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U.S. Secretary John King to States: End Corporal Punishment in Schools

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 22, 2016 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has called on states to stop allowing schools to use corporal punishment to discipline students, arguing that it is a “harmful practice.”

In his letter to governors and chief state school officers dated Tuesday, King pointed out that the corporal punishment practiced in some states’ schools could also be classified as criminal assault or battery under separate laws in those same states. Corporal punishment is often used disproportionately on certain groups of students, such as students of color, King said. And he argued that the practice undermines efforts to teach students nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts and negatively impacts their long-term behavior and academic outcomes.

“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 wrote. “Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution.”

In a call with reporters Monday, King stressed that schools are entrusted with providing a safe learning environment for students, and that it has “no place in the schools of a modern nation.”

“The continued use of corporal punishment in schools across the country violates that trust,” King said, adding that a variety of groups, including teachers’ unions and parent organizations, oppose the practice. (The letter provides no legal guidance on the issue, the secretary noted.)

When asked the biggest obstacle to changing the practice, King cited the adherence to “tradition” in some states and concerns about “how schools can ensure safe and orderly environments.”

On the same call, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called ending corporal punishment “a moral matter” that transcends party politics. She also said a strong alliance of parents and educators would be especially important in efforts to end the practice in schools.

“It should have been banned in all 50 states years ago,” Weingarten said.

King’s recommendation comes a few months after Education Week published the results of an investigation into corporal punishment in American schools.

Our investigation into corporal punishment found, for example, that it is used in 21 states. And we also looked at the deep roots of paddling in schools, as well as the long-term consequences of an eighth-grade student’s paddling. You can watch Education Week‘s coverage for the PBS Newshour (an Education Week partner) about the issue, featuring the project’s lead reporter Sarah D. Sparks, at the top of this blog post.

Michelle Rhee and Donald Trump

Weingarten was also asked about the possibility of former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee serving as President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary. (The AFT has long been critical of Rhee’s approach to teacher policy.) She said it was an unexpected development because, in Weingarten’s view, Rhee is “a big adherent to things he said he didn’t like.”

“I’m very surprised that he would be speaking to Michelle Rhee,” Weingarten said. “She was very much a creature of wanting more tests and common-core based upon tests, and the kind of top-down accountability that the country has walked away from.”

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