Wanted: Teachers and Parents to Evaluate Anti-bullying Programs
If there is an upside to the attention that bullying has been getting recently, it is that it seems to have galvanized educators, parents, and community leaders to take action. The concern about bullying has led many governments to require schools to implement anti-bullying policies and programs. Unfortunately, the time, effort, and money allocated to reducing bullying is not matched by a corresponding level of concern for ensuring that these programs are actually effective in reducing bullying. In fact, there have been very few formal evaluations of bully prevention programs.
Do Current Anti-bullying Programs Work?
Recently, two studies (1, 2) reviewed the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs. Smith and colleagues synthesized the results of 14 evaluation studies of whole-school anti-bullying programs, examining rates of victimization and bullying reported by children. The results indicated that only one program yielded outcomes that were consistently positive. The remaining programs that were evaluated yielded little or no improvement. Similarly, Vreeman and Carroll (2) reviewed the outcomes of 26 programs (some of which were also reviewed by Smith et al. (1)). Only three of these programs yielded consistent reductions in bullying and victimization, eight yielded some modest positive outcomes, and ten yielded no positive results at all.
These reviews underscore several important points that should be of concern to educators, parents, and researchers alike. The first is that there has been very little research on anti-bullying programs generally, and more evaluation studies are urgently needed. Second, there is currently only limited evidence that anti-bullying programs are effective in curbing this problem. Third, the positive results obtained in several studies suggest that prevention programs have the potential to significantly reduce bullying, but more information is needed to understand how they can be improved and made more effective.
I believe that educators and parents can and should take an active interest in evaluating their school’s anti-bullying program. Evaluation requires some additional time and effort but is undoubtedly a sound investment. Here are a few of the benefits of evaluation:
- Schools learn whether or not their programs are achieving desired outcomes and, by extension, if their resources are being wisely allocated.
- Despite the good intentions of those involved in implementing prevention programs, research tells us that many are not implemented as intended (3). Instead, interventions are commonly adapted, corners are sometimes cut out of necessity, and some staff members are disinterested or even resistant to doing their part to ensure program success. Evaluation allows school personnel to account for the quality of the program as implemented and subsequently fine-tune the implementation process.
- People tend to act differently when they are being observed (as in the context of an evaluation) and typically in a manner that improves their performance. Schools can take advantage of this so-called “Hawthorne effect” to maximize the chances of program success.
- Program evaluation represents a learning opportunity for schools, as the people involved learn about the program and how it works. This knowledge often improves the quality of program implementation, which in turn leads to better outcomes.
- Evaluation provides opportunities for critical, constructive reflection that are characteristic of schools with healthy climates. A positive climate in the school may be the key ingredient to making bully prevention programs successful (4).