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Education

U.S. Education Secretary is urging states to end schools' use of corporal punishment

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U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. is urging all states to eliminate corporal punishment - punishments like spanking or paddling - from schools.

In a letter to governors and chief state school officers dated Tuesday, King calls the practice "harmful and ineffective."

King wrote:

If you have not already, I urge you to eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures. Many of you, and your districts and educators, are leading the way in terms of rethinking how to create positive school climates and improve discipline practices in your schools, and eliminating corporal punishment is a critical piece of that work. The use of corporal punishment can hinder the creation of a positive school climate by focusing on punitive measures to address student misbehavior rather than positive behavioral interventions and supports. Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution.

The recommendation comes just a couple of months after I told you about an analysis done by Education Week that found more than 109,000 students in more than 4,000 schools experienced corporal punishment in the 2013-2014 school year.

Today, 22 states, mainly in the South, Southwest and Midwest, allow the use of corporal punishment in schools. But reports of physical discipline still occur in states where it's legally banned, according to The Atlantic.

King also pointed to disparities in who gets paddled in school. Boys are paddled more often than girls, and minority students are paddled more than their white peers.

According to King:

In states where students were subjected to corporal punishment, black boys were 1.8 times as likely as white boys to be subject to corporal punishment, and black girls were 2.9 times as likely as white girls to be subject to corporal punishment. Disparities in the use of in-school corporal punishment are not limited to race; boys and students with disabilities experience higher rates of corporal punishment. Based on the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection, boys represented about 80 percent of all students experiencing corporal punishment. Similarly, in nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at higher rates than students without disabilities. These data and disparities shock the conscience.

Studies have shown physical forms of discipline do more harm than good.

Instead of resolving misbehavior, these methods can make kids more aggressive and defiant, and can lead to mental health problems. King said during a conference call to NBC:

The practice has been clearly and repeatedly linked to negative health and academic outcomes for students. It is opposed by parent organizations, teachers’ unions, medical and mental health professionals and civil rights advocates as a wholly inappropriate means of school discipline.

Organizations including the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association have publicly opposed the use of corporal punishment. Even so, efforts to eliminate the practice in recent years have yielded mixed results, and there are some who still believe it is an effective method of discipline. King wrote:

While some may argue that corporal punishment is a tradition in some school communities, past practice alone cannot be a sufficient rationalization for continuing to engage in actions that have been proven to have short- and long-term detrimental effects. Indeed, there are many practices which were previously legal in the United States but which we would not tolerate today. There is a growing consensus that we simply cannot condone state-sanctioned violence against children in school...This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights.

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