Astor on Parental Concerns for Child Safety in Israeli Schools

A study co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor about perceptions of child safety in Israel’s schools was featured on several international new outlets, including YNET News. Astor and his research partners analyzed 2,165 responses from a nationwide survey of the parents of children between kindergarten and 12th grade. The study, which assessed parents’ and children’s sense of protection in Israeli schools, found that only 10.6% of parents “feel their children are very safe in the educational institution.” According to the survey results, 40% of children were victims of physical harm at least once and several reported verbal harassment and social media shaming. The research team also highlighted parent dissatisfaction with educational institutions’ handling of violence.


Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


 

Astor on Schools’ Role in Protecting Students, Preventing Violence

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about pandemic-related factors behind reports of tension, misbehavior and violence on school campuses. Students who returned to in-person learning after a long period of isolation may have also experienced food and housing insecurity, mental health issues and other stressors, Astor noted, so schools should be well-positioned to support students on many levels. “Historically, schools have also played the role of creating a better society and a better world,” he said. “This is the right time to retreat back to that.” A K-12 Dive article on who bears responsibility for preventing violence on campus also cited Astor. He recommended that everybody — including teachers, staff, administrators, peers, parents and law enforcement — be trained to spot and properly respond to students who display red flags, including an obsession with firearms; signs of depression and suicidal ideation; having a plan to hurt themselves or others; and troubling social media posts.


 

Astor on Parents’ Role in Preventing School Shootings

A Christian Science Monitor article on parent accountability in school shootings cited Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on the prevention of school violence. Astor recommended that parents be educated in how to recognize warning signs that mass shooters often show — such as visiting a website that glorifies past school shooters, an obsession with firearms or suicidal tendencies — as well as where they can turn for help if they have concerns. In 2018, Astor and other scholars published a holistic public health plan to prevent gun violence at schools. The plan includes building healthier school communities and families through things like bullying prevention and threat assessments. “What I like about that approach is it doesn’t get us stuck in this Second Amendment rights issue that everybody seems to gravitate to almost automatically, of ‘there’s nothing you can do’ or ‘eliminate all guns,’” Astor said. “There’s a lot you can do in between.”

Jackson Selected as American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Fellow

Professor Emerita of Social Welfare Aurora Jackson was elected as a 2022 fellow by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. The academy is a prestigious society of distinguished scholars and practitioners dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good. The fellowship program recognizes and celebrates outstanding social work and social welfare research, scholarship and practice. Jackson’s scholarship examines the interrelationships among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, parenting in the home environment, and child developmental outcomes in families headed by low-income, single-parent mothers with young children. When she is formally inducted with 15 other fellows in January 2022, Jackson will become the second woman from UCLA to join the academy, following the induction of Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in 2020. Academy fellows are nominated confidentially, then confirmed by a supermajority of current academy members. “Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” said Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, who was inducted into the academy in 2017. Jackson will contribute to the growing list of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars who have been inducted as academy fellows. In addition to Abrams and Astor, they include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and the late Professor Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013). — Zoe Day


New Paper Analyzes Impact of School Closures on Families

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor and doctoral student Kate Watson collaborated on a new paper highlighting the needs of children and families during school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, published in Social Work, analyzed responses to a nationwide survey of 1,275 school social workers who reported on their clients, including schools, children and families, during the COVID-19 school closures in spring 2020. While other reports have focused on academic challenges facing students during the pandemic as well as the effects of online learning on academic success, the authors identified a knowledge gap in understanding the needs and difficulties of K-12 students and their families from a social work perspective. In their responses to the survey, school social workers indicated that the children and families they served had significant unmet basic needs, including for food, health care and housing. “Poverty and mental health compounded pandemic difficulties, which were associated with the sociodemographic makeup of schools,” wrote Watson, the paper’s lead author, with co-authors Astor and colleagues from Hebrew University, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola University Chicago. Based on the survey results, the authors identified several policy and practice implications for the future. They highlighted the need for “additional services for students and families, a plan to address structural inequities in our schools and communities, coordinated outreach to reengage missing students, and recognition of the strong work being done by school staff coupled with a need for additional supports and resources to combat persistent inequality.” — Zoe Day


Campus Police Presence Not Healthy for Development, Astor Says

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor was mentioned in a Southern California News Group article about the controversial presence of armed officers on school campuses. Many school districts in Southern California have armed officers on their campuses despite opposition from parents and students. In September, 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez was fatally shot by a school safety officer in an off-campus parking lot in Long Beach. In that school district, non-sworn officers are able to carry guns, batons and pepper spray but do not have arrest powers. Other school districts have their own police departments or have contracts with police and sheriff departments. According to Astor, a heavy police presence can adversely impact the school climate. “Very heavily armed schools prime the kids in those schools to think of the place more like a prison,” Astor explained. “Militarizing and turning schools into things that look like prisons is not healthy for development. It’s not healthy for identity.”


School Staff Crucial to Creating a Positive Campus Climate, Study Finds

A new paper co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor assesses the critical role of school staff members in creating a campus climate that fosters student development and achievement. The paper, just published in the Journal of Community Psychology, is a departure from previous research that focused on school climate from the student’s perspective. “School staff members have enormous social responsibility and great influence over students. Understanding their perceptions and beliefs about school climate is critical,” wrote Astor and co-authors Gordon P. Capp of Cal State Fullerton and Hadass Moore of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. To conduct the study, the researchers spent seven months interviewing teachers, secretaries, coaches, counselors, school social workers, principals and district-level personnel at two elementary schools and two high schools in Southern California. They also observed formal and informal staff interactions, classroom and recreational activities, and contacts with parents and other members of the community. The study underscored that the school principal’s vision and efforts to engage staff members are crucial in determining the campus culture. One surprising finding was that a school’s socioeconomic status was not a significant factor in staff discussions of school climate. The research also showed that school staff tend to prioritize the student experience over their own work life when assessing school climate. The authors concluded, “Findings from this study strongly suggest that the quality of climate rests with the staff, and without staff reporting a positive climate, how could there be a positive climate for students?”


Astor Promotes Culture of Care, Safety in Schools

Professor of Social Welfare Ron Avi Astor’s new report on increasing school safety and reducing weapons on campuses was covered by KNX1070 and CBS LA. The study found that fostering supportive environments in schools plays a key role in reducing the presence of weapons and creating safe campuses. Astor and his team analyzed surveys from 890,000 California students to better understand how factors such as the level of crime in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, students’ feelings of belongingness at their school, and student relationships with teachers and staff can affect the potential for weapons-carrying and violence. They found that measures such as metal detectors, security cameras and active shooter drills increase fear of violence, diminish students’ well-being and disproportionately affect students of color. Instead, Astor proposed prioritizing a culture of care and elevating the voices of students and teachers. “We must create opportunities to hear their voices and explore local solutions that make their schools safer,” he said.


A New Approach to Preventing Weapons-Related Violence at California Schools Study gauges the prevalence of weapons on campuses and provides a comprehensive look at factors that put schools at risk

By Mary Braswell

At some schools in California, nearly 1 in 5 students say they have either carried a weapon or been injured or threatened with one, according to a new study co-authored by UCLA Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor that examines the presence of weapons in the state’s public middle and high schools and recommends focusing on campus-level conditions that could serve as warning signs for violence.

“Although tragic incidents of shootings in schools are rare and directly affect only a small number of students, tens of thousands of students report bringing weapons to school, and many more see other students in their school carrying weapons,” said Astor, who holds joint appointments at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.

The study, co-authored with Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was published recently in the Journal of School Violence.

Based on surveys of nearly 890,000 California students in grades 7, 9 and 11, the research focuses on all types of weapons — not only guns — and assesses how factors such as the level of crime in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, students’ feelings of belongingness or victimization at school, their relationships with teachers and staff, and their perceptions about whether disciplinary practices are fair can heighten or lower the potential for weapons-carrying and violence.

This holistic or school-wide approach represents a significant departure from previous school-violence studies, which have typically sought to identify risk factors around individual students who might pose a threat, Astor noted.

“A major limitation of current ‘shooter’ studies is that they tend to maintain a narrow focus on individual perpetrators,” the authors write. “Although it is very difficult to detect students who perpetrate school shootings, it is possible to identify schools that have many students who are involved with weapons.”

The number of students who reported seeing weapons on campus is very low at many schools, according to the study, which included a representative sample of students from every county in the state who completed the California Healthy Kids Survey between 2013 and 2015.

However, in 3.3% of schools, more than 15% of students reported carrying a weapon, and in 5.8% of schools, at least 15% of students said they had been injured by a weapon or threatened with one. It is at these schools in particular, Astor and Benbenishty say, that an approach focused on improving campuswide conditions can bear the most fruit.

“It is imperative to develop a monitoring system to identify such schools and channel resources to this vulnerable group of students, educators and parents,” said Astor, who teaches a UCLA undergraduate course on ways to improve school safety. “We must create opportunities to hear their voices and explore local solutions that make their schools safer.”

Fostering a warm, supportive school environment is key to reducing the presence of weapons and creating a truly safe campus, according to the authors, whose previous research has demonstrated that prioritizing a culture of care, funneling more resources to vulnerable schools and elevating the voices of students, teachers and students leads to a drop in the number of weapons at schools.

“Students who trust that teachers support them and have a sense of safety in school may be less inclined to bring weapons to school,” the authors write.

In this new study, Astor and Benbenishty also focus on the unintended negative consequences of past efforts to deter individual shooters by “hardening” schools with metal detectors, security cameras and armed staff, as well as “active shooter” drills and harsh mandatory punishments that research shows often demonstrated bias against students of color.

These measures, they noted, frequently created fortress-like campuses that greatly diminished students’ well-being, heightened the fear of violence on school grounds and sent more of the nation’s children into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Schools,” the authors conclude, “could develop a variety of caring and supportive approaches to reduce weapons-related behaviors … that do not include law enforcement methods and do not increase the school-to-prison pipeline.”