Academic journal article School Psychology Review

From a Culture of Bullying to a Climate of Support: The Evolution of Bullying Prevention and Research

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

From a Culture of Bullying to a Climate of Support: The Evolution of Bullying Prevention and Research

Article excerpt

Decades of research in school psychology has brought attention to the culture of peer bullying and harassment that was a largely neglected problem in most schools. At the same time, research on the school environment has brought recognition to the importance of a safe and supportive school climate. These intersecting bodies of research on bullying and school climate have contributed to a massive change in how we conceptualize and evaluate the conditions for learning in schools. Although the transformation is not complete, the goal is well-established that schools must be a place where all students feel valued, respected, and supported.

More than a decade ago in a special issue of School Psychology Review, Espelage and Swearer (2003) presented a cogent analysis of the state of research on bullying in American schools. They identified some key challenges in the conceptualization and measurement of bullying and in the development of a social-ecological approach to intervention. These challenges merit reconsideration in light of the current special issue, which shows substantial progress in bullying research and school psychology practice. The first challenge raised by Espelage and Swearer (2003) was the need for consensus in defining and measuring bullying, which is essential to building a body of cumulative research and reaching agreement about effective school practices. Casper, Meter, and Card (in press) provided an excellent update on the measurement of bullying, which has become even more urgent because state legislatures across the country have mandated that schools report bullying and take effective action to address it (Hatzenbuehler, Schwab-Reese, Ranapurwala, Hertz, & Ramirez, 2015). They pointed out that researchers have attended to the internal consistency of bullying measures but have neglected reliability over time and across informants, which are more difficult to achieve. They also reminded us that bullying is such a complex construct that the pursuit of reliability could sacrifice a measure's validity and that validity is not a fixed quality of a measure but must be examined for invariance across student populations and environmental contexts. They also noted that intervention programs can have a biasing effect on measurement, such as sensitizing students to bullying so that they make increased reports in the absence of an actual increase in prevalence. The psychometric weaknesses of bullying measures remain a problem that impairs our ability to assess the effectiveness of intervention efforts.

One practical implication of the analysis by Casper et al. (in press) for school psychologists is to be wary of simple measures of bullying that tout high internal consistency but lack evidence of validity for their purpose and school setting. Casper et al. (in press) also caution that both informant reports and self-reports of bullying have weaknesses that can lead to the overestimation of bullying. Although there are a number of statistical strategies for validity screening and for refining the measurement process, high accuracy may not be attainable with paper-and-pencil methods. Because bullying is a complex construct and there are sometimes subtle aspects of behavior that are not easily observed, school psychologists must be careful not to take self-reports or peer reports at face value (Cornell & Mehta, 2011; Phillips & Cornell, 2012). Especially in the case of relational bullying, the determination that a student has bullied others or is being bullied may require interviews with multiple observers and careful consideration of the power relations and social status of the involved parties. Moreover, bullying is often a group process with multiple individuals playing different roles.

A second challenge identified by Espelage and Swearer (2003) was the need for more attention to relational aggression and gender differences in bullying behavior. The Early Childhood Friendship Project is an excellent example of an intervention that reduced relational and physical aggression among young girls (Ostrov et al. …

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