More students drop out in bullying ‘climates’

U. VIRGINIA (US) — Schools with more bullying also have higher dropout rates, a new study shows.

The link between teasing and bullying and a school’s dropout rate exists independent of other demographic factors, according to the new report, published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

“This study suggests that teasing and bullying at the high school level is a noteworthy problem that is associated with the most serious negative outcome—failure to graduate,” says Dewey Cornell, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.

For the Virginia High School Safety Study, Cornell and colleagues assessed the prevalence of teasing and bullying in high schools by surveying 7,082 ninth-grade students and 2,764 teachers in Virginia on their perceptions of school climate. The researchers measured the dropout rates of students who were high school freshmen in 2007 over their four years of high school.


Previous bullying studies have focused on the effects of bullying on individual victims, but the new study shows a school-wide impact. “It adds new evidence to the importance of school climate for academic success in high school,” Cornell says.

The survey found that the dropout rate was 29 percent above average in schools with high levels of teasing and bullying, but 28 percent below average in schools with comparatively low levels of teasing and bullying.

“The study demonstrated that the link between bullying and dropout rates was not due to differences in student demographics, such as the number of students from low-income families,” Cornell says. “The study found that high levels of bullying in the school increased dropout counts from 18.6 students to 25.3 students in schools with high levels of low-income students and increased the dropout counts from 13.7 students to 18.6 students in schools with few low-income students.”

Other analyses show that the effects of teasing and bullying are not due to the academic performance of the students.

“We found that student demographics and academic performance are indeed predictive of dropout rates, as is commonly known,” Cornell says. “But we showed that bullying was predictive of dropout rates, independent of those other factors. Moreover, the effects associated with school climate were just as large as those associated with student demographics and academic performance.”

While academic performance is clearly important, schools trying to reduce their dropout rates should pay more attention to the school climate and strive to create safer social environments for students, Cornell says. “This study adds to growing evidence of the effects of school climate on student learning.”

The Virginia High School Safety Study has led to a new statewide effort to assess school climate systematically in all secondary schools, from seventh to 12th grades.

“Starting next spring,” Cornell says, “we plan to provide schools with regular, standardized reports of school climate conditions in order to help them in making data-based decisions about the needs of their students.”

Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Macao, China contributed to the study.

Source: University of Virginia