The impact of Community Violence on
Children's School Performance
In the early 1990’s the US homicide rate peaked at about 10/100,000. Criminologists talked about superpredators and predicted a bloodbath by 2005. They were wrong. By the end of the decade, the murder rate had dropped to about 6/100,000. Measured nationally, violent crime rates stayed low.
Against this backdrop, Patrick Sharkey studied the impact of community violence on children’s verbal, reading, and language skills. The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods included a Longitudinal Cohort Study of children in disadvantaged Chicago neighborhoods in the 1990’s, where the children took assessments in their homes. Sharkey later geo-coded the homes’ locations and compared the locations and assessment dates with homicide data from the Chicago police. By chance, some children had taken the assessment tests shortly after a violent crime in their neighborhood, while others had been given the assessments just before a nearby homicide, or many months after.
He found that children who took the assessments shortly after a murder near their home performed worse on the verbal assessments (math performance was not affected). The impact of a recent violent crime near their homes was stronger for African-American children than for Hispanics or for whites. The most severe impacts were equivalent to two years of school attendance.
Recent, nearby violence did not make the kids less intelligent. Rather, students were distracted and less able to concentrate.
Sharkey found violent crime had similar effects on New York City student performance 2004-2010 on the standardized language arts tests that determine promotion to the next grade for students and school rankings. Black students who took the language arts exam within a week after a violent crime near their home were 3% less likely to pass the exam.
The impact of violent crime on student performance accumulated – each additional crime near a student’s house led to a larger decline in test scores.