools than White students with similar backgrounds. The Baltimore study shows even more advantaged students of color are exposed to higher levels of violence, which the authors say is a “source of instability in these students’ lives,” than White students. 

Student turnover has been linked with lower student performance, can inhibit a positive school climate, and can influence school funding — all things that have been top of mind for administrators as they return from a school year interrupted by COVID-19.

But recent conversations over school safety have been controversial. The police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans led some districts to reconsider their relationships with local police departments and school resource officers. Those in favor of removing SROs from buildings emphasized investing in mental health personnel and programs instead, while those in favor of SROs, including the National Association of School Resource Officers, say the right training can improve school safety and climate. 

The latter is something also on President-elect Joe Biden’s radar. The Biden campaign’s national policy director, Stef Feldman, recently said SROs should receive proper training to work around and with students. Feldman also said Biden would push to double the number of mental health professionals in schools, invest in grants encouraging states to adopt evidence-based policy solutions around SEL, and strengthen community schools.

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