In a recent study, author Kenneth Alonzo Anderson of Howard University investigated the effectiveness of the grant program associated with North Carolina’s Senate Bill 402, Section 8.36. Through his research, he came up with four lessons on initiating successful school safety policies and practices.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction described the SRO policy as a chance for “Students [to] gain trust in law enforcement by interacting positively with their school’s SRO, and SROs provide both a deterrent to violence and a first response to events if they should occur.”
In his study, “Policing and Middle School: An Evaluation of a Statewide School Resource Officer Policy,” Anderson compared disciplinary acts of 460 middle schoolers over a seven-year period, both before and after the program was implemented.
He concluded that increased interactions between SROs and students were not related to feelings of safety at school. Rather, it was their experiences at school that better-predicted feelings of safety.
The study found that males, students who have strong affiliations with schools and students who had positive attitudes towards SROs reported feeling safer in school. In comparison, females, African American students and students who experienced school violence such as fights or bullying, reported feeling less safe at school, despite having an SRO on campus.
Based on the study, Anderson learned four lessons about initiating school safety policies:
Increasing Investments in SROs ≠ Safer School
When comparing schools that received additional funding for SROs and the ones that did not, Anderson found no relationships between additional dollars received and reductions in the 16 disciplinary acts that must be reported to the state.
Those disciplinary acts include assault, homicide, bomb threats, possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons and more.
The National Association of School Resouce Officers report said that it is “difficult to inventory all that an SRO can do for a campus and its surrounding community.”
Anderson believes it is important to consider that while you can’t quantify the cost of saving lives, increasing the number of SROs in a school can have negative effects on students, like racial disparities in arrests.
School Characteristics Don’t Fully Explain Differences in Disciplinary Outcomes
In his study, Anderson used a technique called multi-level modeling that helped isolate how much variation in disciplinary acts can be explained by differences in schools versus non-school based factors.
In schools that reported at least one disciplinary act, approximately 15% of the differences in disciplinary outcomes can be explained by differences in school-based characteristics. Therefore, approximately 85% of the differences in disciplinary acts by school were explained by non-school factors.
This means, even when SROs do their jobs perfectly, there are still outliers that can contribute to school safety issues.
School Size and Academic Achievement Heavily Influence School Safety
According to the study, the 16 disciplinary acts did improve in North Carolina, but the improvements were not related to increased SRO funding.
Anderson found that if school enrollment increased, the disciplinary acts would increase as well.
On the other hand, the study also predicted that if grade-level proficiency increased, the disciplinary acts would decrease.
Therefore, investments outside of SROs, like strategies to improve learning could accomplish great school safety outcomes.
Race is a Poor Predictor of School Safety; Reporting Practices Need Improvement
In the study, Anderson evaluated grade-level proficiency indicators and racial composition of schools. He found that racial composition of schools is not an affirmative predictor of school safety.
When reporting disciplinary data based on race without considering other factors, race may appear to be a stronger influence than it really is.
Anderson suggests that future reports should disaggregate safety outcomes by achievement levels and school size as well as compare disciplinary acts between high- and low-achieving students across race and gender.
By doing this, the focus will be on schools and education and their relationship to discipline outcomes, rather than just race and gender.
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