At last week's first ever "Bullying Prevention Summit," President Obama committed to providing $132M in funding from the 2012 budget toward anti-bullying efforts in schools. This came in the wake of discussion with several parents who had lost their children due to bullycide along with presentations by administration officials on the growing epidemic of bullying. The reaction from many people on the front lines of the anti-bullying movement were encouraged, stating that this was a great victory for those of us working on stopping bullying in schools.
Trust me, I am NOT a glass-half-empty kind of person, but I have to admit that I'm not as impressed as others. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog or have seen me speak know I ask tough questions and want practical explanations, so I thought I'd examine what this supposed windfall really means for schools across the country.
In the US, there are roughly 16,600+ public school districts. I'm assuming the $132M would only go to the public schools and not private schools, homeschool networks or other "alternative" education options. If you do the math, this means that there would be approximately $8000 allocated to each school district. Now, we know that most districts consist of multiple schools, covering the gamut of preschool-G12. It's hard, really, to come up with an average size district because they vary so much. But, for the sake of argument, let's say there are 10 schools total in any given district (we can assume 5 of those are Elementary Schools, 3 are Middle or Junior Highs, and the remaining two are High Schools). If we evenly allocated the $8000 to those schools, you'd see that each school would receive $800 toward their anti-bullying efforts.
$800? What can you realistically do with $800? Maybe you can get a speaker for an assembly -- but what lasting effect will a one-time rally have? Maybe you can print and reproduce some posters...but again, it's not anything that deals with the underlying problems.
Of course, this money may not be equally allocated across all schools in the country, but even if you doubled the allocation per school assuming that only schools that "needed" it would apply for the funds...well, you can quickly see that this $132M is really just like throwing rocks into the Grand Canyon.
The bigger problem is not the money alone, but what will be done with it. We know, historically, that many of our schools aren't terribly good at using funds to their best effectiveness. We also know, based on research and studies, that the majority of "anti-bullying" efforts aren't yielding effective results. And that's not due to insufficient money allocation. Kevin Jennings' "Safe and Drug Free Schools" initiative has been making grants for years -- much of that toward anti-bullying and violence prevention programs. Yet, we have bullying at epidemic levels.
I'm worried that once again we are throwing money at the "end result" of the problem without really taking into account what is causing the problem to begin with. We know "more money" has not been the answer to the majority of challenges facing our education system. Why do we think that this time, Bullwinkle, it's going to be any different?
If President Obama had said, "let's dedicate $132M to proven programs that have shown to address the root cause of bullying and other anti-social behavior," I think he would have been on to something. We can't "fix" bullying by adopting more of the same "zero tolerance" and "anti-bullying" programs we've already been using. Look, if Zero Tolerance was working, why would a student who had defended himself against an egregious attack by a bully be the one expelled?
$132M may seem like a lot of money, and it may seem as though the White House is making a real committment to ending the problem of bullying, but it really isn't much at all once you break it down. What's more important than just throwing more money at the same problems is to look at why we have that problem to begin with, take a look at how to prevent it. That's using resources wisely. You'll find if you work on building students' pro-social skills and developing positive character that you not only wipe out the majority of bullying, but you'll raise student test scores, increase teacher morale, keep students in school, and develop school-to-work skills that they are so sorely lacking once they leave the school environment.
That, I believe, would be money well spent, and we'd have a whole host of things to show it. It's called making an "investment" and we'd be amazed at the positive returns, both short- and long-term.