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The Incidence of Criminal Activity Near Schools in Mexico


Doctoral Candidate, Political Science
Senior Fellow
  • Associate Professor, Political Science
PovGov Postdoctoral Fellow, CDDRL

The consequences of organized crime related violence for education are tragic. School activities have been suspended because of gunshots at the vicinity of schools, cartels and gangs recruit children and teenagers as mules and hit-men, teachers have reported extortion demands and threats are made by drug organizations.

Even if students and educators do not experience crime and violence first-hand, the perception of insecurity or fear of crime is a mounting preoccupation for schools and families. According to the National Survey on Victimization and Public Security Perception (2012), 28 percent of the population feels unsafe in the surroundings of educational institutions.

In very violent localities, teacher absenteeism is two times more frequent than in non-violent localities.Understanding how crime and violence undermine student learning and school services can help policymakers to execute more effectively community- and school-level interventions to prevent or reduce the harming effects of violent crime on education.

Violent crime has negative consequences for student learning and school functioning. Our analysis is based on six years (2006-2011) of school-level data at primary and secondary levels, gathered from the National Evaluation of Academic Achievement (ENLACE), administered by the Ministry of Education. We use student math test scores and school information reported by the principal. The number of firearm homicides is obtained from Sistema Nacional de Información en Salud (SINAIS), aggregated by year and locality. 

Using school-fixed effects models, we find a nontrivial reduction in the annual growth of math test scores, due to increases in firearms murders in the school’s locality. The negative effect is 0.029 of a standard deviation, this magnitude represents 60 percent of what students learn in school, on average, in a given year according to ENLACE scores.

Murder data gathered from Sistema Nacional de Información en Salud (SINAIS). Frequency of Teacher Absenteeism data gathered by ENLACE data from principal questionnaires, SEP.

We also explore what could be driving the negative impact of violent crime on student’s learning. In particular, we find that increases over time in violence at the school’s locality are associated with more student absenteeism (this effect is statistically significant only in primary schools), within-school violence (measured as hostility from students to teachers), and the deterioration of the quality of school services, in terms of increased teacher truancy, teacher turnover and less class time.

Our research currently examines several aspects of the relationship between high school dropouts and violence, the incidence of gang activity near public schools, and the effectiveness of “Escuela Segura,” a federal program established in 2007, aimed at improving public safety in schools in localities that have been strongly affected by violence.

Updated: Dec. 2013

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