Comprehensive School Safety Initiative: Dear Colleague Letter
Developing Knowledge about What Works to Make Schools Safe
April 16, 2014
I am writing to alert you to the National Institute of Justice’s interest in receiving proposals for an upcoming solicitation: “Developing Knowledge about What Works to Make Schools Safe.” This solicitation, part of NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, marries the school safety needs of America’s public schools with strong, independent research that assesses the potential solutions to those needs and builds evidence on what works in enhancing school safety.
The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative uses a variety of research and data collection efforts to learn which personnel, programs, policies, and practices either individually or in concert are effective in making schools safer. Our goal is to significantly advance the development of knowledge regarding approaches to school safety.
NIJ anticipates making awards to local education agencies (LEAs), public charter schools recognized as LEAs, and state education agencies (SEAs). Awards will be made to implement and assess the effectiveness of projects that address their local school safety needs. The projects may be small- or large-scale ($500,000 to $5 million), with approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the project funds allocated to the school’s research partner for rigorous, objective, and independent review and analysis of the project’s contribution to school safety.
An example of the way in which a proposal is developed in response to this solicitation may be instructive. Suppose a school district determines that schools in the district need school resource officers. The school district would identify one or more schools interested in participating in the research project and seek their willingness to participate. The school districts, then, would seek a research partner with outstanding research/evaluation/statistical skills to conduct an evaluation of the project. The school district, participating schools, and research partners would determine how best to conduct an objective research project that maximizes resources while maintaining the project’s scientific integrity. If the proposal is successful, NIJ would fund the SROs, data collection costs, and the research partners.
One of the most important tasks in undertaking the research project is deciding the appropriate intervention for each school based on the school’s needs. For example, should it be introducing school resource officers or mental health service providers? Should it be introducing security-related technology? Perhaps it should be preparedness training. Or, importantly, it may be a combination of interventions.
I am encouraging schools to think innovatively about the types of interventions that would best serve their needs.
NIJ is interested in proposals that explore a variety of interventions, including personnel, programs, policies, and practices that can be tested and produce strong evidence on the most significant school safety issues and topics. NIJ is interested particularly in receiving proposals in three areas, either singularly or together:
- Behavioral health, mental health, and wellness — for example, to assess the impact of different types, roles, and health professionals.
Mental health services attempt to promote early intervention so as to maximize the chance that students will avoid increased risks that may accompany untreated problems, including those related to school safety. In general, mental health and wellness services include such things as the provision of services provided by qualified school counselor, social worker, or child and adolescent psychologist. Applications should request funding both for the new mental health personnel and services and for the research team who will evaluate the personnel and services.
- Security and preparedness — for example, to assess interventions and trainings related to school resource officers and to assess disciplinary policies and practices, especially as they relate to the school-to-prison pipeline.
In a school context, security and preparedness typically include the use of school resource officers and other security personnel; school safety assessments; emergency operation plans; data collection and analysis of systems; physical security, including physical layout lighting, access controls, cameras, and communication. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the unnecessary introduction of juveniles to the criminal justice system through harsh punishment processes. Applications should request funding both for personnel, new technology, or preparedness planning and for the research team who will determine how the changes affect school safety.
- Climate and culture — for example, to examine the impact of campus conditions as they relate to safety, relationships, and engagement, or the physical setting, or some combination of conditions.
A range of campus conditions can influence a school’s climate and culture, which in turn may influence school safety, student learning, and overall well-being. Campus conditions are designed to create perceptions about safety, acceptance, respect, and high achievement for all students. Applications should request funding to support both the new programs aimed to improve school climate and culture as well as funding to support research to assess the impact of the programs on the school's safety.
Often, the terms climate and culture are used interchangeably, and generally this is not a problem. However, researchers argue that there is an important difference: “How students and staff members feel about their school is climate. Why they feel the way they do is determined by culture — by the values and behavior of those in the school.”
When they evaluate applications, reviewers will largely ask themselves two key questions: "What is the potential impact on school safety” and "Will the project design allow for a scientifically rigorous evaluation?"
NIJ will fund proposals that use the most rigorous methods to test the research questions associated with the intervention the school is introducing. The research methods used are wide open and may include, for example, randomized controlled trials; field demonstration projects; quasi-experimental designs; multi-level, multi-methods; natural experiments; data collection and analysis; and secondary data analysis that complements larger-scale projects based on original data collection.
Applicants must demonstrate in their proposals their willingness to enter into formal partnerships with researchers and schools who participate in the project. Funding will be withheld until the partners submit formal letters of agreement that detail their roles and responsibilities.
Update: The solicitation has been released and proposals are due on July 10, 2014.
Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by September 30, 2014.
To assist in your deliberations regarding this competition, we will publish frequently asked questions.
We look forward to reading your application and working with you on this important enterprise.
Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.
National Institute of Justice
Funding for SRO personnel under this grant must be for new SROs; that is, funding from this grant must not be used to supplant (i.e., replace) funds a school is already using to pay for SROs.
 Stover, Del (2005) “Climate and Culture: Why Your Board Should Pay Attention to the Attitudes of Students and Staff,” American School Board Journal, 192(12): 30-33.
Date updated: May 29, 2014