In recent weeks, several new pieces of research have been released suggesting that the adverse impact of bullying on academic performance is significant, and most harmful to high-performing African-American and Latino students.
When it comes to public policy, both draw the same conclusion: States and school districts need to invest more in combating bullying and creating healthy school climates at all schools, not just suburban ones.
Add them to years of research by scholars in any number of disciplines and you’re left with one big, unanswered question: Why can’t we, once and for all, agree to address school climate on a policy level?
One of the studies, by researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, finds that test scores are significantly lower at high schools that report high levels of bullying.
“Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance,” said Dewey Cornell, one of the scholars who presented the research at the American Psychological Association’s recent annual convention. “This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a school-wide problem rather than just an individual problem.”
The other (PDF), presented earlier this week at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association, suggested that stereotypes that make certain minorities out to be tough and street-wise may be one reason why high-achieving students of color seem to be particularly vulnerable.
“Stereotypes about black and Latino youth suggest that they perform poorly in school,” said Lisa Williams, a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University and the principal author of the second paper. “High achieving blacks and Latinos who do not conform to these stereotypes may be especially vulnerable to the effect bullying has on grades.”
With the new school year days away for most kids, the research is a painful reminder that almost no Minnesota schools track bullying, in part because the state lacks strong anti-bullying policies. Indeed, the law doesn’t even define what bullying is, much less describe prevention efforts districts should make.
A terrific Minnesota Public Radio investigation on the topic that aired in May found that many districts did not comply even with the existing lax law. The series included a piece that outlined what meaningful efforts to create healthy school climates look like.
All of which makes it all the more unfortunate that Minnesota lawmakers have not only failed several years running to pass comprehensive legislation, but this year actually took a step back by eliminating a state law that barred districts from balancing their budgets by cutting anti-violence programming.
The U.S. Department of Education, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. This fall, it plans to release the results of a survey of state and district policies that should identify promising practices.