During the 2013-2014 academic year, over 4,000 US public schools in 21 states paddled, spanked, or physically punished children in some way. A new analysis of nationwide information by Education Week showed that 109,000 students, from kindergarten to high school seniors, were subject to corporal punishment at their schools.
Francie Diep, reporting for Pacific Standard, writes that corporal punishment is, for the most part, a rarity and continues to decline in America. There are 98,000 public elementary and secondary schools, where roughly 50 million pupils are educated, which means only 0.02% of public school children in the US were physically punished during the 2013-2014 school year. The concern is not the frequency of the punishments, but the effect it has on young people.
The analysis shows that youngsters from families living in poverty are likelier to attend schools that allow this kind of discipline and that these schools punish black students more often than white pupils.
“We do see corporal punishment as just one piece of the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate disciplining of students of color,” Rhonda Brownstein, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Education Week.
Experts and evidence say that there is no positive outcome related to corporal punishment. In 2002, developmental psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff studied 88 previous investigations about children and physical discipline. She found one result that was positive. Corporal punishment did produce immediate compliance. Otherwise, the results were all negative.
Young people who have been physically disciplined were more apt to have poor relationships with their parents, mental health issues, antisocial and delinquent behavior, and become victims of abuse. It was also more likely that these children would become antisocial, aggressive, and become criminals as adults.
Of course, not every child who is spanked becomes a criminal, but evidence shows that adults hitting kids can produce tremendous risks and few real awards. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Department of Education, and many other organizations recommend avoiding corporal punishment.
Education Week’s Sarah Sparks told PBS Newshour:
“They … also had a sense of, this is part of our community. This is something that we as educators grew up with, and the kids that we have paddled over the years have grown up to be good people.”
African-American students make up 38% of those who are punished physically, even though black students comprise only 22% of all pupils who attend schools that allow corporal punishment, says Michelle Mark of Business Insider. On the other hand, whites make up 50% of kids punished and 60% of enrolled students.
Some schools have created policies as to the size of the paddle that can be used or the number of times a student can be struck, but no general agreement has been made among school districts or states concerning how many times or how powerfully a child can be struck or how school staff should be trained to exercise the discipline.
“I’ve been (using the paddle) a long time and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone offer training,” Daryl Scoggin, a Mississippi school-district superintendent, told Education Week. “It’s kind of like, I had it done to me, and so I knew what I needed to do. I guess it’s more that you learn by watching.”
Parental consent also varies according to school or state. Utah requires written permission from parents and other states, such as Texas, allow the punishment with no permission unless parents opt out of the disciplinary method.
Federal regulation that addresses corporal punishment does not exist, writes Molly Fosco for Seeker. A 1977 case, Ingraham v. Wright, resulted in allowing school officials to discipline pupils at their discretion when the children are on the school campus. States, however, can control whether physical punishment is allowed in schools or not. Those that allow spanking or paddling often have vague guidelines to regulate it.
Corporal punishment is prohibited in the Federal Head Start Program. The program ended a $6.4 million grant for Head Start in Prince George County, Maryland when it found several instances of physical punishment and humiliation methods being used.
The review of the Maryland program in Prince George County also found instances of teachers making kids hold heavy objects above their heads for inordinate amounts of time.
The Associated Press’ Carolyn Thompson reports that Georgia parent Kimberly Zacher said:
“What we instill in our children is if you break the rules, there’s a punishment that you have to suffer the consequences for,” she said. “You don’t want to give two sets of rules.”
A superintendent in Alabama said corporal punishment was an immediate consequence for bad behavior and is “pretty effective.”
“Paddling can cause pain, humiliation, and in some cases deep bruising or other lasting physical or mental injury,” the report said.