There were about 24 crimes of rape, sexual assault, robbery and physical assault for every 1,000 students in 2002, down from 48 per 1,000 a decade earlier, according to a report Monday from the Education and Justice departments.
The reduction mirrored the trend found outside classrooms -- overall crime is at a 30-year low across the nation.
The report found instances of school violence involving students have dropped steadily since a string of fatal shootings in the 1990s, notably the 1999 killings of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado by two heavily armed students.
"There has been a drop, and we attribute a lot of that to the fact that schools are focusing on the issue more," said William Lassiter, school safety specialist at the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C.
Schools have taken a number of steps, from installing metal detectors and hiring more security personnel to implementing programs aimed at curbing bullying, which can lead to more serious crimes.
The report found students are more apt to be victims of violence outside schools.
In 2002, there were about 659,000 violent crimes involving students at school and about 720,000 away from school property. For the most serious nonfatal violent crimes -- rape, assault and robbery -- the crime rates were lower in school than away from school every year from 1992 to 2002.
The report also found that, between 1992 and 2000, students between 5 and 19 were 70 times more likely to be murdered away from school than on campus. There were 234 homicides at school during that time span, compared with more than 24,000 away from school.
"There was initially great concern about school violence, but our report shows that kids are safer at school than they are away from school," said the report's co-author, Katrina Baum of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Overall in 1992 there were more than 3.4 million crimes in school against students between 12 and 18, the report estimated. That included more than 2.2 million thefts -- by far the most common serious crime in school -- and over 1.1 million violent crimes.
By 2002, the report found the total number had dropped to 1.7 million crimes: just over 1 million thefts and about 659,000 violent crimes.
Teachers are also targets of schoolhouse crime. The report found that from 1998 through 2002 teachers were victims of an annual average of 233,900 crimes at school, more than 90,000 of them violent. That translates to an annual rate of 51 crimes per 1,000 teachers.
The report shows that inner-city teachers are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes than those in suburban or rural school districts, and that male teachers are more often attacked than female teachers. The report does not give year-to-year comparisons because the sample sizes studied are too small, Baum said.
Other findings in the report:
By Curt Anderson