“Zero tolerance policies mean suspension or expulsion for students, which often leads to a dead-end road for bullies, and many teachers are hesitant to report this behavior because of the harsh consequences,” said Bradshaw.

Limber also suggests that conflict resolution is not adequate, because in many cases bullying is not the result of a conflict between students, but rather aggressive abuse sustained over a long period of time.

She also suggests that group treatment for bullies can actually unite them together in their bullying, and short-term programs or solutions are not adequate, because bullying is not a short-term problem.

Instead, Limber suggests these 10 best practices:

  1. Focus on the school’s social environment.
  2. Assess bullying through formal assessments.
  3. Garner staff and parent support.
  4. Have a representative team coordinate efforts.
  5. Train all staff.
  6. Establish and enforce rules and policies.
  7. Increase adult supervision in “hot spots.”
  8. Intervene consistently and appropriately.
  9. Focus some class time on prevention.
  10. Continue efforts over time.

Duncan said his experience as superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools taught him that after-school programs are a great way to curb bullying.

“Most school violence happens after school ends,” he said. “By providing structured, positive activities after school, schools are reducing the number of wandering kids on the streets.”

The federal government is channeling money to programs that will engage students in learning, as well as after-school programs in the most at-risk schools, as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Duncan said. Programs that involve parents also will be funded.

Duncan suggested that schools should have safety metrics, just like schools have metrics in academic performance.

According to Duncan, federal agencies also will begin talks with teacher preparation programs and education schools about the issue of bullying prevention.

“We’re … going to begin surveying students and parents to get their suggestions for how best to combat bullying,” he added.

“The bottom line is, if students are bullied, there will never be equal education. Without an environment and culture of safety, without preventative measures, and without best practices, students will not only suffer emotional scarring, but may become disinterested in learning and drop out of school. We can’t continue to let this happen. It’s not just a ‘big city’ problem, it’s a national epidemic.”

Duncan said that in three to four years, he hopes ED will have the research on bullying and school safety necessary to help scale a handful of anti-bullying programs to states.


Department of Education