The war against bullying isn’t over, but statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Justice and released recently by the National Center for Education Statistics indicate the tide may have turned.
While the numbers show just a modest decrease in students’ reports of being bullied since 2007, which seems to have been a peak year for bullying, actual school violence has declined steadily and dramatically for 20 years, a 74 percent decline, according to the NCES numbers.
The percent of youth who were the victims of fighting of other kind of violence declined from nearly 60 per 100 in 1993 to about 10 per 100 in 2010. The percent of kids who were victims of theft dropped 82 percent.
“There has been a pretty nice drop over the past 20 years. The million-dollar question is why. I think it’s an important piece of information to get out. It seems like things are getting better, so I think we should take heart. Our schools are becoming safer and safer for kids,” said Katherine Raczynski, director of the Safe and Welcoming Schools Project in the University of Georgia’s College of Education.
Other surveys also show declines specifically in bullying, according to David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center in a 2013 research paper.
“Bullying and peer victimization appear to be declining since the 1990s,” Finkelhor wrote. “This is good news. But it should not be interpreted as the problem having been solved. First, the rates are still incredibly high. For example, more than one in 10 high school students said they were in a physical fight in the last year.”
Though still a problem, schools are taking the issue more seriously, said Andy Horne, the retired dean of the UGA College of Education and co-author with UGA public health professor Pamela Orpinas of the book “Bullying Prevention: Creating a Positive School Climate and Developing Social Competence,”
School administrators locally also believe bullying is on the decline.
Cleveland Road Elementary School Principal Tanya Long said bullying at her school dropped dramatically in just one year thanks to a “No Place for Hate” anti-bullying campaign coordinated by counselor Denise Vickery.
“We’ve had less discipline referrals specifically tied to bullying,” said Long, who’s been principal at the school for eight years.
Because of the anti-bullying campaign, children are more likely to speak up if they feel they are being bullied, said Long.
People don’t always understand what bullying is, said Dawn Meyers, director of social work in the Clarke County School District.
Bullying isn’t when someone throws your lunch down and stomps on it, she said.
“It’s when every day I’m fearful of you throwing down my lunch. For real bullying, there has to be an imbalance of power.” Meyers said.
The statewide surveys shows students feel safer in school than a few years ago, particularly 12th-graders. Like Horne, Meyers suspects a long educational campaign may finally be yielding results.
“Maybe we’re seeing the fruits of that labor,” she said. “We don’t want to sugarcoat it. Our data shows progress, but it’s still going to happen. It’s going to happen in Clarke County, Oconee County, it’s going to happen all over the country. We just need students and parents to trust us (and know) that we are here to help.”