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Fear the Bullying Summit


Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This week, the federal government hosted a two-day "Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit."   Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, said that bullying is “epidemic” in our schools and that the federal agencies should have come together to solve the bullying problem a long time ago.  He went on to say:

The statistics are frankly staggering. In 2007, nearly one out of three students in middle school and high school reported that they had been bullied at school during the school year. That means that 8.2 million students a year are suffering at the hands of bullies in school.
The most common form of bullying is being made fun of or being the subject of mean-spirited rumors. But more violent forms of bullying are common, too.
One out of nine secondary school students, or 2.8 million students, said they have been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on during the last school year.
Another one-and-a-half million students said they were threatened with harm, and one million students reported they had their property destroyed during the school year.

While 30% might seem like a lot, the majority of the bullying that is most common (teasing, name calling, insults, or being made the victim of rumors) accounts for 65% of the of 8.2 million students who suffered bullying in the 2007 school year.  Currently, all states but seven have anti-bullying laws on the books, some state laws are better than others and there is always room for improvement.  But, why is there such a push for federal legislation right now? 

Based on several high profile cases (namely the massacre at Columbine and the recent suicides of students who were victims of bullying), the public is concerned about this issue.   However, assuming that bullying will be severely reduced or eradicated just because the federal government gets involved is wishful thinking and not based on reality.   The federal government has a long track record of promising what it cannot deliver.  Rather, the government gets bigger, spends more money, does not solve the problem, and then moves on to another set of promises about another issue.

In his speech, Arne Duncan referred to bullying as a school safety issue.  So, a look at what has been done by the federal government to increase school safety over the past decade would be in order.  The National Center for Education Statistics School Crime and Safety table comparing the percentage of public schools recording at least one crime in school years 1999 and 2008, shows near equal levels of various types of violent incidents.  This is in spite of the evolution of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program into a full-fledged office under the Department of Education thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools opened in January of 2002 and here are some of the staggering results, pre-major federal involvement (1999) and nearly ten years later (2008):

  • 19.7% of public schools in the1999-2000 school year reported serious violent incidents (like rape, robbery, threats of violence with or without weapons) and in the 2007-2008 school year, 17.2% reported the same crimes
  • total violent incidents including the serious ones above and just regular violent incidents increased from 71.4% to 75.5%

Now, the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (along with the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Health and Human Services) wants to take on bullying.  There is also a new federal law in the works, HR 2262 Safe Schools Improvement Act.  The federal government appears poised to take on this epidemic of bullying like it did school safety.  But, before people get swept up in the tide of the federal government’s promises, do we really want to be buried in more new laws, even more red tape, and even more public debt for the same results? 

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