Last fall, after reading about the behavioral challenges that educators were describing as returning to personal education, I started talking to people about school discipline. I was amazed at how important it is for students to stay in school and how schools are moving toward disciplinary discipline after the whole country had spent the last year. One of the people I spoke to was Cara McClellan, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He suggested that I look at corporal punishment as part of my research on exclusionary discipline because he heard a Tennessee district family ask to choose between paddle and suspension. “The options that are being given to families are so unfair and unfair to students, is it really a choice?” McClellan told me.
I didn’t originally plan to write about corporal punishment. But McClellan created my interest. After reading many reports and making many more phone calls, I realized that the practice was common, not unique to this district of Tennessee. And my research has drawn me to a different community.
My investigation into the continued use of corporal punishment in the United States, which we published last Monday in partnership with the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, focuses on Collins Elementary School in Covington County Public Schools in southeastern Mississippi. Collins Elementary stands at a national dataset for the widespread use of paddling in 2017-18, in a state where paddling is more common and opposition to it is more organized than anywhere else. I will let you read the story to learn more about how and why disciplinary practice remains in Mississippi and 18 other states. Here, I want to share other numbers.
Related: ‘State-sanctioned violence:’ Inside one of thousands of schools that still push students
The federal government typically collects corporal punishment data from every school in the country every two years, but because of Covid, the last data we have is still from the 2017-18 school year. Data is often discussed through state or district totals, but a closer look at the numbers shows how much the physical punishment of school-level storytelling today is. The fact is that most schools do not use it. In 2017-18, 96 percent of schools across the country reported no corporal punishment. Even in the districts where it was allowed, many school principals were not elected
That makes for some interesting inequality.
In Lee County, Mississippi, Planterville Middle School used corporal punishment on more than 40 percent of its students, and two other schools used it on more than 20 percent of its students. Even then, four schools in the district did not use it on anyone. In Pontotok County, the dividing line was geographical. Primary, secondary and high schools in the south of the district have all used it, while three out of four schools in the north have not used it.
Gender and racial inequality also bubbles in the data. Eight out of 10 students paddled that year, nationwide, were boys. White boys were paddled more than any other subgroup. However, black students were unequally represented. In 2017-18, 36 percent of paddled students were black, while that group was only 15 percent of the total student population.
Outside of Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Alabama have the highest rates of corporal punishment in the country. A closer look at these states shows how often students with disabilities get hurt. Across the three states, 59 schools corporally punished 20 percent or more of their students in 2017-18; 105 have used it in the same proportion as their disabled students. Two schools have used corporal punishment of 50 percent or more of their entire student body; Eight of the students with disabilities hit the threshold.
The next federal dataset, expected sometime next year, will show how many schools have paddled students in the most disrupted school year of the epidemic. In Mississippi, where I requested state data, and in Arkansas, where data is available online, I already know there are hundreds of schools. But as I reported in my story, it probably won’t be true for long.
Dr. made this story about corporal punishment Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hatchinger newsletter.