Back-to-School: Books and Bullies

For many kids, returning to school is an exciting time, but for some, going back to school means returning to a dreaded ritual: Facing school bullies again.

A new study shows just how big a problem bullying is and how helpless teachers can be to stop it.

The National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) reported that many students commonly witnessed other children being bullied, physically or psychologically intimidated or belittled.

The CUBE study was the result of a nationwide survey of 32,000 students to gauge their feelings on safety and bullying in their school environments.

The students who participated in the study ranged in grades 4 to 12 and were from 15 urban school districts.

Brian Perkins, the chair of CUBE and the principal investigator of the study, says two of the most worrisome findings were that more than half of the students surveyed said they saw children being bullied at least once a month, and that almost 40 percent said teachers and schools could not stop the bullying.

The study indicated that as students got older, their confidence in their school's ability to stop the bullying declined.

The study showed younger students reported the most bullying: The number of students in grades 4 to 6 who said they were bullied regularly was more than double the number of similar reports from students in grades 9 to 12.

The study showed gender did not seem to matter, as boys and girls seemed to think and feel similarly about bullying.

However, Perkins said that bullying was a significant concern because of its great influence on student academic performance.

Trying to Address Bullying

In recent years, schools have focused more attention on bullying, and many states have tried addressing the issue through legislation.

However, according to the students in this survey, bullying is still a frequent occurrence in schools.

A child's feeling of safety, or lack thereof, is linked to his or her academic performance, the study shows.

"When students do not feel safe at school, they are more likely to become truant, distracted from school work, and experience lower levels of achievement," Perkins said.

If students are worried about their safety in school, their focus gets diverted, making it exceedingly more difficult to succeed academically.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Board Association (NSBA) agreed: "Climate is especially important in urban schools, which enroll almost 25 percent of public school students."

Bryant added that safe school environments were critical to the academic success of students.

Another report analyzing school safety released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) also found a dramatic negative impact that bullies had on the psyches of the children they harassed.

Students tormented by bullies worried more about their safety and, as a result, did much worse academically than their counterparts who were not bullied, the study showed.

The NCES report, like the CUBE study, found that younger children were victimized more by bullies.

The NCES study also concluded that those students who were bullied feared attacks at school, avoided certain activities and areas of the school, and received much lower grades.

Of the students who reported lower grades, those who were bullied were more likely to receive D's and F's than students who were not bullied.

This research indicates that bullying threatens the safety environment and that the more students feel less safe from bullying, the worse they will do in school.

Therefore, the primary focus for schools following these studies is to maintain a safe environment and students' confidence that officials will address safety issues, the studies argue.

The NSBA compiled advice from education experts for students who are bullied or see others being bullied.

Some of the tips for students include finding an adult at school to trust to be able to discuss what has been seen, to never physically react or bully back, support friends who are bullied, and if there is no system in place at school to deal with bullying, to try and start one.

Experts say parents should be encouraged to role-play with their children to prepare them to react appropriately to bullies, keep an open line of communication, and instill confidence in their children that it is OK to approach adults if they witness bullying.

These measures can be a helpful start to try to begin to lessen the amount of bullying incidents in schools.

One part of the solution, experts say, may be to increase supervision by hall monitors inside the school or police officers around the school.

NCES points out that schools with more security monitoring had students that reported less bullying.

Schools that don't, NCES says, will face mounting challenges this fall to try and stop bullying.