Research: Benchmarks for School Safety

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Districts around the country, from urban centers to rural communities, are focusing their security efforts in large part on data security--in particular in regulating and monitoring Internet usage and keeping students' computer screens within view of adults. But schools may be neglecting the physical side of security, according to the K-12 School Safety Index 2007, a benchmark study conducted by Quality Education Data and released by CDW Government (CDW-G).

The study's aim was to create a benchmark for school safety covering data security, physical security, and emergency preparedness and provide a means for schools to compare themselves with a national average. 381 public school districts were polled over a three-week period in May 2007, with respondents providing details about the security measures in place in their districts, problems they face, and security-related incidents occurring over the last 12 months.

What the study found in terms of data security is that, on the whole, school districts are addressing threats to data security, though there is a high reliance on software-only solutions, allowing clever students to bypass security measures. What it found in terms of physical security is that districts are not doing much beyond installing security cameras.

Data Security
The study includes two principal components covering data security. The first is the index itself, which is designed to be a numeric measure of data security preparedness, with a number of categories, each of which is worth a certain number of points. In the chart below, you'll find the national results for this year. The first 11 questions, delineated by the black up arrow, are each worth 10 points for a "yes" response. The last six questions are each worth -10 points for a yes response. In both cases, a "no" response is worth zero points. So there are 110 points possible. The national average came out to be 55.3 points.

 

A blank chart is available on CDW-G's School Safety Index site for district IT staffers to fill out for themselves for comparison with the national responses. (See link at the end of this article.)

Breaking it down, only 40 percent of districts reported monitoring student e-mail, while 82 percent said they monitor access to student data.

Overall, 39 percent of districts reported allowing non-district-owned devices access to the district's network, but 92 percent do require user authentication of some sort. An overwhelming 95 percent block or limit access to websites; 89 percent place computers where adults can see the contents of the screens; 81 percent monitor Web activity; and 38 percent operate a closed district network.

In terms of techniques used by IT departments to protect data, 33 percent use filtering software; 18 percent monitor Internet activity; 15 percent require adult supervision; 8 percent educate students on the use of the Internet; and 4 percent require students to sign an acceptable use policy.

As far as incidents go, 9 percent of districts overall reported a breach of data security within the last year, with the fewest in rural areas (7 percent) and the highest in urban areas (17 percent). Sixteen percent of districts with enrollment of 5,000 students or more reported at least one data breach in the last 12 months, double the figures for districts with 1 to 999 students and districts with 1,000 to 4,999.

More than half of those participating in the survey cited budgetary constraints as a barrier to improving district data security.

Physical Security & Safety
On the physical side of security, public school districts came in much lower on the scale. For the physical index, there are 160 points total, and the national average was 44. The top 16 questions, delineated by the black arrow, are worth 10 points each for an answer of yes. The last six questions, delineated by the red down arrow, are worth -10 points each for an answer of yes. Again, answers of "no" are worth zero points.

And, again, a blank chart is available on CDW-G's School Safety Index site for district IT staffers to fill out for themselves for comparison with the national responses. (See link at the end of this article.)

Breaking down these figures, 29 percent said their districts use security cameras; 16 percent restrict entry to campuses in some way; and 11 percent use access cards.

In terms of emergency preparedness, only 35 percent of districts reported being connected to local agencies with real-time communications tools. (The high was urban areas with 67 percent; the low was rural areas with 30 percent.)

For communications with parents during emergencies, only 1 percent of districts overall reported having an emergency alert system in place--systems that send e-mail and text messages to selected groups. For weather-related communications, most use the phone (63 percent); 19 percent use e-mail; 24 percent rely on radio or television; and 6 percent use websites. For communication with parents during a school emergency, 54 percent use the phone; 15 percent use e-mail; 12 percent rely on radio or television; and 3 percent use text messaging.

Overall, 21 percent of districts reported experiencing a breach in physical security, with a high in urban areas of 50 percent.

The barriers to improving physical security in schools, as cited by study participants, include:

  • Lack of budget: 50 percent;
  • Need for more tools: 24 percent; and
  • Too few staff resources: 20 percent.

According to CDW-G, these numbers point to several conclusions: that crucial elements of physical security are lacking; the for data security, districts rely too heavily on software; that safety education is not considered important by districts; that communications options are lacking; and that budgetary restrictions are preventing districts from improving security measures.

The complete report, including a form for comparing your district with the national average, is available via the links below.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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