Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression
Volume 1, Number 1, 2015
Pilot Investigation of the Effectiveness of Bullying Interventions in Tennessee Schools
Christopher Bernard Richardson
Austin Peay State University
In light of the past acts of violence in the school setting, the ability to recognize and properly interpret the precursors to violent behavior has become imperative. Bullying has been identified by researchers as a key indicator for future participation in violent acts in the school environment. This paper sets out to accomplish the following tasks: discuss the current literature on bullying in the school environment, create an accurate depiction of the growing problem that bullying has become by reviewing the available statistics on bullying and violence in the schools, properly identify the different types of bullying (verbal, physical, cyber), and highlight the contributions of Olweus, one of the first researchers to report his findings on bullying, and reveal the findings of a pilot investigation into the current bullying intervention efforts in Tennessee’s public schools as they compare to some of the nation’s most effective anti-bullying programs in other public schools across America.
Pilot Investigation of the Effectiveness of Bullying Interventions in Tennessee Schools: A Brief Literature Review
It seems that bullying used to be considered something that most if not all school-aged children endured but that caused no real danger or long-term harm. No longer can this phenomenon be relegated to consideration as a rite of passage into adulthood. Cross, et al. (2011) reported that “Bullying between students at school can seriously affect their social, physical, and psychological well-being.” The team further asserted that bullied students (when compared to students who weren’t bullied) experienced poorer health states (Cross et al., 2011). Abbott, Catalano, Haggerty, and Kim (2011) resolved that instances of students being bullied carried “unique associations” with longer term issues, such as aggression and alcohol/drug abuse. In 2001, Nasel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, & Scheidt reported the findings of the first large-scale studies in bullying. The results indicated that between 8 and 20 percent of all American middle to high school aged children have experienced bullying. Also, Nasel and Haynie, Eitel, Crump, Saylor, Yu, and Simons-Morton ( 2001) stated that between 24.2 percent and 44.6 percent of students interviewed report being the victim of bullying at least once in the past year. Cart (2010) reported that the Center for Disease Control revealed over one-third of American middle and high school students (approximately 6 million students) have reported being involved in bullying. Data reported by the American Association of University Women (2001) and the Committee for Children (2003) revealed that at least 14 percent of all children have reported instances of being bullied. The groups also produced results from a survey which showed that almost 8 out of every 10 students had been bullied in the past month. Of these students, 33% also reported that they had plans for seeking revenge on their bullies. In terms of gender, the National School Safety Center (2003) estimated that one-third of all female students and about one in five male students reported being bullied on a regular and consistent basis. Harlin (2008) relayed The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald report that (out of a 3,000 student sample) at least 20 percent of the students admitted they have exhibited signs of “psychologically damaging levels of bullying” and that most incidents went unreported by students or teachers.
Variations in certain key operational definitions can make international (and sometimes domestic) comparisons somewhat cumbersome to complete, but Craig and Harel (2004) reported that The World Health Organization of Europe managed to compile the data for over 35 countries regarding the instances of bullying among their 11, 13, and 15 year-old students. The study included over 160,000 students and concluded that 34 percent had experienced some degree of bullying at school, and 11 percent had experienced persistent bullying. Of the countries surveyed, those who experienced the least amount of bullying included the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Sweden. Canada ranked 27th out of 35 countries. In the United Kingdom, as many as 20 students committed suicide in one year as a result of being bullied (Piggin, 2010). It was estimated from annually compiled data that somewhere between one and one and two-thirds (1-1.67 %) of all students are the victims of peer bullying. If these data are interpreted in terms of the most commonly used time range, weekly, it comes out to anywhere from 6 to 15 percent of students per week who experience victimization in the form of bullying at the hands of their peers (Glover, Gough, Johnson, & Cartwright, 2000; Rigby, 2000; Smith & Shu, 2000). Horne, Stoddard, and Bell (2007) quoted Orpinas et al. (2000) who observed a sample of 9,000 students and reported that 60% had been involved in name calling, over half had participated in teasing, almost half of the students had pushed someone in a malicious manner, about 40% of them had physically assaulted someone, and almost 40% had made verbal threats to harm others. Silvernail, Thompson, Yang, and Kopp (2000) studied 5,000 students and observed that 14% reported being involved in teasing, name calling, kicking, and/or pushing on a monthly basis. Characteristics of Bullying
The term “bullying” has been defined in a myriad of ways over the years. This is the main reason why compiling the data from research findings have been so difficult. Researchers typically operationally define bullying in terms of the parameters of their research which may or may not coincide with other past or current research. It was not until the 1970’s that some systematic means of referencing bullying was created. Dan Olweus (1993) began his historical research on bullying by surveying hundreds of thousands of students from Sweden and Norway on their experiences with bullying. Through his pioneering efforts, a centralized definition of bullying was accepted. According to Olweus (1993), bullying is any “behavior that leaves a child exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other students.” This researcher went on to further emphasize the element of intent in his definition of “negative action” thereby describing it as intentional behavior or actions that are intended to hurt or harm another. Encompassed within the term negative actions are further delineations of bullying, known as direct bullying and indirect bullying. Direct bullying refers to primarily physical attacks on an individual – here, a student. Examples can range from schoolyard pushing and shoving to more serious and complicated forms of physical assault. Indirect bullying (also referred to as relational aggression among the predominantly female students who exhibit bullying behaviors) involves more subtle attacks such as purposely being left out of social groups.
The Olweus definition notes that bullying can occur between individuals or groups and seeks to discern between mere fighting between two students and bullying. Also in his definition, Olweus stressed the importance of the element of “imbalance” with regard to power, whether real or perceived, within the bullying relationship. Two other key elements which serve to qualify Olweus’ definition are “intent to do harm” and “the repetition of negative actions” (Olweus, 1993). Over the years, the definition as Olweus intended has had to evolve to remain relevant. These days, Olweus’ three key elements do not necessarily have to be present in order for bullying to occur. The research and observations of Scaglione and Scaglione (2006) revealed that students in today’s generation frequently bully other students of similar strength or power (meaning no imbalance exists to establish as a result of bullying). Students of today’s time also engage in bullying behaviors not for the sake of inflicting intentional harm, but rather for pleasure or fun.
Bullying has also been defined in terms of its relationship to violence, aggression and victimization. Benbenishty and Astor (2005) created a theoretical model for student victimization in which two of their three victimization types mirrored almost completely Olweus’ direct bullying premise, and their third victimization type also mirrored Olweus’ indirect bullying concept. Each of the three “Victimization Types” Benbenishty and Astor found also bridged the generational gap with regard to whether the act committed derived from harmful intent or the desire to have fun or seek pleasure. The Victimization Types, however, do not fit with Olweus’ definition in that they do not recognize or address any imbalance of power. It is because of this conflict that Benbenishty and Astor defined bullying, not in terms of Olweus, but in terms of its close relationship to violence and aggression. With regard to aggression, Horne, Stoddard, and Bell (2007) likened aggression to a milder, less extreme level of intentional behaviors that have the potential to cause harm (either physical or psychological) to others. Building upon this, most formal definitions of bullying agree with Olweus’ (1994) conclusions that bullying is considered to be a “subset” of aggression. This “agreement” has quite often led to the two being used synonymously.
Though no one can say with any significant degree of certainty what causes some children to become bullies, research has been conducted to determine some key factors that are or may be involved. Such factors as the quality of attachment to a child or adolescent’s primary caregiver (parent, guardian, etc.), proper child rearing (moral lessons, self-control, etc.), and presence of alcohol abuse in the family environment have been studied. Walden and Beran (2010) reported that initial research into the link between caregiver attachment and the presence of bullying behaviors began with Troy and Sroufe’s (1987) study. It was revealed that in pre-school aged children, a poor attachment quality to their caregiver(s) often resulted in the presence of bullying behaviors (Troy and Sroufe). It should be noted that subsequent attempts to duplicate these findings have resulted in the initial findings being labeled as “exploratory” in nature (Walden and Beran). Using the information gathered from this study, Walden and Beran set out to observe and report the relationship between quality of caregiver attachment and the presence of bullying behavior in fourth, sixth, and eighth grade children. The findings showed that the better the quality of attachment to the caregiver with their child, the less likely it was that bullying behaviors would be found. These researchers also revealed that once a very young child has interpreted the quality of the relationship between them and their primary caregiver(s) as either being low or high, the child almost immediately began to set the same expectation for other relationships and/or interactions.
It is estimated that over 3 million children annually enter the child welfare system because of a poor relationship (abuse, neglect, etc.) between the child and the primary caregiver (Mitchell, Longhurst, & [A1] Jacob, 2008). The researchers concluded that such poor examples of modeling can create the expectation of the same or similar quality of attachment in later interactions. This conclusion supports the idea that the development of bullying behaviors starts very early, and that children look for instances where their expectations can be justified rather than challenged as they progress through the early years (Walden and Beran, 2010).
Improper parenting practices have also been targeted as the source for making children into bullies. Parenting styles that are brash, indifferent, distant and oppositional; that lack positive emotional support; and that do not show by example what it means to behave appropriately have been associated with the development of bullying behaviors ( Pontzer, 2010). Colder, Edwards, Eiden, Leonard, Ostrov, and Orrange-Torchia (2010) observed that children whose primary caregivers overindulge in the use of alcohol have an increased chance of developing interpersonal, behavioral, and psychiatric difficulties as well as the children may experience problems with substance abuse. Research has revealed that the presence of such negative behavioral traits is seen as early as age 6 years. Similar research revealed that evidence of a distinct and significant association between paternal alcohol abuse and the emergence of bullying in the child. As well, literary sources of varying standards detail the negative association of mother-daughter quality of attachment where there is evidence of alcohol abuse by the mother (Eiden et al., 2010).
Roles in Bullying
In trying to understand the concept of bullying, it is paramount that its four viewpoints or perspectives are discussed: the bully, the victim, the bully-victim which were identified by Olweus (1993), and the bystander (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, De Winter, Verhulust, & Ormel, 2005). The bully is known as the aggressor. (S)he is perceived as the most powerful of those involved with his/her motives being clear – to establish dominance over the weaker student, most times, without losing any position or affection with those around him. His or her family background is less than desirable with at least one caregiver possibly engaged in alcohol abuse and a strong likelihood is apparent for the possibility of a poor-quality relationship with any other caregiver(s) (Eiden et al. 2010; Harlin, 2008; Swearer, 2002; Walden and Beran, 2010). Additionally, bullies exhibit less than adequate psychosocial functioning skills than their counterparts. Bullies are known to be self-asserting, driven, antagonistic, overbearing, detached, and disengaged toward other students (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, De Winter, Verhulust, & Ormel, 2005). They also show very little discomfort or insecurity. Bullies feel justified in their aggressive disposition, and they believe that their road to success is paved with the embarrassment, humiliation, pain and suffering of their peers (Veenstra et al., 2005). These individuals remain unaffected by the damage they inflict upon their cohorts and they feel like their victims somehow earned or deserved to be treated in this manner. In terms of adjustment and achievement, bullies generally show considerably less positive adjustment and they struggle to achieve at the same or similar levels as their fellow students. These students may also prove to be more difficult to manage in the classroom and thus, may become quite a challenge for teachers (Veenstra et al., 2005). Evidence also suggests that bullies have home environments which include physical forms of punishment or discipline, poor communication between parents and children, lack of problem solving skills, and a lenient attitude toward aggressive behavior on the part of the child, possibly up to and including encouraging the child to strike back in anger (Veenstra et. al., 2005).
The victim in this paradigm is typically the target of the bully’s aggression. They perceive the
bully to be stronger than they are, so they submit to the bully in an attempt to avoid the worst case scenario (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, De Winter, Verhulust, & Ormel, 2005). Also, victims often also exhibit poor psychosocial skills and tend to be more aloof, uninvolved, and unsure of themselves than their counterparts (Olweus, 1993). Self-reports have revealed that victims suffer from loneliness, report having few or no friends, and are less fulfilled at school. This situation can be further exacerbated when other students choose not to interact with the victim for fear of becoming victims themselves (Veenstra et al., 2005). The victim attempts to deal with his or her situation by employing avoidance behaviors such as missing school or taking alternate routes to and from school (Olweus 1993). In some instances, victims must even avoid some parts of the school that have proven to be unsafe for victims of bullies. In terms of home environment, victims are found to have overprotective maternal caregiver(s) in boys and perceived maternal rejection in girls (Veenstra et al., 2005). A high level of involvement in school activities by the parent(s) can also be included as precursors to the victim environment (Vaillancourt, Brittain, Bennett et al., 2010, Veenstra et al, 2005). Veenstra et al. (2005)
added that it would appear upon initial observation that bullies and their victims would operate on opposite ends of any given spectrum based on their exhibited “give and take” behaviors. Research has revealed, however, that the two are not polar opposites. Given that they share similar psychosocial tendencies, home environments, and difficulties (to some extent) at school, it is not a stretch to accept that in addition a category exists as a “blending” of both characteristics. The Bully/Victim category is more of a further delineation of the victim category than a new one in itself. Victims are further defined as “aggressive victims” or “passive victims.” Veenstra et al., (2005) explained this duality of sorts in their research when they revealed that bully/victims possess high levels of both aggression as well as depression; thereby making it possible for their behaviors to take on characteristics of a bully in some instances and a victim in other scenarios. Low performances were observed and noted in the areas of academics, proper behavior, interpersonal and social skills, and self-esteem (Veenstra et al., 2005). Bully/victims typically are even less well-adjusted in terms of psychosocial functioning and are typically involved in other negative or problem behaviors such as alcoholism, addiction, and delinquency. At home, students in this hybrid category often experience a hostile, rejecting, and uninvolved (in terms of the caregiver(s)) environments (Veenstra et al., 2005). The younger bully/victims typically represent themselves as high-risk for future psychiatric problems (Veenstra et al., 2005).
The last element of the bully paradigm is that of the bystander. Rivers, Poteat, Noret, and Ashurst (2009) observed that researchers have only recently begun to acknowledge and study the effects of bullying on the bystander or “witness.” Salmiavalli, Huttunen, and Lagerspetz (1997) provided the most insight into the dual dynamics of this category of bullying. Salmiavalli, Huttunen, and Lagerspetz identified four subtypes of the bystander as follows: assistants, reinforcers, outsiders, and defenders. As the term might infer, the role of the assistant is to “assist” the bully in harassing the victim. He or she may help the bully by making more of a scene through yelling or talking loudly. The reinforcers are slightly different in that, while they may inadvertently draw attention to what the assistant and bystander are doing to the victim (or bully/victim), their main function is to “reinforce” the actions that are being perpetrated by the bully (or bully/victim) with help from the assistant. The third subtype of bystander is known as the outsider. His or her role is simple – watch from a distance or briefly glimpse and move on, but do not get involved. The last sub-category of the bystander is the defender. The defender’s role is to intervene on behalf of the victim and “defend” against the bully, assistant, and possibly the reinforcer. It is important to note that the role of defender is typically found amongst girls (Salmiavalli, Huttunen, and Lagerspetz).
Traditionally speaking, Olweus (1994) informed that only two main types of bullying exist – physical and verbal. Verbal bullying involves behaviors such as taunting, teasing, or name calling. Physical bullying happens when at least one student physically strikes (hits, kicks, punches, pushes, shoves, etc.) another student. While it is common for physical bullying to decrease with age and maturity and verbal bullying to increase along the same timeline, it is not uncommon for these types to simultaneously occur (Olweus 1994). Over the last decade, another type of bullying – electronic or cyber bullying has emerged as another main source of bullying behavior. Cyber bullying is the fastest-growing form of bullying around the world (Bott, 2008). The exact definition of cyber bullying alters according to the nature of its use, somewhat similar to the definition of bullying in general. The most basic definition, qualified by Strom and Strom (2005), states that cyber bullying is “using an electronic medium to threaten or harm others.” Most definitions are similar to this one, although others also incorporate the concept of repetition so that the definition more closely resembles that of its predecessor. Even in making this effort though, cyber bullying is still very different from general bullying. Strom and Strom (2005) argued that cyber bullying is different from traditional bullying in a number of ways: Cyber bullies do not have to be bigger or stronger than their victim(s); most of the time, the identity of the cyber bully is unknown to the victim; because of their anonymity, cyber bullies are likely to commit more damaging acts of bullying behavior because they are less concerned about being caught. Williams and Guerra (2007) found significant correlations between traditional and cyber bullying with regard to the students who engage in the behaviors. These researchers concluded that bullies who engaged in cyber and physical bullying yielded a correlation of 0.66. Also, bullies who engaged in cyber and verbal bullying yielded a correlation of 0.87 (Williams and Guerra 2007). Williams and Guerra (2007) also found that less than 7% of their sample engaged in all three types concurrently.
Gender and Race
Horne, Stoddard and Bell (2007) cited a study conducted by Grunbaum et al. (2004) which stated that in a sample of 15,000 students, 41% of boys and 25% of the girls surveyed admitted to being bullied into at least one physical fight. Furthermore, it was uncovered that almost 10% of the boys and less than 5% of the girls felt so threatened that they carried a weapon to school with them. Nansel et al. (2001) conducted a World Health Organization survey on bulling worldwide and found that in a sample of at least 15, 000 students over half of the boys and more than a third of the girls had reported being involved in at least one instance of bullying, with over 10% of the boys admitting to weekly involvement. With regard to gender and race, the research has shown that males are more likely to participate in bullying activities than females. Walden and Beran (2010) agreed with Dijkstra, Lindenberg, and Veenstra (2007) who found that young girls view bullying as something specific or uniquely relevant to being male as opposed to bullying being an undesirable act. In terms of the quality of attachment to their caregivers, Walden and Beran also sided with other researchers who argued that no significant difference was observed between males and females in studies that they conducted. Research geared toward observing bullying trends between boys and girls reflected that students tend to bully within their own gender (Veenstra et al., 2005). In instances where opposite gender bullying takes place, the victim is most often someone who would stand a likely chance of being bullied by their same sex counterparts as well. Boys tend to bear the role of bully/victim more so than girls also (Veenstra et al., 2005). In a review of the relevant literature by Witvliet, Olthof, Goossens, Smits, and Koot (2010) previous studies revealed that males tend to engage in physical aggression more and females tend to engage in relational aggression more. This research also found that boys exhibit a greater dependence with physical domination and girls show a greater dependence with inclusiveness, exclusivity, and isolation. Veenstra et al. added that while name calling and social exclusion are used by both boys and girls, threats and hitting are more common to boys. Girls are more prone toward gossiping and taking others belongings than boys are. Champion (2009) concluded that no evidence exists to suggest that levels of anger are significantly different between boys and girls. However, this researcher has also stated that socialization may be the key to understanding why boys engage in more physical and aggressive bullying and why girls engage in more covert bullying practices (and why this difference has been acceptable in society).
Not as much data are available on studies conducted to reveal patterns of bullying behavior according to ethnicity as opposed to bullying in general. The reason for this could be that the majority of all written scholarly work on bullying has hailed from European countries where minority populations are too scarce and varied to study. Also, the lack of research in this area regarding ethnic minorities is very scarce. One study conducted by Peskin, Tortolero, and Markham (2006) measured the differences in bullying behaviors between African American and Hispanic middle and high school students. Their results revealed that African American students represented a significant majority of students who identified as either bully, victim, or bully/victim. The sample, which was made up of 64% Hispanic females yielded an equal distribution of identification as bully or victim between males and females, regardless of ethnicity (Peskin, Tortolero, and Markham, 2006). No validation of these results has been published through replication of this study. In another study conducted by Carilyle and Steinman (2007) findings indicated that physical bullying was most prevalent among African Americans (39.7%) followed by Hispanics (36.1%) and then whites (30.5). The difference across all three ethnicities is less than 10% in this study, and the total percentages exceed 100% (most likely due to participants of mixed or multiethnic backgrounds), so it is difficult to determine the overall significance of these data.
Outcomes of Involvement in Bullying
Until recently, bullying had not been observed in terms of its prolonged effects on the victim. Bullying was perceived as only potentially harmful when the actual behavior is being perpetrated – and then only harmful to one’s self esteem to a temporary extent (Arsenault, Bowes, and Shakoor, 2009). Recent advances in research have uncovered evidence to the contrary indicating long term effects from bullying. Rigby (1996, 2003) revealed that bullying victims can expect to deal with such issues as a decrease in psychological well-being, lack of social competence, mental distress, and psychosomatic illnesses. While they may vary in severity, long-term consequences of exposure to bullying can range from social isolation to suicidal ideation, none of which are conducive toward attaining the best education possible as a student (Jacobsen and Bauman, 2007). Bullying can be such a traumatic experience that suicide can become a viable option for the suffering student. Such a tragedy as this can have even more far reaching implications in terms of the post-traumatic symptoms which have been reported in school-aged children who have experienced the loss of a classmate due to bullying/victimization related suicide (Rivers, Poteat, Noret, and Ashurst, 2009). Among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population (LGBT), the long-term ramifications of being subjected to bullying during the school-age years can include violent behavior, alcohol/substance abuse, worthlessness, eating disorders, self-loathing, as well as suicidal ideation (Rivers, 2004). Cornell, Fan, Gregory, and Huang (2012) investigated the effects of bullying on high school dropout rates. Their findings indicated that bullying accounted for as much as a16% increase in dropout rates among self-reported cases of bullying and an 11% increase among teacher-reported bullying cases (Cornell, Fan, Gregory, and Huang, 2012). In the middle school arena, the emergence of depressive symptoms in later years have been recorded as a result of negative schemata that were created from being bullied (Cole, Maxwell, Dukewich, and Yosick, 2010). Also, findings have indicated that an increase in self-injurious behaviors as well as suicidal ideation is evident among girls who have experienced bully/victims (Baldry and Winkel, 2003; Barker et. al. 2008; Herba et. al. 2008; Kim et. al. 2008; Klomek et. al. 2009; and Van Der Wall et. al. 2003).
Measurement, Assessment and Intervention
Researchers have approached the task of measuring the level of occurrence of bullying behaviors from a variety of perspectives. Card and Hodges (2008) agreed that based on the premise that the victim’s point of view is the most critical, victim or student reports were created to allow the student to express any information (details, emotions, etc.) he or she feels is pertinent or valid. As a means of objectivity, peer reports were introduced in order to provide a “witness or bystander” view on the incident in question (Card and Hodges, 2008). Teacher reports became desirable in order to provide an adult perspective in any given situation (Card and Hodges, 2008).
In terms of assessment, Card and Hodges (2008) recommended guidelines for obtaining and executing the best possible assessment. First, they advised that any information on bullying behavior should be reported from multiple sources. Second, information for several incidents should be gathered in order to present a more developed result. Third, Card and Hodges suggested that those who are responsible for assessing the situation have a means of multiple reporting from various sources (such as the measurement reports).
Bullying intervention programs have only recently become an area of focus for researchers. Olweus’ (1994) research contributions provided the basis for one of the earliest intervention programs called the Zero program. Based in Norway, the bullying prevention program was implemented in approximately 150 elementary schools. After one year of intervention, significant reductions in the overall amount of bullying behaviors were observed among those students who took part in the Zero program. Three years later, national surveys concluded that the reduction had either been maintained or an increase in the reduction of bullying behaviors had been indicated (Roland, Bru, Midthassel, and Vaaland, 2010). The turn of the millennium saw the emergence of another intervention for bullying called Bully Busters. The idea of this program was to get the teachers and students actively involved in taking a proactive stance on reducing bullying. Early results showed an influence on teacher skills as well as being informed and prepared to deal with bullying behaviors in the schools. No results were reported regarding student outcomes (Horne, Bartolomucci, and Newman-Carlson, 2003; Nansel et. al. 2001; Newman-Carson and Horne, 2004). Another anti-bullying program, Bully Proofing, engaged the parents in a bullying reduction and prevention program for grades K-8 (Bonds and Stoker, 2000; Garrity, Jens, Porter, Sager, & Short-Camilli, 2004). Results concluded that this program was effective in reducing bullying behaviors in the participants.
In 2001, Shure developed the I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) program for grades P-6. It focused on getting the teachers involved in the anti-bullying movement (Horne, Stoddard, and Bell, 2007). No results have been published for this program. Project Trust is an intervention that addresses the underlying thoughts and attitudes which often result in bullying behaviors (Batiuck, Boland, and Wilcox, 2004). It is designed as a weekend retreat where students from different social groups are brought together to discuss their thoughts and feelings toward those within and outside of their social group. Through the use of contracts team-building exercises, and trust-building tasks, the participants are expected to form a new respect for those whom they initially disliked. This newfound respect is believed to factor in reducing the presence of pre-bullying schemas (Batiuck, Boland, and Wilcox, 2004). Findings concluded that participation in Project Trust yielded a reduction in the precursor behaviors to bullying (Batiuck, Boland, and Wilcox, 2004).
Summary of Literature Review
According to the research (Cart, 2001; Nasel et al. 2001; Piggin, 2010) bullying has been identified as one of the most harmful acts of victimization that children face in the school environment. These researchers along with others from all over the world have contended that bullying is a global concern which should be addressed. The long-term effects of bullying range from poor interpersonal skills, to substance abuse, the emergence of psychological disorders, suicidal ideation, and even the perpetuation of poor caregiver skills as parents (Jacobsen and Bauman, 2007; Rigby, 1996; Rivers, 2004). In light of the revelation that the research on bullying has yielded, a number of interventions have been initiated. These interventions have focused on self-reports, teacher reports, parent reports, and combinations of these reports. Because these interventions focused on different aspects of bullying or relied upon varied definitions of bullying in order to determine the effects of each intervention based on a different age group, no true measure of reliability or validity could be obtained. A need for a school-based intervention for bullying that will be effective in decreasing bullying behaviors in school aged children – middle school aged children especially, since the majority of the children’s/adolescent’s development and maturation begins during this period. The intervention must be easily replicated and capable of yielding similar results each time, over time.
The Pilot Investigation
The state of Tennessee has played host to the national spotlight on a few occasions as it related to the vast problem of bullying. Bundgaard (2013), of WKRN News, shared the suicide of a 13 year-old whose parents contributed to bullying problems at school. WSMV News (2012) revealed that Parents of a teen student in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools were suing the school district for $0.5 million dollars for the suffering that their daughter endured due to bullying. Sanders (2012) reported a gay teen in Gordonsville, TN took his life after being relentlessly bullied at school, according to a local news station. Such tragedies as these have caused parents, students, and lawmakers in the state of Tennessee to pay more attention to their bullying intervention efforts. In deciding the direction of my research, I performed an exhaustive review of the available literature regarding bullying intervention studies in the state of TN. I was unable to locate any such studies. As a licensed school counselor, I thought it would be beneficial to investigate the current anti-bullying programs that are being used throughout the state and compare them to the results of a national study of the most beneficial bullying intervention programs. As one of the first attempts of this kind in Tennessee, future interest toward further research in this area would be both welcomed and needed. In terms of predictions, I expect to see a great difference between the type and effectiveness of the programs that are offered in Tennessee public schools as compared to their national counterparts. I expect that the programs offered here in Tennessee will fall short in their effectiveness, primarily due to their lack of similarity (in terms of program design) to the most effective programs nationwide.
The six bullying intervention programs that were identified in the meta-analysis as ones that had been used in the United States were selected to be used as the basis for the investigation. Next, a semi-random selection of licensed school counselors was taken from the six largest public school districts in the state of Tennessee. No preference or weight was given to the school level (e.g., elementary, middle, high). Each of the school counselors were emailed a link to a survey which allowed them to anonymously provide information about the type and effectiveness of the anti-bullying programs that were being used in their school.
The survey feedback was analyzed to identify similarities between the various programs that were provided by the school counselors and the six programs from the meta-analysis study. Similarities were based upon the following: a) scope of the program (prevention versus intervention); b) target audience (elementary, middle, or high school students) and c) overall effectiveness (as decided by either the meta-analysis or the school counselor who provided the feedback). A program was judged to be “similar in scope” if it satisfied at least criteria “a” and “b.” Once the programs from the survey feedback had been organized, grouped or eliminated according to the criteria, each program’s overall effectiveness was determined from the answers provided by the corresponding program’s school counselor/survey participant. Overall effectiveness was represented by a score of either 3 (equally as effective if not more effective than it’s meta-analysis counterpart), 2 (somewhat as effective as its meta-analysis counterpart), or 1 (minimally as effective if not less effective than its meta-analysis counterpart). Individual program scores were then tallied and divided by n (rounded to the nearest tenth) to achieve the mean score of overall effectiveness.
The survey was emailed to over three hundred (300) licensed school counselors throughout the state of Tennessee. Of the number contacted, only 12.7 percent responded and participated in the survey. The 38 completed surveys were analyzed according to the established method, and the following information was revealed. 13.0 percent of the respondents were elementary level counselors, 37.0 percent were middle schools counselors, and 50 percent were high-school counselors. One-quarter of all the survey participants represented the Knox County school district. Another quarter worked as school counselors in the Hamilton County school district. 13.0 percent hailed from Memphis City Schools. The remaining 37.0 percent were made up of school counselors from the Metro Nashville-Davidson school district. In response to the question regarding the serious nature of bullying in their respective school districts, exactly half of the counselors replied that bullying was either not a serious problem at all or it was serious but not severe. This position was also reflected in the identical 50/50 response to the question of whether or not there were currently any bullying prevention/intervention efforts going on in their school. At this point in the investigation, a problem occurred in that not one of the 38 responses reported that they were currently using any of the six programs that were noted in the study that was used as the foundation for this investigation. The programs that were identified as presently being used were Staff trainings, Social Cognitive programming, Peer Support, and the use of Social Workers. Two counselors reported that training in the Olweus method of bullying prevention was to begin very soon. 37.0 percent of the data reflected that no programs were currently being offered in some schools. On the final question of effectiveness, half of the school counselors who responded stated that their current bullying prevention/intervention efforts were at least “somewhat effective.” 37.0 percent admitted that their schools’ programming efforts were mostly ineffective. The remaining 13.0 percent reported that they were unsure of the overall effectiveness of their programs – either because there was no data available, or because their school did not currently have any programming in place.
There are a few observations that resulted from this investigation. The low response rate not withstanding, it is necessary to note that, of the school districts that participated in the study, none of them were currently using any of the identified interventions from the meta-analysis study (see Table 1).
There are a couple of ways that this information could be interpreted. It is possible that many school districts were not aware of ongoing efforts to standardize bullying prevention/intervention programs. Some school districts might also prefer a more “organic” approach to impacting the bullying issues in their school by tailoring their programs to fit each school or district according to its specific needs. This insight could provide a great opportunity to investigate the attitudes and beliefs of school counselors and administrators as they relate to the types and kinds of programming they implement. It is also necessary to note that a significant number of the respondents did not consider bullying to be a major problem in their school, according to their responses to the survey. It could be argued that bullying is simply not a serious problem in at least half the school districts that were represented in this investigation. The counter argument might be that school counselors are not yet aware of just how serious their bullying issues are in their school and/or district. More investigation into the problem of bullying in these school districts might inform on which of these arguments holds true. Obviously, the low response rate brings into question whether another method of obtaining the data would have yielded a larger ‘n.’ Future efforts toward investigating this topic might be further enhanced as a result of being aware of the possible outcomes of using a survey format to gather data.
The primary purpose of this investigation was to gain a better idea of how well Tennessee schools were dealing with the problem of bullying in the school environment. Overall, the study proved to be, of itself, ineffective at achieving its desired purpose. There are a few reasons why this situation has occurred. First and foremost, the extremely low participation rate severely impacted the ability of this survey to yield any meaningful data. While surveys typically foster a low response rate, it was not foreseeable that an ‘n’ this small would have been the result. Perhaps another method of collecting the data might yield more favorable results in future efforts toward investigating this topic. Second, based on the data collected, it does not appear that bullying is a major problem, according to half of the school counselors who participated in the pilot investigation. This might possibly account for the extremely low response rate (n = 38 out of 300 possible responses). Third, it might have been more advantageous if this pilot investigation focused on a larger geographic area (perhaps the Deep South or the United States as a whole). Doing so could have secured a larger sample which might have included school districts where bullying is an extreme issue.
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