Iowa’s anti-bullying law

Iowa passed an anti-bullying law that went into effect in 2007. How did it work?

All of the States (except for Montana) have implemented anti-bullying laws, with the aim of reducing this most common form of youth aggression. But do they work? That was the question that Marizen Ramirez, Patrick Ten Eyck, Corinne Peek-Asa, Agnela Onwuachi-Wilig, and Joseph E. Cavanaugh wanted to answer by looking closely at the effects of Iowa’s law. They found that the odds of being bullied increased when the law was implemented, which they pin on increased reporting, and then decreased over the next three years. Disturbingly, however, the odds of teacher intervention actually decreased.

However, the law did not improve teacher intervention over time.

What Ramirez et al. did was look at 6th, 8th, and 11th grade children who completed the Iowa Youth Survey in 2005, 2008, and 2010. They coded the respondents by survey year, so that they could track responses as being before the law, 1 year after, and 3 years after. They then looked at responses indicating both bullying (relational, verbal, physical, and cyber) and teacher intervention and response.

Ramirez et al. expected to see an immediate increase in the reporting of bullying following the law’s implementation, followed by a decrease; and they also expected to see an increase in teacher intervention. What they actually found, on the first part, matched their expectations—immediately after implementation, bullying seemed to increase, which they credit to increases in reporting; and over the following three years, decreased.

The teacher part, however, did not entirely match their expectations. They did find that when teachers did intervene, that that reduced the odds of being bullied by 50%. However, the law did not improve teacher intervention over time. They write, “Although disappointing, our finding points to a need for focused intervention training of teachers and adults on campus,” which wasn’t a feature of the Iowa law, and in fact, isn’t part of many state anti-bullying laws.

You can read the entire study, published in Injury Epidemiology, here.

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