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Indicator 7: Discipline Problems Reported by Public Schools
(Last Updated: March 2018)

The percentage of public schools that reported student bullying occurred at least once a week decreased from 29 percent in 1999–2000 to 12 percent in 2015–16.

Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, as well as in 2015–16, the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) asked public school principals how often certain disciplinary problems happened in their schools45 during the school year. In 2013–14, school principals were asked to provide responses to a similar set of questions on the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) survey of school safety and discipline.46 Using data from both surveys, this indicator examines whether the following discipline problems were reported by public schools to have occurred at least once a week: student racial/ethnic tensions, student bullying, student sexual harassment of other students, student harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity, student verbal abuse of teachers, student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse, and widespread disorder in the classroom. SSOCS also looked at the occurrence of gang activities during the school year; however, this item was not collected in the FRSS survey.

In 2015–16, about 12 percent of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students at least once a week (figure 7.1 and table 7.1). About 5 percent of public schools reported student verbal abuse of teachers, 10 percent reported acts of student disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse, 2 percent each reported widespread disorder in the classroom and student racial/ethnic tensions, and 1 percent each reported sexual harassment of other students and harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. About 10 percent of public schools reported that gang activities had happened at all during the 2015–16 school year.


Figure 7.1. Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: Selected school years, 1999–2000 through 2015–16

Figure 7.1. Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: Selected school years, 1999–2000 through 2015–16

— Not available.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to respond only for those times that were during normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session, unless the survey specified otherwise.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08, 2009–10, and 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2000, 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2016.


The percentage of public schools that reported student bullying occurred at least once a week decreased from 29 percent in 1999–2000 to 12 percent in 2015–16 (figure 7.1 and table 7.1). Similarly, the percentage of schools that reported the occurrence of student verbal abuse of teachers at least once a week decreased from 13 percent in 1999–2000 to 5 percent in 2015–16. There was no measurable difference in the percentage of schools reporting student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse in 2007–08 (the first year of data collection for this item) and 2015–16. Similarly, there was no measurable difference in the percentage of schools that reported widespread disorder in the classroom in 1999–2000 and 2015–16.

In 2015–16, the percentage of public schools that reported the occurrence of student racial/ethnic tensions at least once a week was lower than in most prior survey years. For example, 2 percent of schools in 2015–16 reported student racial/ethnic tensions, compared to 3 percent of schools in 1999–2000. The percentage of public schools that reported the occurrence of student sexual harassment of other students at least once a week decreased from 4 percent in 2003–04 (the first year of data collection for this item) to 1 percent in 2015–16. The percentage of public schools reporting student harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity at least once a week was lower in 2015–16 (1 percent) than in 2009–10 (3 percent; the first year of data collection for this item); however, it was not measurably different from the percentage in 2013–14. The percentage of public schools that reported gang activities at their schools at all during the school year was lower in 2015–16 (10 percent) than in every prior survey year for which data are available.

Student bullying was the most commonly reported discipline problem among public schools across survey years. During the 2015–16 school year, the percentage of public schools reporting student bullying varied by school characteristics. For instance, the percentage of public schools that reported student bullying occurred at least once a week was higher for middle schools (22 percent) than for high schools (15 percent), combined schools (11 percent), and primary schools (8 percent). The percentage for high schools was also higher than the percentage for primary schools (figure 7.2 and table 7.1).


Figure 7.2. Percentage of public schools reporting student bullying occurred at school at least once a week, by selected school characteristics: School year 2015–16

Figure 7.2. Percentage of public schools reporting student bullying occurred at school at least once a week, by selected school characteristics: School year 2015–16

1 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
2 Percent combined enrollment of Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students, and students of Two or more races.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to respond only for those times that were during normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session, unless the survey specified otherwise.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


A higher percentage of schools with 1,000 or more students enrolled reported student bullying (22 percent) than schools of smaller enrollment sizes. A higher percentage of schools located in towns reported student bullying (18 percent) compared to schools located in suburbs and rural areas (10 percent each). A higher percentage of schools where 76 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch reported student bullying (15 percent) than schools where 25 percent or less of the students or 26 to 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (10 percent each).47

In the 2015–16 SSOCS survey administration, schools were also asked to report selected types of cyberbullying48 problems at school or away from school that occurred at least once a week. About 12 percent of public schools reported that cyberbullying had occurred among students at least once a week at school or away from school in 2015–16. Seven percent of public schools also reported that the school environment was affected by cyberbullying at least once a week, and 6 percent of schools reported that staff resources were used to deal with cyberbullying at least once a week (figure 7.3 and table 7.2).


Figure 7.3. Percentage of public schools reporting selected types of cyberbullying problems occurring at school or away from school at least once a week, by school level: School year 2015–16

Figure 7.3. Percentage of public schools reporting selected types of cyberbullying problems occurring at school or away from school at least once a week, by school level: School year 2015–16

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: "Cyberbullying" was defined for respondents as occurring "when willful and repeated harm is inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices." Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. Respondents were instructed to include cyberbullying "problems that can occur anywhere (both at your school and away from school)." Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


Public schools' reports on the occurrence of cyberbullying at school and away from school at least once a week varied by school characteristics in 2015–16. Higher percentages of middle schools and high schools reported cyberbullying among students (26 percent each) than combined schools (11 percent) and primary schools (4 percent). The percentage of public schools that reported cyberbullying among students was generally higher for schools with larger enrollment sizes. For instance, 27 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 1,000 or more students reported cyberbullying among students, compared to 13 percent of schools with 500 to 999 students enrolled and 9 percent of schools with 300 to 499 students enrolled.


This indicator has been updated to include 2015–16 data. For more information: Tables 7.1 and 7.2, and Diliberti, Jackson, and Kemp (2017), (https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2017122).


45 "At school" was defined for respondents to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to respond only for those times that were during normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session, unless the survey specified otherwise.
46 The 2013–14 Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) survey was designed to allow comparisons with School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) data. However, respondents to the 2013–14 survey could choose either to complete the survey on paper (and mail it back) or to complete the survey online, whereas respondents to SSOCS did not have the option of completing the survey online. The 2013–14 survey also relied on a smaller sample. The smaller sample size and difference in survey administration may have impacted 2013–14 results.
47 The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs is a proxy measure of school poverty. For more information on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch and its relationship to poverty, see NCES blog post "Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?"
48 "Cyberbullying" was defined for respondents as "occurring when willful and repeated harm is inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices."