What we aren’t told about anti-bullying laws
Notlong ago, NJ’s major newspaper, the Star-Ledger, published an editorial lamenting the problems with their state’s anti-bullying law, a law that legislators had promoted as the nation’s toughest, leading the public to believe it would make bullying a thing of the past.
Needing to do damage control, the NJ Department of Education went on the defensive. An editorial appearing in yesterday’s North Jersey paper, The Record, declared the law to be “highly effective,” based on statistics provided to them by the NJ Board of Education. The statistics show that the number of bullying investigations dropped by about half since the law was first enacted five years ago. The assumption is that the number of investigations represents the effectiveness of the law. The newspaper glowingly inform us,
The law's initial effectiveness is plain to see. In the 2011-12 school year, the first year the law was in existence, there were 35,552 bullying investigations and 12,024 confirmed bullying cases. In the 2014-15 school year, those numbers dropped to 18,635 bullying investigations and 6,664 confirmed cases.Sounds great, a 50 percent reduction in bullying investigations. But do you know what the newspaper failed to remind us? That the year the law was enacted, bullying investigations quadrupled! This means that after five years of implementation of the law, there are still twice as many investigations per year as the year before the law was passed. If a reduction in the number of investigations is the measure of the law’s effectiveness, then the problem has gotten substantially worse since passage of the law.
Also, please pay attention to the fact that only about one third of bullying complaints result in a determination of actual bullying. What's the story with the the other two-thirds of complaints that are dropped as "not bullying"? Do they represent situations in which no one is suffering and there is no problem that deserves to be addressed?
Now, you may wonder why bullying complaints quadrupled in the first year of the law. It’s quite simple. It’s what happens when Apple advertises a new version of the iPhone. Initially, there are masses of people lining up to get the highly anticipated enhancement to their lives. After the first couple of days, the rush dies down and the number of customers drops. Furthermore, NJ worked hard to educate the population to stop making unwarranted bullying complaints so that they would stop being swamped with investigations. Interestingly, the ratio between bullying complaints and "confirmed" incidents of bullying seems to be an almost magic 3:1.
A university research study of anti-bullying laws provides a more sober picture. A news report on a recent study conducted by Columbia University reports:
[Students] who attended schools in states with anti-bullying legislation that included at least one of the DOE-recommended key components were 24 percent less likely to report that they’d been bullied in the last year, and 20 percent less likely to say they’d been cyberbullied.It’s a far cry from a 50 percent reduction in complaints. And for laws that don’t have those “key components,” then the results must be even less glowing. If you are the parent of a bullied child and expect the law to put an end to your child’s suffering, you are almost certain to be disappointed.
What we are NOT being told
In their eagerness to herald the success of anti-bullying laws, and to justify their jobs and their social advocacy, activists and government education departments are reporting the number of bullying investigations. The assumption, of course, is that that is the measure of the law’s effectiveness.
But is it really? It is like saying the effectiveness of the “war against cancer” is the number of people who asked to be screened for cancer. Does the screening process make the cancer disappear? What if there is no effective cure for the cancer, or if the "cure" causes more harm than good, or if false positives result in people without cancer being treated for cancer? And what if the screening process itself is invasive, like bombarding the body with radiation so it can be viewed up on a monitor? It could make the cancer even worse.
What is the purpose of an anti-bullying law? Is it to investigate bullying complaints, or is it to stop children from being bullied? It’s the latter, of course. The only thing the number of bullying complaints can reflect with a fair amount of certainty is how well the law encourages people to file bullying complaints.
To assess the effectiveness of an anti-bullying law, the following are some of the questions that need to be answered:
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems. This article has been reproduced with permission from his blog.
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