Chicago Schools Monitoring Student Social Media See Violence Drop

CPS logo
The Chicago Public Schools logo is shown at the district's headquarters in 2017. Andrew Gill/WBEZ
CPS logo
The Chicago Public Schools logo is shown at the district's headquarters in 2017. Andrew Gill/WBEZ

Chicago Schools Monitoring Student Social Media See Violence Drop

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In Chicago public schools participating in a small anti-violence program that monitored social media activity, students were less likely to be shot than at comparison schools, a new report released Wednesday finds.

The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab studied the social media monitoring program from its inception in 2015 until it ended in December. The program was launched by Chicago Public Schools using a $2.2 million U.S. Department of Justice grant.

The Crime Lab found that students in the 24 schools targeted experienced almost 30 percent fewer shooting incidents outside of school than in comparison schools. They also had fewer suspensions and slightly better attendance.

CPS officials did not immediately respond to the report, but did they said they plan to continue some elements of the program

Roseanna Ander, founding executive director of the Crime Lab, said this program is one of several the school district is trying in an attempt to take a proactive approach to reducing violence.

“I think the onus was really put on the school system, as well as other agencies, to really do more and to step up and recognize that they were not just responsible for the kid in the building, but also to think about the whole kid,” she said.

The idea was that students at the 24 schools would have their public-facing social media monitored. If they were found to have gang-related posts, school district staff, such as principals or discipline deans, would link students with mentors, counselors, and part-time and summer jobs.

In cases where the student posted a picture with a gun, members of the Chicago Police Department’s Gang School Safety Team were brought into the conversations. The Gang School Safety Team doesn’t arrest students, but rather tries to help them, according to the report.

The Crime Lab attempts to study programs as though they were science experiments. In this case, researchers compared shooting and discipline data at 24 different schools whose students were not being proactively monitored. These control schools had fewer white students and fewer students living in poverty than the treatment schools, but researchers said they controlled for these differences.

The study looked at the number of shooting victims and discipline data for the entire school. It did not look at how the program affected individual students.

Max Kapustin, a research director for the Crime Lab, said the results were encouraging, but when it came to the analysis of shooting victimization, the sample was so small that it was not statistically significant.

“So it is promising. It is suggestive, but it is not airtight,” he said.

However, Kapustin said the data showing a reduction in out-of-school suspensions and misconducts is significant.

Yet, the study also found there was no measurable difference in the arrests of students for violent or drug offenses.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.