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The State of Bullying in Schools

  • Bridgitt L. Mitchell
Chapter

Abstract

Approximately 246 million children are victimized through bullying across the world annually (UNESCO, 2017). According to the US Department of Education (U.S Department of Education,Washington, DC, 2016), one out of every five students is bullied annually. Thus, bullying continues to be a challenge for schools. Unfortunately, there is a relationship between bullying behaviors and the physical and emotional well-being of students. In an effort to counter the devastating outcomes of bullying, schools have sought to ameliorate the situation through targeted prevention and intervention strategies. Part of the challenge, however, is that while school-based bullying initiatives have been adopted and implemented, it is unclear to what extent and whether the overall results eliminate bullying. This is in part because many anti-bullying programs fail to develop evaluations that answer the questions: does the intervention work and what evidence demonstrates that bullying is eliminated? The purpose of this paper is to examine the “state” of bullying in our schools, based on an extensive literature review and analysis.

Introduction

Bullying is a pervasive social problem within schools that warrants comprehensive solutions. The systemic nature of this epidemic affects not only those who are bullied but also students who bully others and are witnesses to bullying. Blake et al. (2015) argue that “students may assume different yet fluid roles in the bullying continuum that have overlapping effects on the participating youth’s psychological functioning” (p. 136). Students may also be subjected to physical harm resulting from bullying behaviors. Therefore, bullying is considered a public health threat that impacts the individual both mentally and physically.

There is also evidence that negative school climates are influenced by families’ and education professionals’ views, beliefs, and behaviors in regard to bullying (Bradshaw, 2013). The ideology around bullying within the students’ primary environments (home and school) drives conflict management, problem-solving, and socio-emotional competency in group settings. Thus, it is beneficial when adults model desired social behaviors and foster environments grounded in trust and mutual respect as well as intervene when inappropriate behaviors occur. As such, many schools have adopted bullying prevention programs and strategies that are specific to the kinds of bullying prevalent in schools. While there is continued support for anti-bullying interventions, it is unclear of the long-term impact of such models.

Definition

Before discussing the incidence of bullying, it is necessary to have a working definition. According to Olweus (1994), bullying is victimization that is characterized by unwanted aggressive behavior, an act repeated over time, and involves an interpersonal relationship that has an imbalance of power. It is important to note that bullying is multidimensional and can include an act traditionally defined as well as those promulgated by societal trends such as social media, i.e., cyberbullying. Further, it is a “pattern of behavior rather than an isolated event, and it has an adverse impact on the victim, bully, and the bystanders” (UNESCO, 2017). Therefore, the impact of bullying manifests across the entire school environment and influences relational norms.

There are two modes of bullying: direct which are aggressive behaviors that occur in the presence of the targeted student and indirect, aggressive behaviors not directly communicated to the targeted student (Gladden, Vivolo-Kantor, Hamburger, & Lumpkin, 2014). These varying modes increase the complexity of bullying in that there is not always a clearly identified way that the behaviors occur to the student. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain effective prevention and intervention strategies.

Gladden et al. (2014) defined the types of bullying as physical, verbal, relational, and damage of property:

Physical bullying involves force or bodily harm that includes but is not limited to behaviors such as hitting, punching, or kicking another person.

Verbal bullying is oral or written communication by the perpetrator against a student that causes harm such as taunting, name calling, threatening or offensive written notes or hand gestures, and inappropriate sexual comments.

Relational behaviors are designed by a perpetrator to harm the reputation and relationships of a student. Direct relational bullying includes efforts to isolate the targeted youth by preventing interactions with their peers. Indirect relational bullying is comprised of spreading false and/or harmful rumors, publicly writing derogatory comments, or posting embarrassing images in a physical or electronic space without the student’s permission or knowledge.

Damage to property includes theft, alteration, or damaging of the target youth’s property by the perpetrator to cause harm.

Prevalence and Effect

In the USA the most common forms of bullying are “verbal insults, name calling and nick names, hitting, direct aggression, theft, threats, spreading rumors, and social exclusion or isolation” (UNESCO, 2017). Even though cyberbullying is not mentioned as a popular form of bullying, it should definitely be noted. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 80 studies analyzing bullying involvement rates (for both bullying others and being bullied) for 12–18-year-old students, there was a reported mean prevalence rate of 35% for traditional bullying involvement and 15% for cyberbullying involvement (Modecki, Minchin, Harbaugh, Guerra, & Runions, 2014). Additionally, approximately 80 percent of all high school students have encountered being bullied in some form online (Bullying Statistics, n.d.). Sanchez and Cerezo (2010) examined the prevalence of primary school children’s involvement in bullying. They found that for younger students who bullied and were bullied there tended to be a higher incident among those with special needs and immigrants.

There are several underlying causes or risk factors for becoming a victim to bullying. The most vulnerable student populations with the highest risk for bullying are those who have indicators such as low socioeconomic status; ethnic, linguistic, or cultural differences; migration or displacement; and poverty (UNESCO, 2017). A survey of 100,000 bullied youth revealed that 25% were bullied because of physical appearance, 25% because of gender and sexual orientation, 25% because of ethnicity or natural origin, and 25% for other reasons (UNICEF, 2014). According to the CDC, boys are more likely to experience physical bullying from another student, while girls are more likely to experience verbal and relational bullying (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Also, girls are at a higher risk of cyberbullying associated with sexual abuse than boys (UNICEF, 2014). In relation to race and ethnicity, ethnic minorities are more likely to become victims of bullying (Dake, Price, & Telljohann, 2003). Further, youth with disabilities are bullied more than their peers (Carter & Spencer, 2006).

The effects on bullying are profound. The most devastating effect is suicide. The term, “bullycide, is a hybrid of bullying and suicide to explain when someone takes their life as a result of being bullied” (Bullying Statistics, n.d.). Unfortunately, children are also at risk for mental health problems such as depression. Likewise, students report loneliness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Bullying is also associated with behavioral misconduct in the form of “physical fighting, weapon carrying, theft, property damage, substance abuse, cheating, and breaking the law” (Dake, Price, & Telljohann, 2003).

Cost of Bullying

Bullying is more than a social nuisance with unintended emotional cost to its victims. It also has demonstrated long-lasting financial costs to both the individual and institution. While it is difficult to assess the exact cost associated with negative student behaviors, there are obvious indicators of financial losses to schools that include suspensions, expulsions, truancy, dropout, and vandalism (Phillips, 2011). Thus, institutionally, bullying promulgates absenteeism which in turn effects federal funding that schools receive based on average daily attendance. Therefore, lower student attendance results in lower reimbursement rates that can be in the range of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars annually (Kemp-Graham & Hendricks, 2015). For example, Baams et al. (2017) found that students who were bullied often felt unsafe which led to absenteeism that cost California school districts $276 million. This magnitude of deficits can decrease districts’ ability to leverage school budgets for staff and instructional resources necessary for supporting optimal learning environments.

Additionally, being the victim of bullying, the bully, or both significantly impacts overall life outcomes compared to those who are not bullied (Hill, 2013). For the individual, regardless of the role in the bullying behavior, bullying puts adults at risk of negative effects on health, financial, behavioral, and social outcomes (Wolke, Copeland, Angold, & Costello, 2013). The most notable costs are for mental health services for the victim that often span from childhood to adulthood. Bullying causes mental health problems such as depression and anxiety with increased incidents of self-harm and suicide (Wolke, 2014). Further, according to Wolke et al. (2013), the bully-victims, those who have been bullied and inflict bullying, incur the most devastating financial outcomes with them being 19.9% more likely to live in poverty, 22.5% more likely to drop out of high school, 27% more likely not to have a college degree, and 17.9% more likely to get fired from a job. Academic performance is also compromised. Given that victims are more likely to be absent, children are at a greater risk of low standardized test scores and difficulty transitioning to postsecondary institutions.

Cyberbullying also has a fiscal consequence. The unique nature of this type of bullying can have both individual and institutional implications. Schools hold the burden of providing access to social media and Internet outlets where students may practice bullying behaviors. On the other hand, students are held accountable for the offensive behaviors that cause harm to other students. Both are liable for cyberbullying and are subject to the consequences accordingly. As a result, there are legal costs of cyberbullying. These costs have warranted insurance policies specific to impending legal fees, psychological counseling, and public relations damage control (Teensafe, 2017).

Prevention

As we consider the cost of bullying, it would be fitting to discuss the cost benefit of bullying prevention. Since the nature of bullying is multifaceted, the prevention strategies must also be unique, varied, and comprehensive specific to the needs of the school environment. The cost benefit of effective bullying prevention programs has policy and applied practice implications. As such, the scarcity of state, local, and federal resources allocated to school districts justify understanding why prevention works. Evidence significant to this case is the reduction of expulsions, suspensions, and absenteeism compared to the overall cost of implementation dependent on the number of students, teachers, and staff. The cost benefit analysis is important in that it encompasses the program outcomes and impacts along with the cost to implement at the school level (Windber Research Institute, 2016). The Windber Institute (2016) examined the cost benefit of a 3-year bullying prevention program with a target population of 1.1 million students across three areas: healthcare, schools, and society. The researchers found a cost benefit on a $25.8 million dollar investment as $2.3 million for healthcare and $6.7 million for schools and projected the cost benefit to society as $1.4 million per individual over a lifetime. This study supports the value of mitigating the effects of bullying for students, schools, and the community at large. While this represents one study, it indicates that prevention should be considered as a viable option for decreasing bullying and its effects.

The purpose of bullying prevention is threefold: positively modify school climates to prevent bullying, reduce aggressive behaviors, and promote collective problem-solving that includes students and adults. In order to reduce bullying, schools must determine the extent to which bullying is a problem by measuring student perceptions of bullying behaviors. Further, schools should address school climates by developing interventions aimed at student attitudes that support bullying and encourage school staff to assist students in understanding that it is acceptable to ask for help (Bandyopadhyay, Cornell, & Konold, 2009). Prevention programs that rely solely on education for teachers and students are difficult to implement and prove to be only slightly effective (Ttotfi & Farrington, 2011). Accordingly, the most successful programs are those that are comprehensive including all stakeholders. One of the unfortunate characteristics of school bullying statistics is that in about “85 percent of bullying cases, no intervention or effort is made by a teacher or administration member of the school to stop the bullying from taking place” (Bullying Statistics, n.d.). Without doubt, the prevention of school bullying should be a priority in fostering healthy school environments. However, before schools embark on a school-wide bullying prevention program, there should be a needs assessment to determine the target population, appropriate strategies, implementation plan, and resources available to complete the initiative. For example, the school’s assumption could be that the prevalence of bullying occurs with students between 12 and 18 years of age, so a blanket program is created to encompass these ages. However, the results of a formal needs assessment reveal that the school should really begin its efforts with 14 year olds. This is important as it provides a target group within the school and allows the school to leverage necessary resources.

Given that bullying is a public health threat, prevention strategies should be considered a priority for policy reform and designated resources. Bryn (2011) states that prevention efforts must go beyond the preview of school districts toward engagement with the federal government to garner necessary leadership and create a global understanding of next steps. Nationally, all 50 states have developed policies and/or guidelines to address bullying which are disseminated to local school districts (Ansary, Elias, Greene, & Green, 2015). Cornell and Bradshaw (2015) argue that a comprehensive approach that goes beyond the typical bullying prevention strategies that is inclusive of improving student interactions and the school climate is necessary.

Types of Intervention

A unique characteristic of bullying is that regardless of the helplessness and distress students may feel, they often do not tell anyone of the victimization. This poses a particularly difficult challenge for adults and schools that hope to develop and implement comprehensive school-based interventions to decrease the prevalence of bullying. Fonagy et al. (2009) purport that schools must adopt a multicomponent whole school approach that includes anti-bullying activities representative of the entire stakeholder group: students, teachers, and parents. The overall success of school-based programs is contingent on factors such as parent participation and teacher and peer involvement. Additionally, variations of program focus to include considerations for students’ behaviors, emotions, and cognitive processes, as well as developmentally appropriate learning environments and curriculum are important (Hallam, 2009).

Several bullying prevention models can be found in the literature. These models often include one or a combination of several program elements: institutionalizing school rules and behavior management processes, integrating a whole school or ecological bullying prevention program, and supervising students and soliciting cooperation among different professionals and between school staff (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

School Rules and Behavior Management

Most schools adopt for stand-alone prevention programs that emphasize change on the individual student based on the implementation of school rules about behavior and how to handle misbehavior (University of California, 2011). The crux of a conducive school climate in supporting the diverse needs of students is the inherent safety within the learning environments and the strength of relationships between students and school staff. An important element in achieving this is to establish school rules that encourage respect, address conflict, and promote desired student behaviors. Bullying is decreased when schools clearly define “norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures” (Wang, Berry, & Swearer, 2013, p. 297). School rules provide a common language to identify and deal with bullying behaviors. Rules also set the standard for overall student behaviors at school.

It is necessary for schools and its staff to have systems in place to assist students in mastering behavior management skills toward optimizing their social and emotional development (Waters & Mashburn, 2017). Waters and Mashburn (2017) argue that when students have the capacity to support others who have been bullied and teachers promote the significance of the student’s role, the frequency and the intensity of bullying behaviors diminishes. Accordingly, some schools have embedded anti-bullying programs which focus on behavior management into the curriculum. Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) is a systemic approach for improving the school climate and facilitating behavior change in the context of a framework that supports a bullying prevention process. Given that this approach is both comprehensive and proactive, it fosters the redevelopment of the entire school environment (Pugh & Chitiyo, 2012). PBIS is also an evidence-based model comprised of key characteristics of an effective bullying prevention program to include principles to teach appropriate behavior, processes to monitor and acknowledge appropriate behavior, instructions to prevent bullying, corrections and consequences for problem behaviors, evaluations of student behavior, and development of a multidisciplinary teams within the school environment (University of California, 2011). Bradshaw et al. (2015) suggest that PBIS demonstrates the possibility of significant results in relation to school climate, bullying, and academic achievement and should be tracked using data systems throughout the implementation process. Data collection during a PBIS process is instrumental in identifying target areas of focus to include both desired and inappropriate student behaviors toward achieving program outcomes (Bradshaw, 2013). The PBIS is implemented across three tiers: school, classroom, and individual. The PBIS multitiered approach complements other models and through careful alignment can be integrated to develop effective bullying prevention programs (Bradshaw, 2013).

Another framework used in schools is social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL enhances the overall school climate by promoting the development of social and emotional skills of students and school staff. Like PBIS, SEL can be embedded into the school’s existing framework and/or bullying prevention model. The primary categories of social skills emphasized in the SEL model are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (University of California, 2011). SEL provides schools with a mechanism to improve students’ social and emotional competencies while impacting bullying on individual and peer levels. Thus, SEL has a direct influence on improving student conflict management and problem-solving skills, reducing inappropriate behaviors, and improving academic achievement (Smith & Low, 2013). Smith and Low (2013) recommend that SEL be considered as a component for bullying prevention as oppose to a stand-alone process as most effective programs use a whole school approach. Given that the skills often taught in SEL programs are empathy, emotion management, and social problem-solving toward social competence, students increase their ability to build strong peer relationships (Smith & Low, 2013). Peer relationships are at the root of bullying, specifically to develop friendships and gauge those students who are liked or disliked. Therefore, self-awareness, social awareness, problem-solving, and relationship management prove beneficial in the reduction of bullying in school environments (Espelage, Rose, & Polanain, 2015).

Whole School and Ecological Approach

The whole school and ecological approach deals with understanding the environmental influences that perpetuate violent or aggressive behaviors that are characteristic in instances of bullying among students. In regard to the whole school approach, the focus is on the primary school environment with some consideration to family dynamics. A whole school approach is common strategy whereby the school program is multifaceted, unique to the schools characteristics, and focused on the community-wide change (Olweus, 1994). Often the strategies employed toward increased awareness of bullying are within the existing infrastructure of the school to include but not limited to supervising recess, conducting parent-teacher conferences, establishing classroom rules, and convening classroom meetings (Dake, Price, & Telljohann, 2003). This approach deals with bullying at all stakeholder levels: administrators, teachers, school staff, and students. The most familiar of these programs is the Olweus Bully Prevention Programs . This program emphasizes “not bullying others, including those who are being excluded, helping those being bullied, and telling an adult at school and home if there has been a bullying incident” (Waters & Mashburn, 2017, p. 6).

The next approach is based on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model where a child is a product of the norms, values, and rules within a system of environments. Thus, a child’s behaviors are not only inherent but also influenced by the ecological context of interactions within each environment. Notably, this is the most effective of all bullying prevention models due to the comprehensive nature of the design (Hornby, 2016). According to Cornell and Bradshaw (2015), the social-ecological approach is a heuristic model that takes into consideration the overarching social influences of the entire stakeholder group in addition to individual interventions that are specific to stopping the demonstrated behaviors of the students. This approach to bullying addresses the systemic environmental influences that shape and sustain student behavior (Bradshaw, 2013). The dynamic and reciprocal environmental influences on bullying behaviors are indicative of the attitudes and beliefs of students, schools, peer groups, communities, and the society at large (Smith & Low, 2013). The discreet variables representative within each of these environments contribute to student’s bullying behavior and potential responses to the bullying behaviors of others. Therefore, school bullying prevention programs are developed in the context of changing demographics of communities that includes factors such as race, disability, and sexual orientation (University of California, 2011). In order for schools to have the most success with implementing an ecological approach, it requires careful planning to adjust for the nuances within each level and a plan which is flexible enough to adjust for barriers (Hornby, 2016). Lee (2011) argues that each level of the ecological system is critical to prevalence of bullying.

Supervision and School Staff

Schools are expected to supervise students in their care. Even so, most bullying happens out of sight of school staff and administration. There is a high probability for violent or aggressive behaviors to occur when students have freedom to access areas within the school environment without risk of detection from adults. Therefore, part of the staff training required for bullying prevention programs should include formal, written supervision plans with adults assigned to specific areas of the school (Trump, 2011).

School staff are integral to bullying interventions. The typical players in this model are administrators, counselors, and teachers. Teachers have a unique opportunity to work directly with students who are bullied. Even though many students fail to report bullying, teachers often remain the first observers of inappropriate peer-to-peer social behaviors. Therefore, teachers seem to be ideal candidates for implementing successful bullying interventions. However, for some teachers, this may not be the case as research suggests that teachers are actually ineffective change agents in negative or aggressive classroom situations (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Huitsing, Sainio, & Salmivalli, 2014). This is in part because teachers are not always physically present when incidents occur due to proximity and location that include limited supervision of places like playgrounds, hallways, and lunchrooms. It is important to note that teachers recognize the significance of their roles in relation to bullying. However, many grapple with what actually constitutes bullying to include a common and shared operational definition (Craig, Bell, & Leschied, 2011). Thus, teacher interventions are inconsistent in the field with some taking a proactive stance and fostering positive prosocial environments, while others take more reactive approaches. In fact, when teachers are aware of potential bullying, they seldom intervene. Other barriers to staff-focused intervention models are that teacher perceptions of what constitutes bullying differs and/or varies from that of students and some teachers believe that bullying is a normative developmental process. Despite these challenges, schools still opt primarily for this model and earmark bullying prevention resources toward teacher training.

There are studies that clearly identify the value of staff-based interventions. Without doubt, there is a need for heightened awareness, increased classroom supervision, and targeted opportunities for bullying prevention and intervention from school staff. According to Veenstra et al. (2014), incidents of bullying were lowest in classes in which the teacher appeared efficient at combatting bullying. Thus, when school staff foster a positive school climate, students feel protected and supported. Teacher responses to bullying impact student behaviors and overall classroom management. However, teachers need more than knowledge of bullying to be effective in their role, they also require guidelines on how to respond appropriately (Yoon & Bauman, 2014). Yoon and Bauman (2014) argue that the bullying prevention training that teachers receive mainly focuses on general information about bullying with little to no regard to strategies for how to respond or deal with situations in the school setting. Thus, training alone may not be a comprehensive intervention strategy as it is contingent on both the existing attitudes and beliefs of education professionals as well as their understanding of how to prevent bullying in the school environment (Craig, Bell, & Leschied, 2011). This can significantly impact the effectiveness of anti-bullying initiatives. Teachers must attempt to become actively involved in bullying prevention programs. This may involve collaborating with students to create student-centered approaches that improve the school climate (Al-Raqqad, Al-Bourini, Al Talahin, & Aranki, 2017). Demonstrated responsive social support of school staff fosters a positive school environment and encourages bullied students to seek assistance when dealing with negative prosocial situations (Boulton, et al., 2013). Teachers serve as role models for dealing with conflict, accepting individual differences, setting the standard for respectful behaviors, and enforcing the school rules and the consequences for bullying (Wang, Berry, & Swearer, 2013). As such, teachers’ positive relationships with students and clear attitudes against inappropriate behavior are key to successful school environments.

Evaluation

The CDC (2016) states that school-based bullying prevention programs are widely implemented but infrequently evaluated. Even though there are several anti-bullying prevention models, the question remains whether these interventions are effective in eliminating bullying and its adverse effects to school climates. In short, how do we know that these programs work and which elements constitute sustainable best practice? While each model addresses varying elements of the overall problem, it is difficult to determine the definitive impact due to inconsistent evaluation practices and variations in methodological quality. In fact, Cornell and Bradshaw (2015) state that the limitations to evaluating anti-bullying programs include narrowed attention on the internal consistency of bullying measures without consideration to reliability overtime and across individuals, demonstrated validity across varied student populations and environments, and the biased effect on measuring bullying programs. This makes it particularly challenging for researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to identify specific evidence-based best practices in the field of bullying prevention (Bradshaw, 2013). Therefore, there is a need for evidence-based examples of optimal bullying prevention and intervention models (UNESCO, 2017). Specific examples of viable anti-bullying models should fully address the unique factors that constitute the prevalence of violent behaviors in schools (Wang, Berry, & Swearer, 2013).

To ameliorate bullying, it is necessary to identify best practices in prevention and intervention specific to characteristics of the various kinds of bullying across the target population of those being bullied. Some programs demonstrate the strength of evaluation offering a glimpse of the benefits in doing so. McElearney et al. (2013) conducted a longitudinal study on the effectiveness of a bullying intervention program that promoted improved peer relationships for students who have been bullied. The findings indicated that school counseling for students was effective in addressing bullying. Thus, the systematic evaluation proved evidence-based for adult-led interventions that support bullying as well as the benefits of whole school approaches (McElearney, Adamson, & Bunting, 2013). Hallam (2009) evaluated the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) program that focused on the social, emotional, and behavioral skills of primary children. The pre- and post-questionnaires illustrated that 90% of teachers noted student improvement overall. In another study, a bullying prevention program using a video discussion model was evaluated finding that students increased their knowledge about bullying, victimization, and seeking help (Migliaccio & Raskauskas, 2013). Further, Menard and Grotpeter (2014) conducted an evaluation across 5 years of Bully-Proofing Your School (BPYS), a school-based intervention program designed to reduce bullying. The evaluation proved that BPYS was effective in reducing bullying behaviors, promoting student’s understanding of the bullying at school, and increasing student perceptions of school safety. Overall, the characteristics of each of these studies do not lead to the road map for what makes an effective bullying prevention program. However, they do demonstrate the value of an integrated evaluation process for prevention and intervention models in relation to identifying effective programmatic elements. This is also illustrated in Vreeman and Carroll’s (2007) review of 26 effective bullying prevention programs across five types of interventions: curriculum, whole school, social skill groups, mentoring, and social work support. Interestingly, less than half of these programs involved controlled evaluations with bullying as an outcome. However, while many evaluations may not be evidence that school-wide interventions eliminate bullying, they do provide evidence of how the interventions impact the student’s thoughts and feelings about bullying (Vreeman & Carroll, 2007). The identification of these key components and strategies are integral to bullying prevention research as well as the catalyst for an evidence-based framework.

Despite these findings, the overall evaluation reviews of bullying prevention and intervention programs have mixed findings as none prove to totally eliminate bullying. In fact, most studies do not measure whether bullying is eliminated in the school but instead focuses on such variables as the number of teachers trained, implementation of school rules, and whether a defined program is in place. In addition, other relevant factors include program elements and implementation as well as the role of the school climate on the impact of the bullying prevention program (Low & Van Ryzin, 2014). Such emphases influence the scope of assessment that lead to sufficient program evaluation. Likewise, many programs use bullying assessment tools such as self-report rating scales, student interviews, and student observations to identify and measure effective school-based strategies and techniques that lack rigorous evaluation (Blake, Banks, Patience, & Lund, 2015). Currently, the most popular assessment of the frequency, type of bullying, and how students respond to bullying is the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire (Bandyopadhyay, Cornell, & Konold, 2009). This assessment focuses on how well the intervention increased awareness of bullying problems in students and adults within schools and encouraged adult involvement in resolving the problems. However, this survey fails to establish validity because it relies solely on the accuracy of students’ self-reporting of bullying (Lee & Cornell, 2010). This example demonstrates the need for researchers to continue to evaluate the overall effectiveness of programs in the context of such instruments as they are often the first tools of assessment when developing school-wide prevention strategies.

According to Ansary et al. (2015) successful bullying prevention programs have a program philosophy, long-term commitment to effective program implementation, assessment and sustainability, and clear and consistent strategies of what to do when bullying occurs. Yet, these programs demonstrate small margins of success in the reduction of bullying behaviors from school settings. Perhaps this is due to ineffective comprehensive evaluation strategies that are designed to measure eliminating bullying from school environments resulting from the prescribed interventions. Even though there is consistency with programs meeting the desired outcomes, there are significant variations in bullying programs in relation to the type, components used, time commitment, and which stakeholders are involved directly and indirectly (Menard & Grotpeter, 2014). There is also the question of generalization of appropriate socio-emotional competency across environments, specifically the home. Bradshaw (2015) argues that while bullying prevention program outcomes can be achieved, variations in the implementation and compliance to the prevention model influence behavioral outcomes in real-world applications. Unfortunately, current evaluations of bullying prevention programs do not demonstrate sustainability of prosocial behaviors across the students’ primary environments (home, school, and community). Ttotfi and Farrington (2011) reviewed bullying prevention approaches and affirmed the benefits of evaluation in understanding the efficacy of bullying prevention programs in schools. The review involved 53 programs of which 44 evaluations showed that school-based bullying prevention programs were effective. Even though contemporary research identifies key program elements that improve student behavior to include behavior management, school rules, teacher training and parent support, comprehensive evaluation of bullying prevention initiatives is needed to test and isolate the critical components of effective bullying prevention programs (Ttotfi & Farrington, 2011).

Conclusion

Bullying is a systemic problem within schools that causes long-lasting effects on students’ physically, socially, and emotionally. Certainly, most would agree that students should be privy to and benefit from schools which foster safe learning environments conducive to promoting student’s overall physical and mental health. The imminent cost of bullying has led to school-based interventions and anti-bullying policies nationwide. So, how do schools ameliorate the prevalence of bullying? Bullying prevention programs provide students with coping strategies for varied social situations as well as mechanisms that promote social competence in relation to building and sustaining healthy relationships with their peers and adults. Many schools have certainly attempted to remedy the devastating outcomes of bullying through concerted efforts that include strategies and policies specific to prevention and intervention. The problem is that while there are such activities in most school, it is not clear of whether these models actually work. Thus, given the number of school-based bullying prevention programs, it is difficult to discern which is most effective in improving school climate and more importantly eliminating bullying and other violent behaviors perpetuated by students (Bradshaw, 2015). Therefore, researchers should strive to not only support the development of strategies and techniques specific to eliminating bullying but also inform the body of knowledge in the field of bullying prevention by clearly identifying what works through comprehensive evaluation.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bridgitt L. Mitchell
    • 1
  1. 1.Early Childhood Education, Colorado Community Colleges OnlineColorado SpringsUSA

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