Study finds steep decline in day-to-day violence in California schools

18 years of data points to increased safety overall, even as mass shootings have continued nationally

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs | April 5, 2023
Mass shootings at U.S. schools continue to make headlines, terrifying students, parents, educators and communities.

But new research shows that during the two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a steep and steady reduction in serious forms of violence, including bullying and weapon-related behaviors, in California’s middle schools and high schools.

The overall improvement in campus climate is welcome news for families concerned about sending their children to a safe environment, and it suggests that eruptions of gun violence should be treated as a separate social and psychological phenomenon, said UCLA scholar Ron Avi Astor, co-author of the the study, which was published in the World Journal of Pediatrics.

“Each school shooting is a devastating act that terrorizes the nation, and there is a growing sense in the public that little has changed in two decades to make schools safe,” Astor said. “But mass shootings are just one part of this story. Overall, on a day-to-day basis for most students, American schools are safer than they’ve been for many decades.”

Astor is a professor of social welfare and education at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Using data from the confidential California Healthy Kids Survey, he and co-authors from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University analyzed responses from more than 6 million middle school and high school students from 2001 to 2019.

“During the 18-year period examined, California secondary schools had massive reductions in all forms of victimization,” including physical threats with or without weapons, verbal and psychological abuse, and property offenses, the authors wrote.

Read the full news release on the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website.

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