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Can High Schools (and Policymakers) Do More to Prevent Bullying?
With the bullying crisis increasing 54% over 4 years, adding to historic drops in math, reading and history scores, it's time for educators and policymakers to come up with solutions fast. Here's one.
a Learn4Life feature
Bullying in high school has increased significantly since the pandemic, with more students saying they have been bullied at school. And recent data show that more than 40 percent of bullied students said the incidents took place in hallways, stairwells and classrooms. According to an Axios report …
That’s a nearly 54 percent increase in bullying over 4 years since before the pandemic, and an over 38 percent increase in cyberbullying during that same period. Bullying and cyberbullying, according to the YouthRightNow survey cited by Axios, appear as key - if not leading stressors - in the lives of young people navigating rather challenging on-site K-12 environments …
“There are so many opportunities for kids to bully others in traditional school settings,” Shellie Hanes, Superintendent of Schools at Learn4Life, points out. “The same students are together all day, every day, sometimes without adult supervision. It can be a breeding ground for bullies.”
It is, indeed, one factor driving the meteoric rise of homeschooling and other alternative or similar models that are unlike the conventional public school model, according to data just released by the Washington Post. Home school enrollment increased 51 percent since 2017, compared to just 7 percent for private schools.
Public school enrollment actually dropped by 4 percentage points. Bullying stands out as a major concern among families ….
Concerns about school shootings, bullying, and the general quality of the school environment - intractable problems, some of which school officials have limited power to solve - were among the top reasons for home schooling cited by parents in a Washington Post-Schar School poll earlier this year.
Bullying is also the top concern among Latino parents, according to a Pew Research study released last year …
Parents and young people are not just looking to stay home. They’re looking for structured and safe environments that maximize learning opportunities. For example, university-type model offered by California-based Learn4Life (which has expanded into four other states), provides flexible schedules and one-on-one instruction whereby students can arrive at different days and times. This becomes ideal for those who need to work or take care of young children. But it virtually eliminates opportunities for bullying.
Many of Learn4Life’s 53,000 students transferred to that system to escape bullying. One student, Valerie G., was bullied from day one of attending her local public high school. When staff failed to offer her support from the bullies, she gave up asking for help and began failing classes.
“On my first day at Learn4Life I was ready to be judged – it was my defense mechanism,” said Valerie. “But instead, I was greeted by staff who didn’t care about my past or judge me because of my Brown skin, or the way I looked or my previous school record. All they wanted to do was help me get back on track and find a new lifestyle for myself.”
As a result, Valerie is now flourishing. She takes dual enrollment classes at a community college and has plans to attend college and medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a surgeon.
There’s a critical need to educate parents about bullying’s negative effects on the physical, social, emotional, academic and mental health of their child. These effects may persist into adulthood. Students who are bullied often do worse in school, are less engaged, and their learning suffers. When bullied or left out, teens are more likely to take future social rejections much more personally, believing that there is something wrong with them. Bullied teens are less resilient and take longer to bounce back from rejection than teens who feel accepted by their peers. As a 2021 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study found …
In fact, bullying victimization has been found to negatively influence students’ school relatedness, such that bullied students tend to feel less connected to their school and, in turn, tend to achieve poorly academically . On top of this, students who have suffered bullying victimization present lower academic motivation, reduced perceived academic competence  and lower educational aspirations  in comparison to their non-bullied peers. These consequences may also be long-lasting.
When it comes to school safety, bullying is also teachers’ top concern, even more so than school shootings or drugs on campus, according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation. And it is a key concern for parents, too. That same Pew Research survey released in 2023 found that nearly three-quarters of parents said they were either very or somewhat concerned about their child being bullied …
The rise in bullying in recent years coupled with research showing alarmingly direct correlations between bullying and low academic performance also mirror substantial drops in math and literacy scores. As Axios continues reporting …
State of play: Students are also performing worse in school than before the pandemic and facing a mental health crisis.
Emergency rooms are unable to sustain the surge in kids seeking emergency psychiatric care, medical associations warned this month.
Policymakers, while engaged in needed debate over education budgets, also need to discuss innovative ways to tackle the bullying crisis.
“We have a strict policy against bullying, and more importantly, we’ve eliminated the structure where bullies thrive,” Hanes said. “Plus, we teach students coping and resiliency skills, which help them deal with life’s ups and downs, and restorative justice to teach young people the effects their actions have on other people.”