In 2007, Catherine Bradshaw and Anne Sawyer published an article in the School Psychology Review entitled “Bullying and Peer Victimization at School: Perceptual Differences between Students and School Staff” (paywall). The article was the result of one of the most comprehensive studies into K-12 bullying, with more than 15,000 students from 109 elementary, middle, and high schools interviewed.
One of the most remarkable statistics in the article is that just 70.6% of students reported witnessing bullying in their schools. Considering that bullying (using the NCES definition given below) is an everyday event in American schools, this implies 29.4% of students spent their entire academic careers with their eyes closed, ears closed, and never logging into their social media accounts.
The more likely reason for this remarkable statistic is that many students don´t report bullying. In 2010, the Institute of Education Sciences published a report (PDF) in which it was claimed 64% of bullied students never reported it. The four reasons given for failing to report bullying was that students didn't recognize it, they felt shame, they feared retaliation, or they didn't think reporting it will do any good.
NCES' Bullying in K-12 Statistics
Almost a decade later, the latest bullying in K-12 statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveal very little has changed. Based on the U.S. Department of Education's “Indicators of School Crime and Safety”, the NCES' statistics show that only 20.2% of students aged between 12 and 18 reported being a victim of any type of bullying.
Reportable bullying is defined as any “intentional act that occurs through physical, verbal, or relational forms in situations where a power difference is present” and, for the purposes on the NCES' K-12 bullying statistics, includes bullying that occurs in school, outside school premises, on school buses, and online. With only 3.9% of students reporting being threatened with violence, and only 13% of students reporting having been called a name or made fun of, have kids got nicer to each other all of a sudden?
Not at all. To put the scale of underreporting into more context, in 2010 GLSEN compiled its “Playgrounds and Prejudice” report (PDF) in which it was claimed 70% of elementary school teachers reported students in their school are very often, often or sometimes bullied, called names or harassed because of the way they look or their body size. Other reasons for students being bullied or made fun of included sporting underachievement, academic inability, and mental or physical impairment.
The Problem with Inaccurate Statistics
When bullying in K-12 statistics are published in the media, it is more often than not the statistics produced by the NCES that get the most exposure - not only giving a false impression of the scale of bullying in American schools, but also providing a false foundation for state laws and school district policies. This can result in the scale of the problem not being fully understood by legislators and administrators, resulting in inadequate measures to combat bullying in K-12 schools.
Yet bullying can have a profound impact on students - even name-calling. Research has shown that students victimized at an early age for being overweight can develop eating disorders, while repeatedly being called “stupid” or a “loser” can impact a child's identity. It has been well-chronicled that verbal insults can lead to mental health issues in later life, and that some students manifest their mental health issues in violence - perpetuating the cycle of physical bullying in K-12 schools.
Students who don't feel safe in schools due to bullying, don't learn. In the GLSEN survey mentioned above, it was reported that students who are bullied are less likely than others to say they get good grades and that they are happy at school, while students who are bullied are four times as likely to say that they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel afraid or unsafe there. Although that survey dates back to 2010, a similar survey today would likely deliver the same results.
A Solution to the Inaccurate Reporting of K-12 Bullying
One solution that could resolve the issue of inaccurate reporting is anonymous tip apps. Several states already have anonymous tip services for students, and these not only help combat bullying, but can also alert help services to concerns about suicide, drug use, and attacks on schools. More advanced apps also have personal safety features, and can be used to receive emergency alerts or as a portal to store reference information about bullying, suicide prevention, and drug use.
With regard to the app's reporting capabilities, each anonymous tip is routed to a designated team in order to prevent the wrong person or wrong department reading sensitive information. The tips are recorded, along with the actions taken in response to the tips. This process is intended to drive accountability, but it also has the consequence of creating logs that eliminate underreporting and reflect the true scale of bullying in K-12 schools.
Anonymous tip services are not only used by students that are victims of bullying, but also by those who have witnessed bullying - giving educators a much clearer picture of what is going on in their schools. If you would like to find out more about setting up an anonymous tip service in your school, school district, or state, do not hesitate to get in touch with our team of school safety experts who will be happy to organize a no-obligation demonstration of our anonymous tipping app in action.