Upgrade Anti-Violence Programs, Experts Say

Bill Alexander
September 1, 1998

Most Get C’s and D’s, But New Guidelines Are Out to Help

School violence, says National Association of School Psychologist’s (NASP) President-elect Kevin Dwyer, is a community problem that happened to get through the schoolhouse door. “Don’t call the [school] superintendent,” he says. “Call 911 first.”
As if to buttress Dwyer’s point, a study released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that roughly one out of five teenagers carries a gun, knife, or club every day — before, during, or after school.

Dwyer is smack in the middle of the debate over what to do about the problem: in the aftermath of a rash of school shootings this year, President Clinton ordered the departments of Education and Justice to come up with a manual on the early detection of youth violence. Dwyer was named “principal investigator” in early July — and the manual is to be available on the September opening day of every school district in the country.

“We’ll make it,” sighs Dwyer, who worked on what he calls a “ground-breaking crisis intervention model” with the Washington-based American Institutes for Research. The project cost will be divvied up among divisions within the two agencies, such as Safe and Drug-Free Schools (SDS), which is under the Education Department.

“It’s the first time all of the information dealing with prevention, intervention, and crisis intervention has been pulled together into readable form for a program designed to address kids who are troubled,” he says of the 28-page manual.

SDS Director Bill Modzeleski says a mailing of 115,000 copies will target “every school in the country.” In addition, he says, “Both Education and Justice will have websites where the entire manual can be accessed.”

When it comes to developing guidelines for anti-violence programs, Dwyer stresses flexibility: “We use broad strokes so that every school can use the guidelines in relation to [available] community resources.” The manual focuses on school-wide prevention, close association with students and parents, and connecting schools to communities.

Underperforming Programs

Dramatizing the need for such guidelines is a recently released two-year study of 84 violence prevention programs in the nation’s schools done by the Washington-based Drug Strategies (DS). It ranks only 10 of them worthy of an A. Most (49) got C’s or D’s.

“We identify and promote what works, so we can build on what works,” DS President Mathea Falco says in explaining the reason for the $218, 643 study funded by the William T. Grant Foundation.

“Safe Schools, Safe Students: A Guide to Violence Prevention Strategies,” uses grades of A through D. (“We don’t use F, because no one ever fails entirely, “ Falco says.) The programs studied met three criteria: they offer classroom education to prevent aggression and violence for a general population of students; they are nationally available; and the distributors provided Drug Strategies with curriculum materials for review.

Grades were given on overall program quality, developmental appropriateness, and ease of administration. It is possible for a program to get a C in the first category, yet still pull a B in the other two — as did the Miami, Fla.-based Peace Education Foundation’s Peacemaking Skills for Little Kids. The reason is that the program content — anger management, empathy, social problem solving, media, social resistance skills, communication, ethnic/race/gender, and peace building — is ranked on a scale of one to three. Low numbers in these categories pulled down the program’s overall mark.

The study relied on 15 violence prevention experts nationwide — among them were Rodney Hammond of the CDC and Elena Nightingale of the National Academy of Science — to formulate the evaluation standards. They agreed that effective programs should offer a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach and include at least 10 to 20 sessions in their first year. The content should be structured to stress school norms against violence and aggression, teacher and skills training, developmentally tailored interventions, culturally sensitive material, and interactive teaching.

“The best programs teach young people that they have a responsibility to report violence or potential violence,” adds Falco. “The differences are made between tattling or ratting — and responsible reporting.”

Scare Tactics Ineffective

Programs cited as ineffective feature scare tactics, the segregating of aggressive or anti-social students, and a focus on self-esteem to the exclusion of everything else.

Of 12 comprehensive health programs reviewed, only one, the Newton, Mass.-based Education Development Center’s “Aggressors, Victims & Bystanders,” received an A. Similarly, Boston’s “Voices of Love and Freedom” was the sole A among in the K-12 category, while Tucson’s Heartspring’s Inc.’s “Peacebuilders” got the only A for elementary school programs.

Nine of the evaluated programs fell into the peer mediation category, with “Peer Mediation: Conflict Resolution in Schools” from Research Press — targeting youth in grades six to 12 — pulling the only A.

The programs were labeled either “normative change” programs, which are specifically designed to promote a better classroom environment, or “life skills” programs focusing on personal and social skills training.

Helpful Criticism

The report offers helpful criticism and always points out bright spots in a program. Some program grades were lowered because graphic depictions of violence in videos were thought too intense for younger grades. A section at the end of each group of evaluations pinpoints the positives of a program, along with those areas that can be improved.

The Plymouth, Mich.-based Knopf Company’s Peer Mediation Program serves as an example. Among the positive comments: “Good rationale and background with emphasis on need for school-wide support; good suggestions for improving the program.” Among areas for improvement: “Weak on concrete instructions for selecting peer mediators, training mediators or conducting mediation.”

Fred DeRoche, Knopf Co. vice president, says he submitted his program materials for the study “a year ago.” Since then, he says, “We’ve made extensive revisions in the first part of our manual and they’ll be ready for schools this month.”

“Many programs have already made revisions that will be available in our next book,” Falco says.

On the heels of the new violence prevention manual and the rankings of school-based programs, there is now a stirring in the U. S. Senate for a reprogramming of funds to bring about a “cops-in-the-classroom” approach to school violence. Several senators are pushing for a proposed Safe Schools Initiative that would siphon off money from existing programs to “provide funding to police departments and sheriff’s offices in partnership with schools to...develop new approaches to address the problem” of school violence. Programs tapped for these funds include $175 million from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), $25 million from OJJDP’s Title V Delinquency Prevention allocation, and $10 million from the National Institute of Justice.


Kevin Dwyer


National Association of School Psychologists

4340 East-West Hwy, Ste. 402

Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 657-0270

E-mail: nasp8455@aol.com


Bill Modzeleski


Safe & Drug-Free Schools

600 Independence Ave., SW, Portals Bldg.

Washington, DC 20202

(202) 260-3954


Mathea Falco


Drug Strategies

2445 M St., NW, Ste. 480

Washington, DC 20037

(202) 663-6090

E-mail: dspolicy@aol.com



Upgrade Anti-Violence Programs, Experts Say: Youth Policy In Hyper-Drive?

Alexander, Bill. "Upgrade Anti-Violence Programs, Experts Say."Youth Today, September 1998, p. 1.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.