UMBC’s Chris Curran receives major NIJ grant for research on law enforcement in K–12 schools

UMBC’s F. Chris Curran, assistant professor of public policy, has received a two-year $620,000 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) grant to lead a new research study on the role of law enforcement officers in public schools.

“Law enforcement have become an increasingly common presence in school settings, particularly after high profile events like the tragedy at Sandy Hook,” notes Curran. “Our work seeks to understand the role of these officers in promoting safety, managing student behavior, and facilitating relationships with students.”

The CSSI grant program specifically funds innovative research to help understand the root causes of school violence, develop strategies for increasing school safety, and implement research based pilot programs, policies, and practices. Curran, primary investigator for this new study, shares, “The support of the National Institute of Justice allows for an unprecedented look at the role and impact of SROs in previously understudied settings”in this case, in two Southern U.S. suburban school districts.

This work began about two years ago when Curran co-founded the Collaborative on Adolescent Violence and Victimization (CAVV) with researchers from UMBC, University of Pittsburgh, University of Louisville, and Vanderbilt University who were interested in looking further at this issue. “We collectively started a conversation with a couple of school districts to examine issues around school safety, discipline, and how SROs intersect with that.” Curran’s primary collaborators for the current study include co-principal investigator Benjamin W. Fisher of the University of Louisville and project coordinator Samantha Viano of Vanderbilt University.

In addition to the NIJ grant, Curran has also received a one-year $20,000 grant through the American Educational Research Association (AERA) with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund research in another area of education policy: science achievement in kindergarten through second grade. This new grant will enable Curran to expand his previous research on inequalities in science education that appear at a very early age utilizing nationally representative data. Curran’s previous groundbreaking work in that area appeared in publications from The Atlantic to Education Week.

“Part of what informs my work is a moral imperative,” says Curran. His sense of urgency to better understand the impacts of educational environment, resources, and pedagogy is informed by his past encounters with inequalities in the U.S. education system as a former middle school science teacher. After experiencing the challenges of teaching with outdated textbooks and providing students hands-on laboratory experiences when access to materials and equipment were limited, he decided to begin working at a policy level to more effectively meet students’ needs.

“Right now there are students being short-changed by the education system. They are not sitting in a classroom with a high enough quality teacher. They are not being provided the resources they deserve,” Curran reflects. “Too often these disparities run along racial lines, socioeconomic lines, or gender lines, and that is a problem.”

As a researcher, educator, and someone training the next generation of education policy analysts, Curran says, “I would like to think my work does something to address those problems. Policy won’t change overnight, but these issues we’re addressing are truly urgent.”