This chapter critically analyzes extant literature on the relationship of bullying and school achievement. Many studies have been made on the development of the learning process but literature is scant on how bullying impacts upon the intellectual development of children. There is even less research conducted to determine how perceptions of educators or school staff influence the learning process in children.
To provide backbone to this study, the following areas of literature were reviewed:
Literature on school achievement and theories on motivation that may be applied to bullying in the school environment.
Literature on bullying, its definitions, identification of bully and victim, and types of bullying behaviors.
Literature on the relationship of bullying and school achievement.
Literature on the role of teachers in bullying prevention.
Definitions of school achievement vary. The term itself is often used interchangeably with academic achievement. Achievement is described as performance which features routine evaluation occurs (Spence & Helmreich, 1983) and skills which children learn via instruction or direct intervention (Stetson, Stetson, & Sattler, 2001). Other definitions specify the use of tests to measure achievement based on accuracy of solving problems in reading, mathematics, or spelling (Buhs, Ladd, & Herald, 2006). Describing achievement among children is important not only in the educational setting. Research work on achievement gaps for instance has several implications not only for the academe but for the economic and social well-being of a particular community. Being able to compare and explain achievement gaps have become an imperative because of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2008). Closing the achievement gaps early on in elementary schools is an important step in ameliorating the impact of discrimination among minority children who grew up in the United States. At present, the achievement gap is still a reality. For instance, research has established that the entire academic advancement process – earning outstanding grades, preparing for college, applying for aid, going through the complex application process for college, and obtaining good recommendation letters – puts minorities such as Black and Hispanic students at a disadvantage (Downey, 2008). One way to break through the barriers of racial inequality is to close the test-score gap (Barton, 2003). Test scores account for a great percentage in determining high school graduation rate, preparation for college, and gaining a professional license in the future (Beltfield & Levin, 2007). The measure for achievement is predominantly the test score on various stills such as reading, math, and vocabulary. Although the test score is just but one component and does not account for all factors related to academic achievement, is performs “a gatekeeping function for consequential life course transitions” (Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2008, p. 2). For this study, school achievement is defined as a student’s degree of comprehension of proficiency and information with particular skills such as reading, mathematics, and spelling.
The Ecological model of achievement
School achievements is commonly assumed to be a cumulative function of family, school, and community experiences, and is therefore hard to measure (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). Since achievement is a holistic process where several factors come into play, studying achievement is an empirical challenge because complete family, community, and school histories, and such data are rarely if ever available (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). Efforts to understanding how achievement develops in children use theoretical models such as the Ecological model of development (Broussard & Garrison, 2004).
The Expectancy-Value model of development points to the influence of social contexts and interactions with other people as significant determinants of children’s achievement in the school setting (Eccles et al., 1983). The Expectancy-Value theory posits that achievement occurs upon the presence of an environment “fit” between children’s learning needs and their socialization experiences at various levels. Children start their early socialization within the family and soon progress into wider and more complex settings such as the school. It is in the classrooms and the school environment that children are provided a venue to pursue new life experiences which are crucial to the intellectual growth and development. When the school environment becomes incongruent to children’s needs, they may develop a low expectancy for success that may in consequence result to poor academic outcomes (Eccles et al., 1993). A poor person-environment fit may lead to rejection, frustration, violence, and victimization.
Alternatively, poor fit can lead to rejection and victimization whereby students become passively isolated from their peers. It is possible, therefore, that social experiences such as being bullied may reduce a student’s sense of competence for social and perhaps, academic situations. Further to the role of the aforementioned demographic characteristics, we were interested in the impact that students’ feelings about their school may have on their behaviour, in particular their involvement in bullying and victimization. School climate has been studied from different theoretical and methodological perspectives and with regard to a myriad of developmental and organizational outcomes (Kuperminc, Leadbeater, Emmons, & Blatt, 1997). Social-ecological theorists suggest that perceptions are paramount in understanding the way in which individuals function within their environments (Lewin, 1935). This hypothesis has received support in a substantial body of research examining the role of perceptions of school climate in a variety of important outcomes.
For example, Solomon, Battistich, Kim, and Watson (1996) found that teacher supportiveness was associated with more positive behaviour in the classroom and positive perceptions of connectedness among students. In other research, Kuperminc and colleagues (1997) demonstrated that perceptions of school climate were associated with psychosocial maladjustment in adolescents, both in terms of internalizing and externalizing problems. Similarly, Griffith (1999) found that perceptions of an orderly and fair school with positive student-teacher relationships moderated both internalizing and externalizing problems among students. Students’ sense of connectedness to their school has been investigated as a buffer between exposure to violence and later violent behaviour (Brookmeyer, Fanti, & Henrich, 2006) and the investigators found that students who felt more connected to their schools showed a reduction in violent behaviour over time. Feeling connected to school may make it more likely that students will confide in teachers or peers about experiences of victimization, which may in turn help them to cope with these problems or avoid behaving violently themselves (Brookmeyer et al., 2006). In another study, Totura and colleagues (2009) found that perceptions of school climate as being characterized by misconduct or as having higher adult monitoring impacted the likelihood that students with internalizing or externalizing behaviour problems would be classified as “bullies” or “victims” by teachers. In the current study, we predicted that students who indicated feeling that their school is a fair and safe place, that they feel connected to their peers, and that they perceive their teachers as helpful and supportive would report lower rates of bullying and victimization. Furthermore, we saw these perceptions as integral to understanding the overall climate of a school.
Definition of Bullying
The most comprehensive and extensively used definition of bullying is provided by Dan Olweus; very few studies exist that do not cite his original work (Dake et al., 2003; Dulmus et al., 2004). This study used the definition of bullying developed by Olweus (1993), which states, “a student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (Olweus, 1993, p. 9). Negative actions are further defined as “when someone intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another” (p. 9).
Negative actions can be verbal (including threatening, taunting, teasing, or name-calling) or physical (such as hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving, or pinching). Negative actions also may occur without verbal or physical interaction, such as making faces or gestures, intentionally excluding someone from a group, spreading rumors, or refusing to comply with the wishes of another. Different types of bullying are discussed in more detail in a later section.
The definition emphasizes repeated interactions that are carried out over time. According to Olweus (1993), it is reasonable to assume that any time students are forced together within social environments where they have little choice over with whom they interact, tendencies to bully may arise. Further, some conflict among students is natural and expected. Students may come to school in an irritable mood because of a confrontation at home, or they might be tired or hungry. Students also may have a disagreement with one another that leads to a more serious altercation, though still not necessarily a bullying episode. The focus toward repeated interactions carried out over time is meant to exclude random interactions or isolated incidents that occur in a nonsystematic way. Random and isolated incidents are seen as somewhat natural, with less severe consequences for those involved. Thus, bullying is typically defined as occurring repeatedly and over time.
Additionally, it is not considered bullying unless the targeted individual has difficulty defending him or herself against the bullying behavior. The overall intent is to focus on systematic victimization among participants with an imbalance of power or strength. Depending on the type of bullying that occurs strength may refer to physical, emotional, or mental strength. Differences in emotional or mental strength may be more difficult to identify than differences in physical strength. Regardless, two individuals of approximately the same physical, psychological or social strength that socially interact in an aggressive manner are not considered to be engaged in bullying behavior. There must be an imbalance in power or strength between the participants involved for the episode to be considered bullying. The next section addresses bullying in the school environment.
Who bullies and who is victimized?
Studies indicate that bullies often come from homes where physical punishment is used, where the children are taught to strike back physically as a way to handle problems, and where parental involvement and warmth are frequently lacking. Students who regularly display bullying behaviors are generally defiant or oppositional toward adults, antisocial, and are likely to break school rules. In contrast to prevailing myths, bullies appear to have little anxiety and to possess strong self-esteem. There is little evidence to support the contention that they victimize others because they feel bad about themselves (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Students who are victims of bullying are typically anxious, insecure, cautious, and suffer from low self-esteem, rarely defending themselves or retaliating when confronted by students who bully them. They may lack social skills and friends, and they are often socially isolated. victims tend to be close to their parents and may have parents who can be described as overprotective. The major defining physical characteristic of victims is that they tend to be physically weaker than their peers-other physical characteristics such as weight, dress, or wearing eyeglasses do not appear to be significant factors that can be correlated with victimization (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Victims often fear school and consider school to be an unsafe and unhappy place. The act of being bullied tends to increase some students’ isolation because their peers do not want to lose status by associating with them or because they do not want to increase the risks of being bullied themselves. A child being bullied leads to depression and low self-esteem, problems that can carry into adulthood (Olweus, 1993; Batsche & Knoff, 1994).
Bullying in the school environment
An important feature of bullying is its “essential public nature” (Jeffrey, Miller, & Linn, 2001, p. 145). Those who bully tend to do so in front of an audience of their peers. Therefore, bullying is “best conceptualized as an interaction between the individual and his or her peer group, school, family, and community” (Swearer & Doll, 2001, p. 19). The seminal definition of bullying provided by Olweus also describes a behavioral interaction rather than an individual or a behavior. Thus, bullying interactions occur when individual characteristics of the child who is bullying are combined with the actions of their peers (including those of the individual who is being bullied), the reactions of teachers and other adults at school, the physical characteristics of the school grounds, family factors, cultural characteristics, and community factors (Swearer & Doll). Therefore, propensities for bullying are the result of continued interactions between individuals and their immediate environment.
Bullying has been commonly misidentified as occurring primarily in larger, city schools (Olweus, 1993). Results from Norway and Sweden show this to be invalid. Additionally, one study (Dulmus et al., 2004) done in a rural school setting reported that just over 82% of students experienced some form of bullying at least once in the three months prior to the study. Students who were “called mean names, made fun of, or teased” was the most common type of bullying experienced by students and being “threatened or forced to do things” and “being called racist names” were the least common types of bullying experienced. As many as 24.1% of students responded they had been “threatened or forced to do things” and 26.1% reported being “called names based on race or color” (Dulmus et al., 2004). Additional research has shown that the size of the class or the school appears to be of little importance for the amount of bullying found in the class or school (Dake et al., 2003; Olweus, 1993).
There is a natural hierarchy of status in schools, commonly referred to as popularity, which exists among students. The top 15% of students can be classified as “very popular,” the next 45% as “accepted,” and another 20% as “average” or “ambiguous” (Thompson & Cohen, 2005, p. 17). As a result, approximately 80% of children are not at serious risk of being bullied. On the other hand, the remaining 20% of students who are considered in the bottom of the social hierarchy are at serious risk for bullying (Thompson & Cohen, 2005). Younger students also are at different stages of social development and may not yet understand that bullying is unacceptable behavior. However, recognition of bullying as unacceptable behavior is not always enough to deter it from happening. In addition, older students have generally had more opportunities to acquire the necessary skills and assertiveness to either respond more effectively to bullying or to cope with being subjected to such behavior (Smith, Shu, & Madsen, 2001).
Types of Bullying
Olweus’ (1993) research initially distinguished between direct and indirect bullying. Direct bullying involves relatively open attacks on the target and may include words, gestures, facial expressions, or physical contact, such as hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving, and pinching. Indirect bullying is more covert and less visible, generally achieved through social isolation or intentional exclusion from a peer group. This can be accomplished through different methods and will differ according to age and development (Crick, Nelson, Morales, Cullerton-Sen, Casas, & Hickman, 2001).
For example, in early childhood, this might be accomplished by one individual simply telling another that they do not want to play together anymore. In middle childhood and adolescence, students may not invite others to join in some activity or may ignore an individual while paying excessive attention to another. The distinction between direct and indirect bullying has been further divided into three categories: physical bullying; verbal bullying; and relational bullying, which are discussed in the following sections (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Olweus, 1993; Ralston, 2005; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005).
Physical bullying refers to hitting, pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, tripping, and other such bodily attacks, as well as damaging another’s property (Howard, Horne, & Joliff, 2001; Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Ralston, 2005; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). Physical bullying is described as “action-oriented” and often uses direct bullying tactics (Smokowski & Kopasz). Until recently, the majority of U.S. research about bullying has been conducted as a subset of aggression and has focused primarily on physical aggression (Griffin & Gross, 2004). Aggression and bullying contain conceptual similarities, but their comparison largely depends on how each has been measured within individual research studies.
Due to the relatively open nature of the attacks, physical bullying is considered the most visible and least sophisticated among the various types of bullying (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). Less than one-third of all incidents reported by children involve physical bullying (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson). Those who engage in physical bullying may become more aggressive over time and continue to manifest bullying in adulthood (Dake et al., 2003; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). In addition, students who are targeted for physical bullying are generally targeted for verbal and relational bullying as well (Olweus, 1993). Research also shows that physical bullying is used more in lower grades (i.e., primary school) among younger students (Olweus, 1993).
Verbal bullying is the most common form of bullying according to student reports in one study, accounting for nearly 70% of all reported incidents (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Verbal bullying includes teasing, taunting, name-calling, racial slurs, or any instance where words are used to hurt or humiliate another. Due to the ease and quickness with which verbal bullying occurs, this type of behavior often goes undetected, making such interactions more difficult to respond to for teachers (Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). Verbal bullying often is a precursor to physical and relational bullying (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005).
Relational bullying includes such acts as ignoring individuals, social isolation, intentional exclusion from peer groups, gossiping, and spreading rumors (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Ralston, 2005; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). Relational bullying also includes aggressive gestures, such as staring, rolling one’s eyes, sighing, frowning, sneering, and other hostile body language (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson). It is most powerful and prevalent at the onset of adolescence, when children are exploring their identities and expanding their social networks, also making it very difficult to identify.
Verbal and relational bullying are quite common and are relatively unnoticed by teachers as students report these behaviors occurring more frequently than physical bullying (Griffin & Gross, 2004; Hazler, Miller, Carney, & Green, 2001). Oddly enough, physical bullying continues to attract more attention in the school environment. This is despite the widespread attention given to longstanding emotional and social forms of bullying as precursors to school shootings and suicides. This is most likely due to the visible nature of physical bullying and its relative ease of identification.
Historically, bullying primarily occurred in school during school hours; however, with the common use of computers and the internet since the 1990s, on-line bullying has become an increasing occurrence amongst adolescent girls (Li, 2005). The internet offers the perfect tool for mass, covert bullying due to its anonymity, its difficulty to regulate, and the removal of traditional social rules in regards to appropriate communication (Giuseppe, & Galimberti, 2003).
“The nature of new technology makes it possible for cyber bullying to occur more secretly, spread more rapidly and be easily preserved” (Li, 2006, p. 161). Bullying is a major problem in schools, and it seems to be on the rise with the widespread use of the Internet. “Cyber bullying”, according to Willard (2004) as quoted by Li (2006), “can occur in various formats including flaming, harassment, cyber stalking, denigration (putdowns), masquerade, outing and trickery and exclusion aˆ¦” it can lead to stalking, death threats and suicide (Li, 2006). “Unlike face-to-face bullying, people often feel that cyberspace is impersonal and they can therefore say whatever they want. Further, it is reported that females prefer this type of bullying” (Nelson, 2003; Li, 2006). Electronic bullying allows a person’s identity to remain hidden and can pose less of a physical confrontation that face-to-face bullying.
Relationship of Bullying and Academic Achievement
Bullying behaviour is a social, group process that is prevalent in the school environment and there are well documented findings regarding the behavioural and health consequences of bullying behaviour at school for both direct and relational bullying profiles (Kumpulainen et al., 1998; Owens, Slee, & Shute, 2000; Williams, Chambers, Logan, & Robinson, 1996; Wolke et al., 2000). However, there is a dearth of research that has considered the association between bullying behaviour per se and academic achievement among primary school children.
Olweus (1978, 1983) first speculated that aggressive behaviour of bullies towards peers could be considered as a reaction to frustrations and failures at school. However, data from a large sample of boys from Greater Stockholm provided no evidence to suggest that aggressive behaviour was a consequence of poor grades at school. Rather, it was found that both bullies and victims had lower than average marks than neutral children (Olweus, 1978).
In a recent study, Schwartz, Farver, Chang, and Lee-Shin (2002) reported that children who exhibited poor academic performance in school tended to emerge as frequent targets of bullying. However, it was only a subset of victimised children, the aggressive victims (or bully/victims) who were likely to be characterised by poor school performance (Schwartz, 2000). What remains to be established by research studies is whether poor academic achievement leads to bullying involvement or whether being bullied leads to poorer school achievement, possibly mediated by less participation in school. Research on peer rejection has also considered the relationship to academic achievement and school adjustment. Peer rejection is predominantly assessed by standardized scores that are comparable across classes and school, but does not take into account individual bullying roles within classes. Ladd (1990) considered the academic behaviour and school adjustment of children over the first year of school life and reported that rejected children had less favourable school perceptions, significantly higher levels of school avoidance and significantly lower school performance compared to popular, average, and neglected children.
While the research is clear that students with behavior problems do less well in school (Shanahan 2000; McLeod & Keiser 2004; Trzensniewski et al. 2006; Allard 2007; Buchmann et al. 2008), it is unclear whether engagement in bullying behaviors directly leads to negative academic outcomes (Miller 2008). Moreover, empirical research has provided mixed support for a cross-sectional relationship specifically between bullying behavior and academic achievement (Nansel et al. 2001; Spriggs et al. 2007). On the one hand, Nansel et al. (2001) found that “persons who bullied others showed poorer school adjustment, both in terms of academic achievement and perceived school climate” (p. 2097). Glew et al. (2005) criticized Nansel et al.’s (2001) findings because although the authors “found important evidence regarding the potential detrimental effects of bullying on self perceived academic achievement and school attendance, no objective measures of academic achievement or attendance were collected” (p.1026). In contrast, these authors, utilizing objective measures of school performance, found that being a bully was not significantly correlated with lower achievement scores. More recently, Spriggs et al. (2007), using the 2001 Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children survey (HBSC), found that among a representative sample of sixth to tenth graders that bullying impacts achievement. Their results also indicated that this relationship varies by race. For Whites and Hispanics, being a bully, victim, or a combination of the two, was associated with poorer academic performance. However, for Blacks, bullying was not related to academic performance (Spriggs et al. 2007). Instead, Blacks’ family and peer relationships had a greater influence on achievement than did bullying.
This paper presents a meta-analytic review of 33 studies, with a total of 29 552 participants, that examined the concurrent association between peer victimization and academic achievement. The results revealed a small but significant negative correlation between peer victimization and academic achievement under both the random-effects model (r=a?’.12, p < .001) and the fixed-effects model (r=a?’.10, p < .001). Factors that moderated the strength of this association across studies include the peer victimization informant, the indicator of academic achievement, whether there was shared method variance, and the national setting of the study. An exploratory analysis revealed that the strength of the correlations did not differ for boys and girls. The results help resolve the conflicting findings in the existing literature and suggest the need for further investigation into the association between peer victimization and academic achievement. (Nakamoto & Schwartz, 2009)
This study utilized a multi-informant approach to investigate the concurrent association between peer victimization and school functioning in a sample of 135 Latino children (55 boys; 80 girls) in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. The children attended elementary schools in distressed urban neighborhoods. Victimization by peers was associated with low grade point averages (GPA) and poor academic engagement. The analyses showed academic engagement mediated the relation between peer victimization and GPA. Moderator analyses indicated that the negative association between peer victimization and academic engagement was exacerbated for children with numerous friends in their classrooms. Additional moderator analyses revealed that the negative association between victimization and engagement was stronger for children with many aggressive friends. Overall, the results extend past research by investigating mediators and moderators of the association between peer victimization and school functioning in an understudied population (Nakamoto, 2008).
This short-term longitudinal investigation focused on associations between victimization in the peer group and academic functioning over a 1-year period. The authors used a multi-informant approach to assess peer victimization, symptoms of depression, and academic outcomes for 199 elementary schoolchildren (average age of 9.0 years; 105 boys, 94 girls). Frequent victimization by peers was associated with poor academic functioning (as indicated by grade point averages and achievement test scores) on both a concurrent and a predictive level. Additionally, the authors’ analyses provided some evidence that peer group victimization predicts academic difficulties through the mediating influence of depressive symptoms. Taken together, these results highlight the potential negative impact of victimization by peers on children’s academic functioning (Schwartz et al., 2005).
Adjustment difficulties such as loneliness and depression are less likely to occur among students who are liked by their peers and who have friends in comparison to those children who are isolated and alone (Erdley et al., 2001). Thus, peer acceptance and reciprocal friendships may pevent socio-emotional maladjustment. In the context of school bulyying, students who are bullied may not gain a sense of protection from affiliation with a group (Beran & Violato, 2004). These limited social skills and access to friends increase the likelihood of bullying. Furthermore, this lack of peer support may inhibit children from seeking academic support from teachers. If children do not trust their teachers to stop the bullying, they may not seek their assistance with academic difficulties.
It is likely that children who are bullied disengage from their learning, experiencing little enjoyment and low consciousness for academic work. In addition, children whose parents provide little support for their education, are likely to experience academic difficulties. When these students also exhibit behaviour problems in the form of hyperactivity, aggression, and poor social skills, they may experience learning difficulties.
Other studies, however, show contrary results. Hanish and Guerra (2002) examined the effects of peer victimization on levels of academic achievement and determined that “peer victimization was correlated with concurrent and subsequent aggressive behavior, inattention in the classroom, delinquency, symptoms of anxiety and depression, rejection, and low popularity among classmates. It was not however, correlated with academic maladjustment or withdrawal.” (p. 85). Being bullied may have affected some aspects of academic life such as inattention in the classroom and low popularity among classmates but it did not predict low achievement (Hanish & Guerra, 2002). In addition, Woods and Wolke (2004) reported achievement levels to be similar between children who are victimized and those who are not. Some victimized children may experience poor achievement whereas others may not.
Role of Teachers in Bullying Prevention
The basic assumptions are that changing the environment is more powerful than changing individuals, that prevention is better than intervention, and that changing the environment requires support and understanding among teachers.
Teachers understand the levels of influence and recognize the power of the family, the community, and the popular culture to influence behavior. What they often do not understand is the extent or limit of their sphere of influence. When teachers are asked to identify risk factors for the development of bullying, they generally rank the family and cultural factors such as television films, and pop music as having the strongest impact on children’s development of bullying behaviors. When teachers are asked to indicate which factors they can influence, they recognize for the most part, that their influence is limited to the classroom and school environment. Teachers are encouraged to focus their energy and resources on changing the areas within their sphere of influence, that is, the classroom and the school.
Because of the amount of teacher contact with students, perceptions of teachers regarding student bullying forms an important first step in minimizing this risk. Research found that teachers considered bullying the second most serious student behavior after drug use, (24)