More Than 4,000 American Public Schools Still Hit Their Students

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Poorer, black kids are the most likely to get the paddle.

By Francie Diep

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(Photo: Nico Paix/Flickr)

American kids in more than 4,000 public schools in 21 states were paddled, spanked, or otherwise physically punished at school during the 2013–14 school year, according to a new analysis of the latest nationwide data by Education Week. About 109,000 students, ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors, experienced corporal punishment at school that year.

Overall, physical punishment at school is rare and declining in America. The United States has about 98,000 public elementary and secondary schools educating some 50 million students, which means just 0.02 percent of American public school kids were physically punished during the 2013–14 school year. While corporal punishment isn’t such a problem in its frequency, it’s the effects these beatings have that are alarming.

The Education Week analysis shows kids who come from poorer families are more likely to attend schools that allow corporal punishment, and, within these schools, black students are more likely to feel the sting of a paddle than white ones. (The reporters didn’t have enough data to compare the rates of punishment for other racial groups.) “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.

The evidence suggests disciplining by hitting has real risks and few dependable rewards.

The research suggests there are almost no good outcomes that can be reliably associated with corporal punishment. In 2002, developmental psychologist Elizabeth Gershoffanalyzed 88 previously published studies about kids and physical discipline. She found the practice was strongly and consistently associated with just one positive result: Getting kids to comply immediately. The results were otherwise consistently negative: Kids who were physically disciplined were more likely to have a poor relationship with their parents, have poor mental health, exhibit antisocial and delinquent behavior, and be victims of abuse. They were also more likely to be aggressive, antisocial, and to commit crimes as adults.

That’s not to say every child who’s spanked becomes delinquent, but the evidence suggests disciplining by hitting has real risks and few dependable rewards. Numerous groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Department of Education, recommend parents and teachers don’t use corporal punishment.

So why do some schools continue to hit their students? Most weren’t aware of the research, Education Week reporter 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,” she said.

Despite the growing scientific evidence, support for corporal punishment for kids remains high among certain communities in America. And that can have detrimental effects on the young students.

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