School Climate & Safety

Corporal Punishment in School: More Evidence Shows Decline Across States

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 05, 2016 1 min read
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Two months after Education Week wrote about the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools, a new study gives more evidence that the practice is on the way out in schools.

An analysis of federal civil rights data in the journal Social Policy Reports found 163,333 students experienced physical punishment in school in 2011-12. That’s roughly 50,000 more students than Education Week found in its own analysis of 2013-14 data. Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi led the states using the discipline; about half of students in those states attended schools that used corporal punishment in 2011-12.

Researchers Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin and Sarah Font of Pennsylvania State University found boys, black students, and students with disabilities were all disproportionately likely to be paddled, spanked, or otherwise physically punished at school. Based on North Carolina data, the researchers found 63 percent of the incidents of corporal punishment were for disruptive behavior, including fighting, bullying, or disorderly conduct, while 37 percent were for demonstrating disrespect, misbehaving on the bus, inappropriate language, or other misbehaviors. If those sound overlapping, they are; from state to state and even district to district, physical discipline is used on a wide array of student offenses.

The researchers also found more evidence of deep inequities in who gets punished. Boys were more likely to be disciplined physically than girls, with some districts hitting boys three times as often as girls. However, black and white girls with disabilities were more likely to experience corporal punishment than those without special needs.

For more on recent trends in corporal punishment, check out Education Week’s analysis and check out a webinar later this month.


A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.