It’s a myth that “bullying” at schools is a worse problem today than in the past, according to a task force report released on April 30 commissioned by the American Education Research Association (AERA). Indeed, major categories of bullying, such as being threatened by a weapon on school grounds have remained stable — between 7 and 9 percent — between 1993 and 2009. The percentage of high school students who say they’ve been in a physical fight has declined from 16 percent to 11 percent during the same time period. This data comes from a 2012 National Center for Education Statistics paper, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, written by Robers, Zhang, Truman and Snyder. This report claims that overall, all forms of bullying have decreased by 50 percent from 1995 to 2009.
The task force’s co-chairs also said it’s wrong to assume that bullying is primarily happening over social networks today. Co-chair Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign cited a figure that 39% of bullying is occurs face to face.
There’s terribly little data on bullying and solid data-drive research on what schools can do to curb it. The big problem is the word “bullying” itself because it means different things to different people. Some researchers cling to a narrow definition in which there must repeated incidents between two people of unequal power. But lay people, when they fill out surveys, might consider a single hazing incident to qualify as bullying. The AERA task force suggested that we should instead break the term “bullying” down into sub-categories of “victimization” to track it more properly.
The report emphasized that many anti-bullying programs being marketed to and adopted by schools had no evidence to support their effectiveness.
Other press coverage and resources:
USA Today: Researchers: Stop using the word ‘bullying’ in school
Education Writers Association (EWA) 2010 backgrounder on bullying