“Are state anti-bullying laws and policies reflected in the training and knowledge of pre-service and in-service teachers as reported through a teacher survey?”
Chapter 1: Introduction
Section 1: Bullying is an epidemic in American schools
For a very long time, bullying has been one of the most pervasive and insidious problems in American schools, and despite many school and societal efforts to curtail it, the problem does not seem to be improving. The issue of bullying in American schools is, in fact, just getting worse. Statistics regarding bullying in just the last twenty years are staggering. A 2000 study by Cantu and Heuman referred to bullying as “the most predominant problem faced by children in the United States education system,” and this assertion still rings true today (Raskauskas &Modell, 2011). In 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics stated that 25% of elementary and high school students reported being victimized weekly, and this statistic was 40% for middle school students (Flynt & Morton, 2008). In 2005, a survey reported that bullying involved or impacted about 70% of students in U.S schools in some capacity (Canter, 2005 in Kennedy et al., 2012). By 2010, experts agreed that “bullying has risen to heights that demand national attention” (Schoen & Schoen, 2010). Despite all this attention, however, the statistics regarding bullying prevalence have remained largely unchanged to this day, as they still hover between indications that 20-30 percent of students are victimized, and 10-20% are involved in perpetration (Stop Bullying Now).
Two reasons for bullying remaining such a prevalent problem for schoolchildren in the United States are identification and intervention. A major factor in why bullying is so challenging to stop is because it can be so difficult to identify. Bullying most often occurs in subtle ways when students are out of sight and earshot of teachers, and this is especially true in the case of cyberbullying, which has increased in recent years and is even harder than other forms of bullying for teachers to detect, as it often does not happen on school grounds or during school hours. Additionally, victimized students and bystanders rarely feel comfortable reporting bullying to teachers or parents, fearing retaliation or punishment. In fact, despite 87% of teachers reporting that they had effective strategies for handling a bullying situation, and 97% reporting that they would intervene when they witness bullying, observational and survey research found that teachers intervene in only 15-18% of bullying incidents, and that only 21% of victimized students will report the events to a staff member (Bradshaw et al., 2007 as cited in Bradshaw et al., 2013; Craig, Pepler & Atlas, 2000 as cited in Kennedy et al., 2012).
The other major factor allowing bullying to continue and rise in our schools is inadequate intervention when bullying is witnessed. The problems with identification and intervention go hand in hand. When bullying is not identified or recognized as the insidious problem that it is, then it is almost impossible to intervene effectively. In fact, bullying in American schools is so underreported that many teachers and administrators are largely unaware of the prevalence of bullying at their schools, and when they do witness bullying, many teachers do not feel prepared to intervene, as they do not have the resources or training in how to do so most effectively. One survey indicated that 86% of Alabama principals regarded bullying as a minor problem in their schools, with none regarding it as a major problem (Flynt & Modell, 2008). This same survey showed that 31% of the schools represented by these Alabama principals had no specific bullying policies in place (Flynt& Modell, 2008). In a second survey, 42% of surveyed educators taught in schools that did not have an anti-bullying policy, and 86% had not received any anti-bullying training in either undergraduate or graduate teacher preparation programs (Kennedy et al., 2012). In this same study, administrators reported feeling more comfortable than teachers in handling bullying situations and were less likely to feel that teacher training in bullying is necessary (Kennedy et al., 2012). The responses of the principals in this study demonstrate a mindset that bullying is a problem that should be handled primarily at the administrative level. Administrators who believe this are perhaps reluctant to provide bullying intervention training to teachers since they believe that these are issues that they themselves should be handling.
It is imperative, however, that teachers and other staff members do in fact receive training in both identification of and intervention in the bullying dynamic. Bullying is a complex social problem relying on hierarchical structures and relationships, but through years of research, it has been revealed that there are very specific roles and patterns within the bullying dynamic. Identification of these roles and patterns is crucial to intervention and ultimately, prevention of the detrimental longitudinal effects of bullying on children, the adults they grow into, and the communities in which they live.
Students are involved in bullying in one of four ways. They may be bullies, victims, bully-victims, or bystanders (Ofe et al., 2016; Swearer et al., 2012). There are common characteristics of students most likely to fulfill each of these roles within the bullying dynamic. Bullies are students who intentionally cause emotional or physical harm to another individual. Bullies tend to have some sort of physical or social power over their victims, they act impulsively and often aggressively, and they show a lack of empathy towards their victims (Ofe et al., 2016). Their reactivity and emotionally detached personalities can lead bullies towards engaging in illegal and abusive behaviors in adolescence and adulthood ( Ofe et al., 2016; Carran & Kellner, 2009). In contrast, victims are typically characterized by being physically different or weaker than their peers, by having an anxious or insecure personality, and by being socially isolated (Ofe et al., 2016). The experience of being victimized, especially when the bullying is frequent or chronic, leads victims to experience a multitude of psychological and academic difficulties throughout life, including depression, anxiety, further isolation from peers, fear or avoidance of school, and decreased ability to concentrate, which in turn, leads to lower academic performance (Carran & Kellner, 2009; Ofe et al., 2016; Good et al., 2011). Bully-victims are individuals who are victimized but who also bully others, often as a way to displace their feelings of anger and aggression and regain some social power (Ofe et al., 2016). This group is at the greatest risk for poor psychological functioning as they experience both the detrimental internalizing and externalizing outcomes experienced by both victims and perpetrators of bullying (Ofe et al., 2016). Emerging research suggests that cyberbullying may be a preferred method of perpetration for this group, as individuals can hide their identity (avoiding any additional in-person victimization as a result) (Ofe et al., 2016). Bystanders make up the largest proportion of student involvement in bullying at 60 percent; these are the individuals who witness bullying but do nothing to stop it, and often their silence allows the bullying cycle to continue (Ofe et al., 2016).
Section 2: Bullying is a special problem for students in special education
2a. Statistics comparing bullying in special education and general education students (Holzbauer, 2008; Rose et al., 2011; Swearer et al., 2012; Bear et al., 2015; Hartley et al., 2015)
While understanding the prevalence and roles of bullying in general is crucial to begin to truly combat this problem in our schools, researchers who dig more deeply into the intricacies of bullying are finding that students with special needs are severely overrepresented in the bullying dynamic. Also, emerging research clearly shows that the rates and patterns of bullying and victimization for students in special education are vastly different than those seen in the general education population. In one survey of special educators regarding observed bullying incidents of their students, 96.7% reported that they had observed multiple types of bullying incidents occurring to their students within the past two years (Holzbauer, 2008). In 2011, Rose and colleagues reported findings in two different studies showing that students with disabilities are twice as likely as their general education peers to be involved in both bullying and victimization (Rose et al., 2011). Their second study, which specifically separated the bullying dynamic into three categories (victimization, bullying (verbal/relational), and fighting (physical)) elicited an interesting finding that students with disabilities self-reported significantly more victimization and slightly more fighting behaviors than students without disabilities, but did not differ from their peers in rates of bullying perpetration (Rose et al., 2011).
The finding of Rose and colleagues that students with disabilities engage in fighting more than other forms of bullying perpetration when compared to students without disabilities correlates with other studies which suggest that bullying is a vastly different experience for students with disabilities than for their general education peers (Rose et al., 2011). For example, there is a typical progression and pattern seen in the evolution of bullying in general education students in early childhood, elementary school, and middle school. What is typically seen in general education students is a higher proportion of physical bullying occurring early on, which then evolves into verbal and relational bullying becoming most prevalent in upper elementary and beyond, as students gain more complex verbal skills (Hartley et al., 2015 ). Typically, there are also slight gender differences in bullying, with more boys involved in physical bullying and more girls involved in relational bullying (Hartley et al., 2015, Swearer et al., 2012). Additionally, bullying prevalence rates in general education students typically increase year by year until peaking in seventh grade, and then decrease through the high school years (Swearer et al., 2012 ).
Bullying involving students with disabilities, however, does not follow any of these typical patterns which can be categorized by type, age, or gender. Instead, students with disabilities in many cases do not seem to outgrow victimization and often continue to be involved in physical bullying and fighting well past adolescence, perhaps because for many students with disabilities, communication skills remain undeveloped well into adolescence and adulthood (Hartley et al., 2015; Rose et al., 2011). The Rose et al. (2011) study indicates that victimization is the primary concern for students with disabilities and suggests that this group’s incidents of bullying perpetration may actually be retaliation responses to being victimized rather than unprovoked instances of bullying (Rose et al., 2011). This hypothesis is supported by other studies that show that the largest bullying group for students with disabilities is the bully-victim category, accounting for approximately half of students with observable or behavioral disabilities (47.2 % and 51.2 % respectively), compared to 30% of students with non-observable or no disabilities (Swearer et al., 2012). In 2012, Swearer and colleagues reported statistics that, when taken together, indicated that 64.7-79% of students with disabilities in their study experienced victimization (victim-only or bully-victim) compared to 65.6% of students without disabilities, while the bully-only category ranged from 2.3-9.8% for each disability group (average of 5.9%) compared to 6.6% of students with no disabilities (Swearer et al., 2012). A study by Bear and colleagues in 2015 looked even more specifically at the prevalence of victimization by bullying type and disability type and grouped its results into 10 disability categories for each form of bullying (verbal, relational, and physical). This study found that for all three forms of bullying, students with disabilities were on average 31-45% more likely to be victimized (Bear et al., 2015).
Even in a study in which all participants reported being frequent victims of bullying, students with disabilities stood out from their peers. This study, conducted by Hartley and colleagues in 2015, found that students with disabilities reported being victimized significantly more frequently than students without disabilities, and indicated that they experienced more psychological distress from victimization than their general education peers (Hartley et al., 2015). In this study, it was found that students with disabilities were twice as likely to report daily physical and emotional harm compared to students without disabilities ( 22.6 and 44% of students with disabilities compared to 11.4 and 22.6% without disabilities respectively) and they reported severe distress to the point of feeling unsafe and threatened at school at more than three times the rate of that of students without disabilities (17.5% and 5.3% respectively). For both victimized groups, verbal bullying was most commonly reported, with approximately 63% stating they had experienced this form, followed by approximately 43% reporting relational bullying in both groups. Although physical bullying was the least prevalent form of bullying reported by both general and special education students, students with disabilities still reported significantly more physical bullying than their general education peers, and boys in special education reported experiencing more physical bullying than any other group (Hartley et al., 2015). Students with disabilities were also significantly more likely to report being bullied by adults than students in general education (Hartley et al., 2015).
2b. Statistics about how particular disability groups are at even higher risks than others (Swearer et al., 2012; Campbell et al., 2017; Wells, 2018)
Even with these vast differences between general and special education students as student categories, the special education group is still very diverse, and the intricacies of the many various disabilities included under special education can have profound effects on the amounts and type of bullying that these students may experience. In order to better identify and intervene in bullying situations involving students with disabilities it is important to can’t just rely on the assumption that all students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied or bullied in the same ways because although some disabilities expose students to more bullying, other students are protected from victimization because of their disability. Research has gone into examining the prevalence of bullying and victimization within and across specific disability groups to begin to understand both the risk and protective factors regarding bullying of various diagnoses.
Comparison of bullying rates and mediums in various disability types and groupings using Bear et al. (2015), Swearer et al. (2012) and Wells et al. (2018) which will highlight ED, Learning Disabilities and Autism as the most at risk of bullying involvement so then I'll do a short paragraph looking deeper into the risk and protective factors in those three disability groups.
Researchers began this exploration of disability specific bullying by combining a few disabilities into categories based on related characteristics among those disabilities for comparison. For example, Swearer and colleagues created three categories of disabilities based on the visibility of symptoms. They combined speech/language impairment, hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities as observable disabilities, specific learning disabilities as non-observable, and their third disability category was behavioral disabilities which combined EBD and other health impairments. They compared these three categories of disabilities to students without disabilities and each other in their study looking for patterns of bully, victim, or bully-victim status and how that related to prosocial behavior in these students (Swearer et al., 2012). Their results supported their hypothesis that the visibility of the disability increased the likelihood that a student would be involved in bullying with half of the students with behavioral and observable disabilities involved as a bully-victim, and when coupled with the victim only category, approximately 80% of students with observable or behavioral disabilities were victimized, compared to approximately 65% if the disability was unobservable or nonexistent (Swearer et al., 2012). Looking to explain this, Swearer and colleague looked at measures of prosocial behavior as a potential protective factor against involvement in bullying, although there was a significant negatively correlated pattern between prosocial behavior and bullying and finding that students in special education engaged in less prosocial behaviors, the effect size was determined to be too small to be a protective factor for students with special education (Swearer et al., 2012). Wells et al. (2018) took a similar approach in comparing small groups of related disabilities looking for risk and protective factors for students with various disabilities.Their groupings included physical disabilities, PTSD, ADHD, Depression, and learning disabilities (Wells et al., 2018). The focus of this study, however, was on the medium of bullying, in person or cyberbullying, most common for students with each disability (Wells et al.,, 2018). Their results found that students with a physical disability were significantly more likely to experience cyberbullying than any other group (31% or 6.7 times as likely), students with learning disabilities were most likely to be bullied in person only (27% reporting this, 7.8 times as likely) , and students with depression were most likely to report both forms of harassment ( 35% reporting this, 10.8 times as likely). An interesting finding was students who reported that they had a disability requiring an IEP were less likely to experience harassment at school, perhaps because of the presence of an adult support at school reducing the opportunities for harassment. Seeing that the significant differences between general and special education students held true even as researchers extrapolated smaller groupings of related disabilities, Bear and colleagues chose to look at each disability individually comparing students with 10 individual special education diagnoses to each other and to students without disabilities on the frequency of victimization from all three types of bullying (verbal, relational, and physical) to further specify the findings of prior researchers (Bear et al., 2015). The amount of victimization experienced ranged drastically from 0%-90% of parents of children with various disabilities reporting that their child had been a victim of bullying (Bear et al., 2015). The disability group most protected from bullying in their study was orthopedic impairment followed by moderate intellectual disabilities. These two groups experienced less victimization than the average general education student, all other disability groups were victimized at higher rates than students without disabilities (Bear et al., 2015). The most at risk disability group was Emotional Disturbance with approximately 83% of these participants reporting both frequent verbal and relational bullying and 45% reporting physical victimization. This was 14 times more verbal bullying and almost 5 times more physical bullying than that experienced by general education students as well as being 10 time more verbal and 3 times more physical victimization than experienced by any other disability group (Bear et al., 2015). Another disability that jumped out as statistically more likely to be victimized was students with visual impairments finding that this group was more than 7 times as likely to be verbally or relationally bullied compared to students without disabilities and three to five times as likely to be frequent victims of verbal and relational bullying (Bear et al., 2015). These findings support prior hypotheses that students with obvious physical and/or behavioral disabilities are most at risk for victimization.
Paragraph about EBD and bullying- ED- it has been demonstrated that students with ED are one of the most at risk groups for victimization and bully-victim status. Characteristics of EBD sound eerily similar to both the descriptions of bullies (overconfident and aggressive) and victims (frail and socially withdrawn). This is also the student group most likely to be educated in separate classrooms or schools due to the sometimes volatile nature of their disabilty leading to more social isolation and less opportunities for typical social skills. A study by Carran and Kellner in 2009 asked 407 students with EBD who were educated in private special education schools found that this population reported more victimization and that girls with ED reported more victimization than boys..
Paragraph about LD and bullying- Learning Disabilities- Luciano and Savage (2007) looked more specifically at the bullying in inclusive classrooms finding that even in classrooms that are 100% inclusive with no pull-out services which could give away a student’s disability status, students with learning disabilities were still victimized at significantly higher rates and having significantly less friendships and differences in receptive language skills accounted for the majority of this variance
Paragraph about Autism and bullying- ASD is a complex and diverse disorder so the research looking at ASD as a whole is inconclusive some finding that prevalence is higher than other disabilty groups other reporting almost no bullying. Autism. Zablotsky et al., (2014) looked at bully and victim status of 1176 students with ASD finding that 63% of these students had been victimized in their lifetime 38% reported victimization within the past month. Other findings from the study paint a clear picture of ASD victimization patterns finding that students with Asperger’s were twice as likely to be victimized than other forms of ASD, students in general education or public schools were also twice as likely, and victimization risk correlated with level of inclusion with students in full inclusion classrooms experiencing the highest levels of victimization. A protection factor against victimization was low academic achievement. Taken together we can clearly see that students with mild or high functioning ASD (like Asperger’s) are the group most likely to be fully included in the classroom for the academic benefits and their peers but their social skills differences put them as an easy target for victimization (Zablotsky et al., 2014). Campbell et al (2017) compared bully/ victim roles for students with ASD in both traditional and cyberbullying scenarios compared to matched peers with no disabilities, finding again that students with ASD were no more likely to be bullies (and were less likely to be cyberbullies) but were two to 3 times as likely to be traditionally victimized in all three forms of in-person bullying (Campbell et al., 2017). In Ofe et al. (2016) 41% of SLPs had witnessed bullying of students with ASD.
2c. Why? Disability specific factors place students with special needs at increased risk.
2c. 2 Having certain disabilities sets kids up to play all of these roles at higher levels, but particularly the victim and bully-victim categories. (Bear et al., 2015; Swearer et al., 2012; Rose et al., 2011; Luciano & Savage 2007).
Section 3: Longitudinal Effects of Bullying
(O’Brennan et al., 2015; Adams et al., 2016)
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine the knowledge pre-service and in-service teachers have in the area of bullying particularly bullying involving students with disabilities to see how this important issue is addressed in teacher preparation programs and district professional development in Tennessee.
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