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Bullying in Schools: Is the Trend on the Decline?

Nearly 21 percent of middle and high school students reported being bullied in 2015, according to a new national report.

Bullying is clearly a problem in America’s classrooms. But new data suggest that incidents may be on the decline.

The report–conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)–finds that the percentage of students who reported being bullied declined by more than 10 percent over the last decade.

With school safety at the heart of so many critical conversations this month, such findings represent a potential indicator of progress.

Positive signs

When it comes to reducing instances of bullying in schools, the ED/NCES report offers some positive insights:

  1. Overall bullying reports decline
    The percentage of 12- to 18-year-olds who reported bullying incidents in 2015 was 20.8 percent. That’s nearly 11 percent lower than the 31.7 percent of students who reported bullying incidents in 2007.
  2. Fewer students report hate-related incidents
    In 2007, nearly 10 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds reported being called a hate-related word. Eight years later, that number was down to 7.2 percent.
  3. Bullying incidents occur less frequently
    Among students who reported being bullied, the percentage who said they were bullied almost every day declined by more than 2 percent, from 6.6 percent in 2007 to 4.2 percent in 2015.
  4. When bullying occurs, more students report it
    While 36 percent of bullied students said they reported the incident to a teacher or other school staff member in 2007, that number was up to 43 percent in 2015.

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A concerted effort

Though the report does not draw conclusions on the possible reasons behind these declines, many schools have prioritized the need for stronger bullying prevention and awareness programs.

As U.S. News and World Report education reporter Lauren Camera notes, anti-bullying efforts are often coupled with a focus on social-emotional learning (SEL).

Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee, for example, employs a multi-pronged approach to boost students’ and adults’ SEL competencies, and actively promotes open and honest conversations among students. This approach also takes into account students’ experiences with trauma and how those experiences might affect their behavior.

School leaders and educators say that the approach has contributed to a cultural shift that is positively impacting the school district’s climate.

School leaders and staff at Queensbury Union Free School District in New York undertook a similar approach to unpacking student trauma as a means of addressing misbehavior in school. As superintendent Dr. Doug Huntley recently told us:

With the help of experts in the field of mental health, we eventually learned that incidents once characterized as student misbehavior often were actually defense mechanisms caused by stress and trauma. Standard forms of behavioral interventions did not and would not work. Therefore, we sought a better understanding of the impact that childhood stressors and traumatic events have on children. Our research into the matter clearly indicated that to successfully support children who experience trauma, past practices and educational programs had to change or at least be modified.

Helping students report

The growing percentage of students who are willing to report bullying to teachers demonstrates how shining a light on bullying prevention and reporting can produce positive results for schools.

Students are increasingly willing to be open about their bullying experiences and to discuss those experiences with adults. But, for students who may still be embarrassed or worried about retaliation, schools need systems for safe and anonymous reporting.

Temecula Valley Unified School District in California offers a Report Bullying tool on its district website, where students and adults can report instances of bullying or other potential school safety threats, either anonymously, or by leaving their name.

Aware that two students were considering harming themselves after suffering abuse in school, fellow classmates used the tool to report their concerns to staff members and the school resource office.

What’s your take on the latest bullying data? Do these stats ring true in your community? How is your school or district working to reduce bullying? Tell us in the comments.