School Climate & Safety What the Research Says

The State of Bullying in Schools, in Charts

By Laura Baker & Arianna Prothero — August 31, 2023 1 min read
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When it comes to school safety, bullying is teachers’ top concern, even more so than school shootings or drugs on campus, according to a recently released report from the RAND Corporation. That’s despite the fact that federal data show that bullying in schools has declined a bit since 2009.

Taken together, the data illustrate how persistent a challenge bullying remains for schools, even as policymakers in most states have taken action to address the issue.

Students who are bullied often do worse in school—they are less engaged and their learning suffers, according to one study that tracked a group of kindergarteners through 12th grade. And contrary to popular belief, being bullied does not in and of itself make children more resilient.

Research has found that students who are bullied or left out are more likely to take future social rejections much more personally—believing that there is something wrong with them and taking longer to bounce back from rejection—than teens who felt accepted by their peers.

While schools have reported a decline in bullying incidents over the past decade or so, separate surveys of high school students found that bullying in school has remained mostly flat, only declining the first full year of the pandemic when many students were learning from home full- or part-time.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that around 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied at school in its biennial surveys between 2011 and 2020, dropping to 15 percent in 2021. The percentage of teens reporting that they had been cyberbullied remained mostly flat between 2011 and 2021.

Bullying is a major concern for parents as well educators. A Pew Research Center survey of parents conducted in the fall of 2022 found that nearly three-quarters of parents said they were either very or somewhat concerned about their child being bullied, up from 60 percent in 2015.

Following are four charts that depict the state of bullying in U.S. public schools—from its frequency, to where it happens in the school building, to what’s being done about it.

Educators in elementary, middle, and high school universally say bullying is the top school safety concern according to SOURCE: RAND Corporation survey of 1,000 randomly selected educators, October and November 2022.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2023 edition of Education Week as The State of Bullying in Schools, in Charts


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