Commission Recommends DISD Get Rid Of Metal Detectors. But Do They Work?

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Image via BBC World Service on Flickr
As Matthew Haag noted yesterday over at the Morning News' education blog, DISD's Citizen Budget Review Commission made several recommendations at last week's board briefing for how the district might cut costs. The most eye-catching:
consider getting rid of metal detectors in middle and high schools.

The commission's report calls metal detectors "fairly unique to DISD" and suggested that they were largely ineffective, given how many other unguarded entrances there typically are to each building. It added that the staffers being used to man the detectors could probably be better used elsewhere, and that a detector-free entrance might help students get to class on time. Finally, it said, "their removal will make the school appear more welcoming and remove the negative external perception concerns that DISD high schools must use them in order to provide a safe environment."

The commission recommended polling principals, teachers, and maybe even students about metal detectors, and considering security cameras as a lower-cost alternative. It also suggested that DISD police look at actual incidents versus the cost of maintaining the detectors -- "both monetary and to a school's culture."

Metal detectors in schools have been debated for decades, of course, and as DISD looks for a way to deal with their current $34.8 million budget shortfall, the board will surely be scrounging around for any way to save a little cash. But won't a lack of metal detectors make DISD students less safe? Isn't there any good data on how well they actually work?

Not much, as it happens. And the results of the existing studies are rather muddy. Basically, there's still no good information on whether metal detectors do what they're supposed to: prevent or deter crime. And quite a bit of data suggests that they may indeed help to create a perception that a school is unsafe -- not so much in the community at large, as the commission suggested, but among the students themselves.

In February of last year, the Journal of School Health published an article in which researchers looked at 15 years of studies about metal detector use in schools. In one study those researchers looked at, a little more than half of school administrators surveyed said metal detectors were "effective overall" and only 32 percent of them thought metal detectors were "somewhat or very effective" at reducing violent crime, which you'd think would be the entire point of a metal detector.

Another study showed no association whatsoever with the use of metal detectors and a student's risk of theft or assault. Yet another found "a significant beneficial effect, linking metal detector use to a decrease in the likelihood that students reported carrying a weapon while in school (7.8 percent vs. 13.8 percent)." But in that study, there was no change in the likelihood that those students would carry a weapon outside of school or take part in fights.

And heightened security measures do seem to paradoxically make students feel less safe, according to no less than four separate studies the Journal of School Health surveyed. A 1995 survey of 12- to 19-year-old students was typical: It found that metal detectors and security guards were "directly correlated with increased student perceptions of violence in the school."

Race and class obviously play a large, if often tacit, role in these debates. A separate study found that schools with large populations of poor and minority students were more likely to require metal detectors.

"At the high school level, we treat all kids as potential criminals, although minority students are more likely to pass through metal detectors to get to class," one of the study's authors, Aaron Kupchik, told the University of Delaware's campus publication. "At the elementary and middle-school level, we're only afraid of some kids -- and that's the poor ones."

The New York chapter of the ACLU took a different tack, coauthoring a study last year with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Make the Road New York. They looked at six "at-risk" schools in New York City that have chosen not to use metal detectors, "aggressive policing" or "harsh disciplinary policies." They claimed those schools enjoyed better attendance, retention and graduation rates, as well as "dramatically fewer" suspensions and "criminal incidents." But New York City's Department of Education immediately disputed that graduation rates were actually higher at the schools studied.

To sum up: DISD's been using metal detectors for more than 20 years with no evidence that they work. Now the commission is suggesting they consider taking them out, with no evidence that they don't. Progress.



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24 comments
DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Use the detectors randomly to keep the kids guessing if it makes everyone feel better and prevents kids from carrying guns/knives in with unlimited impunity.

Pull classes here and there during the school day to go thru the detectors to catch any weapons that were stashed outside in the bushes and retrieved later.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

A separate study found that schools with large populations of poor and minority students were more likely to require metal detectors.

Do RISD and Garland have similar minority populations? Do they use metal detectors? What are their violent incident numbers, in comparison?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Metal detectors are security kabuki.If they catch anything, it's only off a clueless (and therefore harmless) kid.Every school has to have multiple, unlocked entrances and exits thanks to portables (aka blight-ables).  Kids who arrive at school 2 minutes before 1st period begins do not even go through the building to get to their portable (they generally just get dropped off by the portable).  After 1st period, they may leave the portable and walk into the building.  The metal detectors have been put away by then.  Teachers are busy teaching--who would man the detectors? And you can't lock the doors INTO the building.  What if there's a medical emergency and a kid has to be rushed into the building to the nurse's office?  Or what if there's a fire (has happened) or a tornado?  Plus, kids have to go to and from the portables for their classes (thanks School Board!)

Here's the deal:

-DISD purposely creates crowded schools so new schools / construction contracts will be "needed"-Crowded schools require portables that blight the neighborhood, are dangerous in high winds, and are left to decay for decades-Portables force exterior doors to be left unlocked in case kids have to run for cover or help in the building-Tight security is impossible

But frankly, the kids aren't nearly as dangerous as the Dallas Citizens Cartel and the school board members.

You want safe schools?Redraw the boundaries, eliminate the portables, lock all entrances but 1, put a metal detector there and seat the school secretary by it to deal with visitors who arrive after school starts.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

I can personally attest to the efficacy of metal detectors.  I set off one with an old crumpled gum wrapper, not to mention several belt buckles.  The question is whether there is a risk that a student will bring a gun to school.  How many guns were found on students before the metal detectors were employed? This may be an expensive system but if it prevents one homicide it is well worth it.

What is not working is the management of the system.  The detector should be manned by a security guard and teachers should be stationed at other entrances to prevent students from entering non-medical detector entrances.

I would also think there would be a deterrent value to the detectors.

We shouldn't worry if the students "feel" unsafe, we should try to make them actually safe.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

Lord...we suggested DISD take a look at it...that's all.  The district doesn't have a clue if the machines are a huge waste of time and money or a screaming success.  Nobody wants to compromise the safety of teachers and students...nobody wants the kids to feel like they go to school in a prison.  The Chief needs to give the administration and trustees the data regarding incidents per school and whether the scanners played a part in finding the offending objects or not.   

Omar Jimenez
Omar Jimenez

So if medal detectors will be removed from schools, does this mean they will get rid of the ones at Ross if we go to the Board Meeting?

JimS
JimS

The reality is that these "security" stations are mainly absolutely wothless because the district can't afford to staff them with security personnel. So instead they make teachers do it. When my kid was at Woodrow we heard horrible stories including the one in which a teacher waved a kid through after everybody saw a pistol in the kid's pack. Maybe she reported him later -- we never knew -- but think about it. The last thing a high school algebra teacher wants to do is get into it with some son of a bitch who's got a gun on him. And then there was the other instance I knew about, where TAG Magnet was forced to have a detector, back when it was still in a wing of Pinkston, because Pinkston had one, and Ross Avenue said it would lower the self-esteem of the Pinkston kids to see the TAG kids walking into school without having a metal detector. I believe this would be the doctrine of fairness through enforced universal low self-esteem. I say just give the teachers Kevlar vests.

kesslerwatch
kesslerwatch

On the same note, might want to check Uplift's security measures. They can be summarized by policies that remove the kids who don't conform and dump them into Dallas ISD schools.

Why don't teachers in Dallas ISD form a review committee of Uplift's policies and see how they align (since alignment is so necessary) with best discipline practices. Uplift's teachers aren't capable of maintaining discipline, so the "bad" kids are thrown back to the ISDs. Or does Uplift not require security because conformity to all rules is required or the student is expelled--permanently.

Send the entire budget committee (including Louisa whose husband is a bond attorney) to some middle and high schools in neighborhoods where security is a huge issue. Allow them to teach for a week and see if their budget recommendations hold water.

kesslerwatch
kesslerwatch

No one sees the irony in Todd concerning himself about the schools looking like prison entrances when BOARD MEETINGS have an oversaturation of security since the masses might get out of control??Concerns about Joyce Foreman's mouth results in hundreds of thousands of dollars spent where the important folks gather??? Is Joyce a threat or is democracy a threat? The board hides behind closed doors any time the masses get a little rowdy.

Nothing will move forward in Dallas ISD until Belo and Dallas realize Todd has no classroom experience and doesn't carry any weight unless he is handing out checks like some nightmare of plutocracy at its worse.

Who elected Todd? He is a former Goldman Sachs partner. His millions come from the gains made by a company THAT HAD TO BE BAILED OUT BY THE REST OF US. THE 1% BAILED THEIR SORRY ASSES OUT. Todd knows so much about budget and managment?  From what? Helping to tank the world's economy? Why isn't Todd held accountable for the illegal and immoral behavior of the source of his wealth?

Why is Todd galloping around like some knight errant? He is handing out GS money for the Mayor. Everywhere Todd goes, checks to the right folks go.

Uplift's reputation, based on cherrypicking kids, doesn't give Todd any credibility with real teachers in real urban classrooms.

Oh yeah, and Renea--go get a real job. You are no one's advocate. There was no voice for the teachers at those meetings.

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

Ah, my first introduction to security theater.

wilme2
wilme2

They should go.  It just send the wrong message - and it is too easy to buy into the 'security first' mindset.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

Beware. The University of Delaware study quoted above could lead some to infer that schools with a heavily minority population, i.e., poorer schools, are inherently more dangerous and violent.

It ain't necessarily so.

Here's what the study actually says (as summarized): "While most high schools employ various forms of such security, schools with large minority populations at all levels—from elementary to high—were the ones most likely to USE metal detectors, the researchers found. " [emphasis mine]

The USE reflects the perception of those who deploy the devices, not necessarily the real dangers students and teachers face day by day. This tells us what most of us already know: Poor minority kids are seen as gun-toting hoods, ready to break out the weapons at any time.

Ask yourself this: Of the big gaudy headline-grabbing school shootings, how many were committed by poor blacks or Hispanics and how many by disaffected middle-class whites or Asians?

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

In all the gasification on this blog, the one question never answered is, do these things actually detect anything besides tinfoil gum wrappers and belt buckles? Should be easy enough to find out.

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

Or just execute the first kid in the school(at the beginning of the school year) who violates one of the rules(no matter how big or small). That'll teach em!

kesslerwatch
kesslerwatch

Or give board members the same exact level of services that campuses have. Board members can stand at the entrance of board meetings and check purses and bags, then run around and conduct the board meetings, then clean up afterwards. Board members can also do all the clerical work necessary for the board meetings themselves with broken copy machines.

Maybe then they will have some sense of the reality of teachers in their districts.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

You miss the point THEY are a BUDGET COMMISSION.... not a Safe School COMMISSION.The same folks would be bending over backwards  with a Press-packet and all the numbers  to justify detectors and even more secirity if they were a part of a Safe School COMMISSION.

It all depends on the marching orders they have been given.

Guest
Guest

What makes you think the DISD teachers know the "best discipline practices?"  My understanding is that DISD teachers feel unable to properly discipline students themselves because of DISD policies.  I doubt many have been reading the most recent studies on the subject given that DISD policy governs, not best practices.  Hell, most teachers probably don't feel like they can keep up with DISD policy.     

As to Uplift's requirements that students "conform," isn't that what all discipline policies require?  As a general rule, I think the DISD would be far better off if it kicked out more students that refused to "conform."  Conforming in some form or fashion is an essential life skill that is necessary for employment in all industries at all levels.  Those that refuse, e.g. use insulting language with teachers, refuse to do school work, etc. only drag down the rest.  If other forms of discipline fail, the student should be expelled. 

As to the metal detectors themselves, I've got mixed feelings.  When done well, I think they are effective and contribute to the feeling of safety.  I'd use most federal courthouses as a good example.  Lots of "interesting" people walking about, many who are accused of all sorts of crimes, but I always feel relatively safe. 

The schools are examples of poor implementation that seems to be both ineffective and to contribute to a feeling of danger.  They seem to be poorly monitored.  There are many other places to get weapons into the schools if a student really wants to.  And it makes the school feel more like a prison that a place of education.  I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm a little disheartened by the lack of studies on the subject.      

kesslerwatch
kesslerwatch

Those white and Asian disaffected males know how to rip a real massacre.

Here's a much better way to use that video equipment and put that taxpayer revenue where it belongs: in the pockets of Pearson and GS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Cares About Kids
Cares About Kids

I pray you're not a teacher in front of our kids. You have bitterness oozing through your pores. I'd encourage you to pursue another career.

Wondering
Wondering

The glitch might be Special Ed kids; the modifications they rec'v are supposed to be confidential.---------------------------------------------------Or the fact that some kids aren't getting those modifications and those camera would bust more teachers than some would want..

Or that when state testing comes around those kids can't test in the same class as regular education kids.

Or if you have cameras in class it will show you WHO those kids are that don't care about an education and refuse to behave.

If you want to make the schools safe-start removing the kids that make it unsafe and deal with the parents that allow their kids to make schools unsafe.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

If we can have security cameras on school buses, I can't see why we couldn't have them in classrooms.  I would personally like it.  

The glitch might be Special Ed kids; the modifications they rec'v are supposed to be confidential.  Maybe since no one on a school bus is doing school work, you can't tell who has the aide helping them or who is getting to use a calculator?? That's all I can think of.  It would have to do with FERPA.

Incidentally, this is why you should NEVER see a school tout a "100%" pass rate on anything; that breaches confidentiality.  You also shouldn't name all the kids who got a 100 (or whatever) bc you would then be identifying kids who didn't by omission (bc their names wouldn't be listed).  That would be a breach of confidentiality.

There is no such thing as a simple solution or a common-sense idea in public education.  We are hemmed in on all sides.  Every day is a minefield, especially in urban schools.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

Interestingly, a teacher in a nearby suburb got in trouble with his school when he (I hope I got the gender right) used his cell phone to record disruptive student behavior in his classroom. It seems the school lawyers deemed the classroom a "private" environment. This raises the question whether school systems would be permitted to install cameras to monitor teachers' classroom performance.    

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Oh enough of that tired, lame attempt to change the focus.

Kesslerwatch is pointing out things that NEED to be asked and examined if we are to improve DISD for ALL students and ALL neighborhoods.

The only people who don't want things examined are the crooks. Are you one of them?

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