At the Federal Bullying Prevention Summit, good data are essential

BlogHealthy SchoolsAug 11 2016

The Department of Education (ED) and the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention are once again preparing to host their biennial bullying prevention summit, marking 6 years since the first summit in 2010 and 5 years since the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in 2011. This year’s event also includes a pre-summit gathering at the White House.

I served as research and policy coordinator for bullying prevention at ED from 2010 to 2012 and was principally responsible for planning these summits during that time. One of my other roles was to respond to any incoming correspondence regarding bullying. This meant there was usually a neat stack on the corner of my desk, containing the latest book, curricula, or other product marketed as the “solution to bullying.” Rarely, however, was this claim backed by rigorous evaluation data. Of those that have been evaluated, few have shown sustainable impacts, particularly in the United States.

Bullying is a complex issue, and research on bullying prevention is essential if we are to have interventions that work consistently. The current lack of evidence for bullying interventions’ efficacy may, in part, reflect the multidimensional and complex nature of bullying that often varies context to context. In one effort to address this, Child Trends has partnered with Safe School Certification and the District of Columbia to conduct a rigorous evaluation of a framework designed specifically to tailor efforts based on schools’ particular needs.

Although that evaluation is currently underway—and no results can be reported as of yet—perhaps this novel approach can help impact the largely unchanged national bullying rates. Newly released data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, the most current nationally representative estimates available, suggest that rates of past-year bullying for ninth to 12th grades have held steady: around 20 percent from 2009 through 2015. A U.S. Department of Justice survey of young people ages 2 to 17 also shows rates went effectively unchanged between 2008 and 2014. While other surveys, such as the School Crime Supplement, have suggested a slight decline (from 28 percent of students ages 12 to 18 in 2011 to 21.5 percent in 2013), a single data point is not sufficient to determine a trend. Regardless, it seems as though our efforts have thus far not been as effective as they could be.

I am pleased to be attending this year’s summit and White House event as a representative of Child Trends. As we gather together and take stock of progress, our efforts should remain grounded in the available research. Below is a list of freely available, research-based resources from Child Trends and elsewhere to help with that discussion: