kitchen table math, the sequel: more data from the Secret Service report

Sunday, December 16, 2012

more data from the Secret Service report

From the 2000 Secret Service report on "targeted school shootings":
The result was the Safe School Initiative, an extensive examination of 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks that occurred in the United States beginning with the earliest identified incident in 1974 through May 2000. The focus of the Safe School Initiative was on examining the thinking, planning, and other behaviors engaged in by students who carried out school attacks. Particular attention was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable--or "knowable"--and could help in preventing some future attacks.
Thirty seven attacks in 26 years. The investigators looked at all of them.

I read the report cover-to-cover yesterday and recommend it. Strongly recommend. (Among other things, it is a model of clarity up to and including use of bullet points, italicized print, and white space.)

I was surprised by a great deal of what I read -- and I was surprised to be surprised given the amount of reading I do on all things school-related.

One thing I learned: the image of the schizophrenic loner-slash-loser is pretty wide of the mark.
For those incidents for which information on the attackers’ school performance was available, that information indicates that those attackers differed considerably from one another in their academic achievement in school, with grades ranging from excellent to failing (n=34).
  • The attackers in the largest grouping were doing well in school at the time of the attack, generally receiving As and Bs in their courses (41 percent; n=17); some were even taking Advanced Placement courses at the time of the incident or had been on the honor roll repeatedly.
  • Fewer of the attackers were receiving Bs and Cs (15 percent, n=6), or Cs and Ds (22 percent, n=9).
  • Very few of the attackers were known to be failing in school (5 percent, n=2).
Attackers also varied in the types of social relationships they had established, ranging from socially isolated to popular among their peers.
  • The largest group of attackers for whom this information was available appeared to socialize with mainstream students or were considered mainstream students themselves (41 percent, n=17).
  • One-quarter of the attackers (27 percent, n=11) socialized with fellow students who were disliked by most mainstream students or were considered to be part of a "fringe" group.
  • Few attackers had no close friends (12 percent, n=5).
  • One-third of attackers had been characterized by others as "loners," or felt themselves to be loners (34 percent, n=14).
  • However, nearly half of the attackers were involved in some organized social activities in or outside of school (44 percent, n=18). These activities included sports teams, school clubs, extracurricular activities, and mainstream religious groups.
Attackers’ histories of disciplinary problems at school also varied. Some attackers had no observed behavioral problems, while others had multiple behaviors warranting reprimand and/or discipline.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the attackers had never been in trouble or rarely were in trouble at school (63 percent, n=26).
  • One-quarter of the attackers had ever been suspended from school (27 percent, n=11).
  • Only a few attackers had ever been expelled from school (10 percent, n=4).
Most attackers showed no marked change in academic performance (56 percent, n=23), friendship patterns (73 percent, n=30), interest in school (59 percent, n=24), or school disciplinary problems (68 percent, n=28) prior to their attack.

A few attackers even showed some improvements in academic performance (5 percent, n=2) or declines in disciplinary problems at school (7 percent, n=3) prior to the attack. In one case, the dean of students had commended a student a few weeks before he attacked his school for improvements in his grades and a decline in the number of disciplinary problems involving that student in school.
The Final Report and Findings of the Safe Schools Initiative


kcab said...

Did they only look at attacks that had been carried out, or was there an attempt to look at attacks that were prevented? For infrequently occurring events (air accidents come to mind) additional information can be found by also examining incidents that were narrowly averted.

I guess I should go read it myself.

Catherine Johnson said...

kcab - good question

I'll go check

they definitely looked at **all** attacks that actually occurred

btw, my impression from the report is that these attacks are rarely foiled.

Speaking from memory, I don't think a single attack was stopped by police - and adults never knew a plan was in the offing.

The attacks were stopped by school personnel, by other students, or by the attackers themselves.

ChemProf said...

The police are not going to stop an attack like this except under very rare circumstances. They are simply too far from the incident most of the time. And realistically, that isn't the job of the police -- their job is to come in after and clean up.

This is like the reality that a school has no responsibility to educate a normal student -- if it did, you could sue for failure to educate your kid. By the same token, you can't sue the police for failing to stop someone (heck, you can't sue them for breaking into the wrong house in a no knock raid!)