Security: Schools Frustrated by Budget, Staff Constraints


While schools have spent the last year beefing up their physical security infrastructure, the quality of their data security has apparently dropped. According to the 2008 School Safety Index, conducted by Quality Education Data and released this week by CDW Government (CDW-G), district IT professionals rated their own "cyber security" 25 percent lower this year than they did in last year's survey results, while their physical safety score rose 39 percent over 2007.

The 2008 results reverse last year's findings, in which the push for improved data security overwhelmed physical security efforts. This year, however, the proliferation of IP-based video surveillance and mass notification systems helped propel physical security drastically upward.

The study is unique as a benchmark for school safety covering data security, physical security, and emergency preparedness and provides a means for schools to compare themselves with a national average. This year's study polled more than 400 district IT and security directors and allowed them to rate their security on a scale of one to 100 using positive and negative indicators, each of which was assigned a certain value from which the final index totals were generated. The 2008 study polled 403 administrators, IT personnel, and security staff from schools around the country in urban, suburban, and rural districts. The study, conducted in April 2008, has a margin of error of ±5 percent at a confidence level of 95 percent.

The report also indicated that schools and districts efforts toward expanding security are being frustrated by budgetary constraints.

"School districts both large and small are embracing advanced technology tools and techniques to make school a safer place for our children," said Bob Kirby, senior director for K-12 at CDW-G, in a statement released to coincide with the survey results. "Cyber- and physical-security tools--from network access control to security cameras--are allowing administrators to see into and lock down their networks and school buildings, but schools continue to be frustrated by budget and staff constraints, particularly in their IT security programs."

Physical Security
In terms of physical security, 70 percent of districts are now reporting the use of video surveillance technologies, up seven points from last year. Of these, 33 percent reported that local police have the ability to monitor their schools' cameras in real time. Only 29 percent have reported that security cameras have made a positive impact on security.

The School Safety Index this year also measured the use of emergency/mass notification systems, finding that 45 percent of districts are using them. Of these:

  • 70 percent use automated phone messages;
  • 28 percent use sirens or loudspeakers;
  • 61 percent use e-mail; and
  • 32 percent use text messaging.

Ninety-one percent send mass notifications to faculty and staff; 84 percent to administrators; 82 percent to parents; 39 percent to students; and only 2 percent to police, medical personnel, and others.

The report also indicated that physical security breaches are on the rise. Thirty-one percent of districts experienced some sort of physical security breach in the last year, up 10 points from the previous year. Urban districts continue to see the greatest number of physical breaches, but rural districts are on the way up, according to the report.

"While urban districts continue to experience the most physical security breaches overall, rural districts had the biggest increase year over year, with 26 percent reporting at least one breach, up 12 [points] since 2007," the report stated.

So what are the barriers to increasing physical security in schools? According to those survey, the No. 1 barrier is the budget, or rather lack thereof. Sixty-nine percent reported budget resources as a concern, a figure identical to the 2007 School Security Index. Staffing and equipment dropped dramatically as concerns in the last year. In 2007, 52 percent reported the need for more tools as a barrier, and 43 percent cited staff resources as a barrier. In 2008, these numbers were down significantly--to 32 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Data Security
The state of data security in schools, on the other hand, seems to have declined over the last year, based on responses from participants. The 2008 average for data security was 38.6; in 2007, it was 51.3.

Network monitoring remained consistent between 2007 and 2008, with 85 percent reporting that they monitor access to student records, 74 percent staff and teacher records, 40 percent student e-mail, and 69 percent teacher and staff e-mail. None of the changes from 2007 to 2008 exceeded the ±5 percent margin of error of the report.

Fifty-seven percent of districts reported that they use network access control, more in rural districts (60 percent) than in urban districts (45 percent). Suburban districts came in at 54 percent.

Overall, data breaches also remained consistent between 2007 and 2008. Fourteen percent of districts reported some kind of data breach in the last 12 months compared with 9 percent in 2007. (Again, the margin of error for the survey was ±5 percent, so the difference was statistically insignificant.) Only in rural areas did the increase in breaches exceed the margin of error, at 13 percent, compared with 7 percent the previous year. By enrollment, mid-size schools (1,000 to 4,999 pupils) saw the largest increase in data breaches reported, with 18 percent reporting at least one breach, up from 8 percent in 2007. Larger schools (enrollment of 5,000 or more) increased to 16 percent from 7 percent the previous year.

Barriers to improving data security were statistically identical to the results from the 2007 study. Budget was the No. 1 barrier at 79 percent. Staff resource issues came in at No. 2, with 61 percent. And hardware/software barriers rounded out the top 3 at 47 percent.

"IT and physical security silos are becoming less apparent," the report concluded, "yet districts are not making the most of technology advancements. Given the pace of technology change and limited budgets, K-12 school districts need to take advantage of convergence to improve IT and physical security simultaneously by adopting tools like IP cameras, network access control and mass notification systems."

A complete copy of the report can be downloaded in PDF format from CDW-G's site here. Key findings and additional information about the survey can be found here.

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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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .