A colleague and fellow "warrior" against bullying, Alex Penn, has a great slogan for her organization: "Learning is Impaired when Children are Scared." While we know many of our kids are scared to go to school, scared to tell parents about what's happening to them, the most recent statistics from NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) should have parents scared...very scared.
Each year, the NCES releases a report on school crime and safety-- the most reent was released Dec 10th, 2009, just two months ago. This most recent release is the 12th in a series of annual reports developed jointly by several government organizations including the NCES, the Department of Education, the Department of Justice and more. This report is almost too depressing to read because the news is anything but good.
You can read it for yourself certainly, to get the full detail, but here are some of the highlights from the "Key Findings."
In the 2007-2008 school year, the NCES reports there were 55.7 million students enrolled in public school in grades pre-kindergarten through 12.
As a brief summary, the report states that during the 2007–08 school year, 25 percent of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis, 11 percent reported that student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse took place on a daily or weekly basis, and 6 percent reported that student verbal abuse of teachers occurred on a daily or weekly basis.
In the current timeframe of the report, 32 percent of students reported having been bullied at school during the school year. Of those students in 2007 who reported being bullied, 79 percent said that they were bullied inside the school, 23 percent said that they were bullied outside on school grounds, 8 percent said they were bullied on the school bus, and 4 percent said they were bullied somewhere else.
And what's even more tragic is that the preliminary data in the timeframe of July 2007 through June 30, 2008 shows that among youth ages 5–18, there were 43 school-associated violent deaths. Can you believe this -- age 5! To put this in perspective, the NCES reports that there were there were 21 homicides and 5 suicides among students AT SCHOOL. That works out to be about 1 homicide or suicide of a school-age child at school per 2.1 million students enrolled. And those are only the documented "at school" suicides. The real number of students killing themselves because of bullying isn't known; but as one indicator of the severity and increasing frequency of the problem is that nearly every week we hear of another story where a teen has killed herself or himself as a result of being bullied.
The statistics are staggering, but the problem with statistics is that we can become numb. After all, they're just numbers, right? And, if you look at the "odds" of it happening to your child, 25% of the kids being bullied means there's a 75% chance it won't be YOUR kid.
But those odds are really much worse: Ask the students and they'll tell you that nearly 1/2 of the kids in junior/middle and high school recently reported that bullying, name calling and harassment were "serious or very serious problems" at their school. A full 69 percent of these students said they had been harrassed or assaulted in the past year (Source: "From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a Harris Interactive Report").
Why are we not more outraged as parents, as education professionals, as taxpayers? If a story came on the news tonight that stated 69% of our pets had been abused in the last year, there'd be all kinds of uproar. Most parents don't even realize how bad it really is, yet in our poll last year of parents across the country, the biggest concern they had BY FAR was about school safety and bullying.
Schools frequently say that they are doing all they can to deal with the issue of bullying, and most questioned indicate they have some form of bullying program at their school. They say they'd like to do more, but can't afford it under the current economic restrictions. Yet Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Dept. of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools has a $700 MILLION dollar budget in federal funding to support the mission of school safety.
Where's it going? Why aren't we doing more? If we "can't afford" it, then what are we saying the lives of Carl Walker-Hoover or Phoebe Prince or Derrion Albert were worth? If we cannot provide for the safety and security of our children and their teachers when they are in school, does it matter how much we're spending on the latest math curriculum or debating about whether we should replace textbooks with Kindles?
I've said this before, but at what point do we say "Enough" and stop talking about what a shame it is, or how tragic, and really start doing something that works? It may not be your child in yesterday's news, but you have no guarantee it won't be tomorrow's headline.