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Nearly 100,000 K-12 Students Still Spanked or Paddled at School, Data Show

By guest blogger Alex Harwin

The percentage of U.S. K-12 students who are physically punished in schools continues to drop, but nearly 100,000 children were still spanked or paddled in school in 2015-16, and black students are still disproportionately on the receiving end of the practice.

The overall number of students receiving physical discipline represents an 8 percent decline from 2013-14 when under 110,000 students were spanked or paddled. There's been no real change in the number of schools using physical discipline—about 4,000, mostly in the rural South—but the practice seems to be turning up in new states. Twenty-three states identified cases of corporal punishment in 2015-16, up from 21 in 2013-14—Minnesota and Wisconsin had schools that used this discipline in the latest collection, even though it is illegal in both states. 

Those results are based on an Education Week review of federal civil rights data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education. The analysis of data from the 2015-16 school year updates an earlier Education Week analysis of 2013-14 corporal punishment data. The previous analysis showed that at 4,000 mostly rural schools, the punishment rates for black students were nearly double those for their white peers. With the release of the new 2015-16 civil rights data set, the Education Week Research Center revisited some of the discoveries from the initial report and update them, as well as see if there have been any significant changes year to year.

Using your zip code or a school name, we've built a tool to help you look up your local schools and learn more about incidents of corporal punishment in your area.

The number of students receiving physical discipline in school dropped from 1 out of every 125 students in 2000 to 1 out of every 500 students in 2015-16. 

That steady long-term decline seems to be losing steam, however. From 2013-14 to 2015-16, the number of students without disabilities receiving corporal punishment dropped by 11 percent, compared to drops of between 17 percent to 36 percent every other year. (The 8 percent decline cited above includes students in special education.)

And in more than 40 percent of schools that used physical punishment, at least some students were paddled or spanked more than once.

Still A Worrying Pattern in Who Gets Punished

When we did our first look at corporal punishment data, based on 2013-14 data, the punishment rates for black students were nearly double those for their white peers.

In the latest analysis, black students are still more likely to be paddled than their white classmates. Black students still make up 22 percent of overall enrollment in schools using corporal punishment, but they receive 38 percent of the physical punishments meted out in those schools. White students meanwhile made up nearly 60 percent of total enrollment in the schools that use corporal punishment, but those students were only involved in less than half of incidents of physical punishment.

Most States Not Using Corporal Punishment

As in years past, schools in the majority of states don't use corporal punishment. Mississippi had most episodes of physical punishment of K-12 students, followed by Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

For the first time, the federal data collection also released separate data on schools that physically punished preschoolers. As Education Week highlighted last week, the majority of incidents of corporal punishment of 3- to 5-year-olds occurred in Oklahoma and Texas.

Additionally, there were a handful of anomalous documented cases of corporal punishment in states where the practice is banned, including California, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.

You can look at how corporal punishment affected one student, below:


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