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Educational Research Reports 2003
A Structural Analysis of School Violence and Disruption:
Implications for Creating Safer Schools

September 22
, 2003

The Study

School violence and disruption is a major concern of parents, students, educators, political leaders and others in the community. Yet, methods for gathering data on this topic vary considerably. Studies have found that “perceived” violence is consistently reported at higher levels than reported violent incidents. In this study, Professor Matthew Mayer and University of Maryland colleague Peter Leone analyzed data from the 1995 School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey to assess the relative contributions of (1) secure building strategies and (2) communicating social responsibility through understanding the school’s system of law to outcomes of disruption and violence in schools.

The Findings

Mayer and Leone studied 6,947 interviews from the school crime supplement, which was conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in conjunction with the National Center for Education Statistics and the Census Bureau. This survey interviewed public school students, ages 12-19, about topics that included school rules, personal experience with violence, accessibility of drugs and the fears they had of being victimized. Mayer and Leone then developed a model to measure possible relationships among measured variables relating to school violence and disruption. This research model suggested that a higher level of disorder is associated with, and may actually result from, more efforts to control school premises in highly restrictive manners that include, for example, using metal detectors, locked doors and security guards in schools. Alternatively, the model pointed out a possible cycle of disorder where the restrictive control of the premises and disorder demonstrate a reciprocal, destructive relationship. Mayer and Leone also found that where more disorder exits, students tend to engage in more acts of self-protection and live in a heightened state of fear. Most importantly, that data clearly showed that with greater student understanding of the system of law, less disruption exists. This finding underscored a critical need for schools to focus their efforts on communicating individual responsibility rather than control to establish the legitimacy of the school's system of law in the minds of students. Later analysis by Mayer, using the 1995 and 1999 SCS data, demonstrated very similar structural relationships among the variables, strengthening the finding that less violence and disorder was associated with increased student understanding of the school's system of law.


Mayer, M. & Leone, P. (1999). A structural analysis of school violence and disruption: Implications for creating safer schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 22(3), 333-56.

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