School Climate & Safety

Students Experience Less Bullying, Fear at School, New Data Show

By Nirvi Shah — June 03, 2013 3 min read
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Middle school students aren’t hurling names and epithets like they used to or being targeted by hate-related graffiti at school as much as in the past. And they are less afraid of being attacked or harmed at school and less likely to avoid certain places within their schools for fear of an attack than they have been in the past, new data from the National Center on Education Statistics show.

A number of indicators measured by nationally representative data about middle and high school students indicate that some experiences students think of as bullying are diminishing, although the trends are the opposite for some students, depending on the type of behavior and the students’ age.

For example, while about 12 percent of students surveyed in 1999 experienced hate-related words, and that figure has dropped to about 9 percent as of 2011, the rate for high school seniors is almost unchanged over the decade at nearly 8 percent.

But for all students in 6th through 12th grades, hate-related graffiti dropped over the same period. Overall, the percentage of students who found themselves the target of hurtful words or symbols written in school classrooms, school bathrooms, school hallways, or on the outside of school buildings dropped from about 36 percent in 1999 to about 28 percent in 2011.

The rate of students who reported fearing an attack or harm at school at all has also dropped dramatically, from nearly 12 percent in 1995 to less than 4 percent in 2011. For black and Hispanic students, it’s an even more encouraging shift—from more than 20 percent of both groups of students worried about being attacked at school to less than 5 percent in 2011.

And overall, the percentage of kids who steer clear of certain parts of their schools because they worry about being attacked has dropped from about 9 percent in 1995 to 4.7 percent in 2011. While that’s a decrease for all age and racial groups, the data show an uptick in this fear for some students since the previous data collection in 2009, including for 10th graders and for Latino students. (The rate went up from 4.2 percent in 2009 to 5.4 percent in 2011 and 4.8 percent to 6 percent, respectively.)

There’s been a surge in bullying prevention and awareness in the last few years, including a push to get bystanders to tell adults if they see something happening to a classmate.

Of the nearly 30 percent of students who reported being bullied at least once or twice at school during the 2010-11 school year, less than 40 percent of them told an adult at school about it. And of those bullied, while 72 percent of students reported the harassment happened via the internet, cellphone, or social media, only 26 percent of those students told a teacher about it.

Some other notable numbers:

  • The percentage of students ages 12 to 18 who reported security guards/assigned police officers at their schools rose from 54 percent in 1999 to nearly 70 percent as of 2011, a number that could rise after the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
  • Security cameras, reported to be at school by about 39 percent of students in 2001, were reported by nearly 77 percent of students in 2011.
  • But locked exit or entrance doors were only reported by about 65 percent of students (though that’s a huge increase from 38 percent in 1999).
  • For all the hype about metal detectors, only 11 percent of students said they were at their schools, a small increase from 9 percent in 1999.
  • Violent deaths at school of students, staff, and others on campus had been on the decline, from 57 during the 1992-93 school year to 31 during the 2010-11 school year, though these numbers will spike because of the Newtown shootings, which left 26 students and staff dead.
  • Homicides of students ages 5 to 18 at school, in particular, were also on the decline, from 34 two decades ago to 11 during the 2010-11 school year.

I parsed these and other data recently with one of the Bureau of Justice Statistics experts on the issue on C-SPAN. Check out our conversation here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.