Are Schools Safer Ten Years After the Columbine Shootings?

April 20, 2009

SEATTLE—This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. Have all the reports, studies, and extra security measures made our schools safer? Have we learned anything?

“Yes and no,” answers Joan Cole Duffell, executive director of Committee for Children, a Seattle-based nonprofit that experienced a “huge surge” of interest after the shootings and is still working to teach children the skills they need to stay free of violence, bullying, and abuse.

“We still have much work to do, and that work goes beyond metal detectors and police response plans. It starts with prevention: teaching children, from preschool on up, the social and emotional skills they need to get along and be safe. These skills include the ability to feel and show empathy for others, manage their emotions, solve problems, and handle their anger,” she said.

“After Columbine, schools wanted to implement violence prevention programs, but they didn’t want to take time away from academics. For them, it was almost an impossible choice. The good news is that research shows that schools don't need to choose between preventing problem behaviors and promoting school success.”

In fact, a recent review of the research by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) found that students who participate in school-based programs focused on social-emotional learning profit in multiple ways. 

“The research demonstrates that students who participate in social and emotional learning programs improve on test scores and grades and become more attached to school,” observes Dr. Roger Weissberg, CASEL President and Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Social and emotional learning can help achieve the academic goals everyone’s looking for and provide youth the skills they need to do well interpersonally and in larger social contexts. Further, we find less disruptive behavior and emotional distress—factors that can contribute to incidents of school violence. That’s a pretty compelling combination of success factors for our kids.”

Citing current statistics, Committee for Children’s Duffell added, “Student bullying is the most frequently reported discipline problem at school—even higher than gang activity. Since bullying has been connected in too many cases to violent acts, this statistic is sobering. The hopeful news is that schools are starting to teach students skills to respond to it while promoting school success.”  

About Committee for Children: This 30-year-old Seattle-based nonprofit, develops award-winning, research-based social-emotional learning curricula for kids in preschool through eighth grade. Their Second Step program has reached more than 9 million children in schools around the world.

About CASEL: A Chicago-based nonprofit, CASEL works to advance the science- and evidence-based practice of social-emotional learning, publishes reviews of what works in social-emotional learning, and works closely with educational leaders to put research and theory to the test in real-world settings. To learn more, go to www.CASEL.org.