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Digging Into the Data on Corporal Punishment in Schools

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In my story on the persistence of corporal punishment in schools, I cite some data collected by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights. Just to give a little more background, the department began collecting data on certain discipline practices, including corporal punishment, in 1976. But the data were publicly made available for the first time in March, 2012.

According to Justice Department officials, the practice becomes a civil rights concern if certain groups of students, such as those of a specific race or sex, are disciplined more harshly or more frequently than peers who engage in similar behaviors.

As I noted in my story, about a quarter of a million K-12 students were disciplined with corporal punishment during the 2005-06 school year. Additionally, the punishment was disproportionately inflicted on African-American and male students.

What's more, though—there is also a disparity for students with disabilities, according to Deborah Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American Civl Liberties Union's Washington legislative office.

But the story doesn't end there. In my conversation with Vagins, she noted that the federal data is not without issues. Although schools are required to report their use of corporal punishment, that data is self-reported. The government has little way of knowing if the numbers they are receiving are accurate and little recourse for those districts that don't report their numbers.

Additionally, the database doesn't include the number of incidents of corporal punishment, only the number of students it was used on.

"So if one student is hit five times throughout the year, it's only recorded once," explained Vagins.

Image: George Tomyn, the superintendent of schools in Marion County, Fla., stands in front of Eighth Street Elementary in Ocala. Mr. Tomyn opposed his school board's recent decision to reinstate paddling. —Andrew Stanfill for Education Week

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