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School-Based Programs to Reduce Violence

Universal school-based programs to reduce violence are designed to teach all students in a given school or grade about the problem of violence and its prevention or about one or more of the following topics or skills intended to reduce aggressive or violent behavior: emotional self-awareness, emotional control, self-esteem, positive social skills, social problem solving, conflict resolution, or team work. In this review, violence refers to both victimization and perpetration.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends universal, school-based programs on the basis of strong evidence of effectiveness in preventing or reducing violent behavior.

Task Force Finding

About the Interventions

  • Programs are offered in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms.
  • All children in a given grade or school, regardless of prior violence or risk for violent behavior, receive the programs.
  • Some programs target schools in high-risk areas, including those with low socioeconomic status, high crime rates, or both.
  • Elementary school and middle school programs usually seek to reduce disruptive and antisocial behavior using an approach that focuses on modifying behavior by changing the associated cognitive and affective mechanisms.
  • In middle and high school, the focus of programs shifts to general violence and to specific forms of violence, including bullying and dating violence. The interventions use an approach that makes greater use of social skills training and emphasizes the development of behavioral skills rather than changes in cognition, consequential thinking, or affective processes.

Results from the Systematic Review

Fifty-three studies met the systematic review inclusion criteria.

  • For all grades combined, the median effect was a 15.0% relative reduction in violent behavior among students who received the program (interquartile interval: -44.2% to -2.3%; 65 study arms).
  • By school level, the median effects on violent behavior were as follows.
    • High school students: median relative reduction of 29.2% (range: -44.2% to -2.3%; 4 study arms)
    • Middle school students: median relative reduction of 7.3% (interquartile interval: -35.2% to 2.3%; 15 studies)
    • Elementary school students: median relative reduction of 18.0% (interquartile interval: -44.8% to -2.5%; 26 studies)
    • Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students: median relative reduction of 32.4% (interquartile interval not calculated; 6 studies)
  • All intervention strategies (e.g., informational, cognitive/affective, and social skills building) were associated with a reduction in violent behavior. 
  • Programs appeared to be effective in reducing violent behavior among students in all school environments, regardless of socioeconomic status or crime rate.
  • Programs were also effective among all school populations, regardless of the predominant ethnicity of students.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to violence prevention.

Supporting Materials


CDC. The effectiveness of universal school-based programs for the prevention of violent and aggressive behavior: a report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR 2007;56(RR-7):1-16. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 591 kB] External Web Site Icon

Hahn R, Fuqua-Whitley D, Wethington H, et al., Effectiveness of universal school-based programs to prevent violent and aggressive behavior: a systematic review. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 365 kB] Am J Prev Med 2007;33(2S):S114–29.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. A recommendation to reduce rates of violence among school-aged children and youth by means of universal school-based violence prevention programs. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 41 kB] Am J Prev Med 2007;33(2S):S112-13.

Read other Community Guide publications about Violence Prevention in our library.

*PDF includes all of the information available and will not be updated.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. School-based programs to reduce violence. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: June 2005