U.S. Education Secretary John King is urging school districts nationwide to stop hitting and paddling students, saying corporal punishment is “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities.”
In a “dear colleague” letter being issued Tuesday, King asks educators to “eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures.
“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,” King writes. “Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution."
Recent research suggests that more than 160,000 children in 19 states are potential victims of corporal punishment in schools each year, with African-American children in a few southern school districts about 50% more likely than white students to be smacked or paddled by a school worker.
The prevalence of corporal punishment in schools has been steadily dropping since the 1970s, according to findings published last month by the Society for Research in Child Development, a Washington, D.C.-based policy group.
Half of states banned school corporal punishment between 1974 and 1994, but since then, researchers say, only a handful more states have followed suit.
University of Texas researcher Elizabeth Gershoff and a colleague found that 19 states still allow public school personnel to use corporal punishment, from preschool to high school. The states are all in the south or west: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.
In his letter, King says that more than one-third of students subject to corporal punishment in schools during the 2013-2014 academic year were black, though black students make up just 16% of public school student population.
He also notes that boys overall, as well as students with disabilities, were more likely to be punished physically: boys represented about 80% of corporal punishment victims, and 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 them.
“These data and disparities shock the conscience,” King wrote.
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