Bullying in the United States is changing, and not in the way we’d hope. To help educators, parents, education funders, and students grapple with the shifting landscape, we went straight to the source for more insight. We asked over 160,000 students across 27 states about their experiences with bullying during the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 school years.
What do we know about students’ experiences with bullying in schools?
Since 2016, YouthTruth has examined student perception data about bullying to contribute to anti-bullying conversations and action in honor of October’s National Bullying Prevention Month. Previously, our analysis found that 1 in 4 students are bullied — a broad statistic widely reported elsewhere.
We know students are the true experts about their experiences, and that listening to students is a crucial part of understanding how to decrease bullying. In 2017, we analyzed anonymous feedback from over 180,000 students across 37 states in grades five through twelve. We discovered that most bullying happens in person, and the top three reasons students believe they are bullied include their appearance, their race or skin color, and because other students thought they were gay.
Recent conversations with our partner educators across the country — leaders committed to creating safe, supportive, and inclusive schools — emboldened us to examine if students’ experiences with bullying have changed, and if so, how? Many educators wanted to know: Has bullying increased just at my school, or is this a broader trend? Which students are most likely to be bullied, and why? With this new report, we explore these questions and provide discussion questions and resources to take action.
Bullying rates have increased.
A SCHOOL’S STORY
When school leaders and staff at Quincy Junior High in Washington State surveyed students in the winter of the 2017-18 year, they saw a dramatic increase in bullying. The parent community also reported less favorable ratings about their child’s safety from bullying.
Parent and guardian belief that their child was safe from bullying dropped from the 76th percentile to the 35th percentile between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years.
“This was not data that could be ignored,” shared Principal Scott Ramsey. “We quickly moved from the YouthTruth data to action.” The school launched an anti-bullying initiative and created a two-day lesson plan about inclusion for teachers and students. An 8th grade class created a video that was shared district-wide and was picked up by the local news station. Click here to watch the three-minute news coverage, or watch the full five-minute video.
Majority white schools have higher rates of bullying.
In schools in which students of color comprise more than half of the student body, students of color were less likely to be bullied than white students. In these schools, 30 percent of students of color were bullied, compared to 37 percent of white students. In majority white schools, however, bullying rates are roughly the same — 36 to 37 percent — for both white students and students of color.
Our analysis also found that at schools with a majority of students of color, race is cited as a reason for being bullied more frequently than it is at majority white schools.
In majority white schools, students of color experienced a steeper increase in bullying than white students last year.
Bullying has increased for all students. However, in majority white schools, between the 2016- 17 and 2017-18 school years, white students saw an increase in bullying of about 3 percentage points, whereas students of color saw an increase of over 7 percentage points.
Conversely, at schools made up of a majority of students of color, there was virtually no change in the bullying rate between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years for either white students or students of color.
To create more equitable schools, it is important to understand how subgroups of students can experience disparate rates and types of bullying. This data helps shed light on where to target improvements, and the improvement work is worth it. Research shows that a positive school environment, in which students report high levels of safety and respect, is linked with academic success and can help close the achievement gap.
Middle school students experience higher rates of bullying than high school students.
Closing the Feedback Loop: Sample Discussion Questions
- In what ways do these findings feel relevant to what you observe about the experiences of students at our school? How are they similar or different?
- Are there anti-bullying initiatives in place on our campus? How effective do you think they are? Have they incorporated student perspectives?
- How do the culture-building and anti-bullying initiatives at our school work to include all students? What could our school be doing better?
- What questions do you have for our school community after reflecting on this data?
- How much of a problem do you think bullying is in our school?
- Do you know where students can go to get help if they are being bullied? Do you think students feel comfortable using those resources? Do you have suggestions for how to improve those resources?
- What are you doing to combat bullying at our school? What else could you be doing?
- What questions do you have for our school’s leaders, teachers, and fellow students after reflecting on this report?