UW News

September 21, 2011

33 percent drop in physical bullying in schools using Steps to Respect

News and Information

Elementary schools using the bullying prevention program Steps to Respect saw a reduction in physical bullying and in the number of teachers reporting fighting as a big problem, according to a new University of Washington study.

Schools using the program also saw gains in protective factors like positive bystander behavior and student climate.

Previous evaluations of school bullying prevention programs have shown mixed results. There have been only a few large scale tests of these programs and, until now, evidence for their effectiveness has been weak, the researchers said.

“The results of our study show that there is something that we can do to prevent bullying in schools,” said Eric Brown, who led the study. “Over half of the targeted outcomes in our study showed significantly better results for schools that used Steps to Respect than for control schools. The results provide strong evidence for the efficacy of the program.”

Brown is a research assistant professor in the Social Development Research Group, which is part of the UW School of Social Work.

The theory behind Steps to Respect is that bullying behavior is a social process strongly influenced by peer attitudes and reactions. The program changes those attitudes by cultivating a school-wide sense that bullying is unfair and wrong, increasing empathy for kids who are bullied and teaching kids what they should do if they see bullying.

The study, published in the fall 2011 issue of School Psychology Review, shows that schools using Steps to Respect reported:

  • 33 percent less physical bullying.
  • 35 percent fewer teachers reporting fighting as a major problem.
  • 20 percent more staff members reporting that their school is promoting a positive environment.

Conducted during the 2008–2009 school year, the study included 33 California elementary schools, 1,296 staff members, 128 teachers and 3,119 students. Schools were randomly selected to either implement the program immediately or wait a year. Researchers gave the schools Steps to Respect materials, staff training and data collection reminders, but were otherwise uninvolved in program implementation.

Eric Brown, a research assistant professor at the UW School of Social Work, led the study of Steps to Respect's effect on bullying.

Eric Brown, a research assistant professor at the UW School of Social Work, led the study of Steps to Respect’s effect on bullying.Eric Brown, UW

Hundreds of schools in Washington State use Steps to Respect, which aims to prevent bullying by helping elementary schools create a safer environment through planning, staff training and teaching students skills for friendship, assertiveness and being responsible bystanders.

Dorothy Espelage, an expert on bullying and an educational psychology professor at the University of Illinois, said in a news release that the study fills an important gap in the bullying literature. “Its the largest, most rigorous study to date of a school-based bullying prevention program that shows significant reductions in aggression,” she said.

UW researchers conducted the study in partnership with the Seattle-based nonprofit Committee for Children.  We are “guided by the belief that we can change the world by teaching children to get along, to be safe from harm, and to be caring, responsible members of their families, schools and communities,” said Joan Duffell, executive director of Committee for Children. “This study is a powerful confirmation of the progress we are making toward those goals.”

Raynier Institute & Foundation funded the study. Co-authors are Sabina Low, assistant professor of psychology at Wichita State University; Brian Smith, research scientist at Committee for Children; and Kevin Haggerty, assistant director of UWs Social Developmental Research Group.