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Education Secretary Brings Paddling, Corporal Punishment into National Conversation

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. is making a plea with leaders in the 22 states that permit or do not prohibit the practice of using corporal punishment measures--like paddling--to discipline students.

"If you have not already, I urge you to eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures,” King wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter released this morning.

"...I write to you, to call your attention to a practice in some schools--the use of corporal punishment--which is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities, and which states have the power to change,” he wrote. 

Using the most recent data from the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), King cites that over 110,000 students were disciplined in the 2013-2014 school year with corporal punishment--over a third of those students were black.

”…in states where students were subjected to corporal punishment, black boys were 1.8 times as likely as white boys to be subject to corporal punishment, and black girls were 2.9 times as likely as white girls to be subject to corporal punishment,” King wrote.

Though King acknowledges in his letter that corporal punishment is used to correct undesirable behavior, he argues that the end result is the total opposite.

Corporal punishment, he notes, has been linked to a decline in academic achievement and antisocial adult behaviors later on in life.

”Studies...indicate that students as young as those in preschool who experience corporal punishment tend to perform at lower levels, when compared to peers who have not been subjected to such practices, on measures of both academic achievement and social competence,” he said. 

King’s letter is likely one of his final attempts to address the work that needs to be done to fix disciplinary practices in U.S. schools under the Obama administration as the country gets ready to transition to an administration led by President-elect Donald Trump.

The Department of Education thus far has been dedicated to helping schools find and implement alternative means of discipline that do not interfere with student learning; aside from the more arcane practices of corporal punishment, even suspensions and expulsions have been labeled as detrimental to student achievement.

Instead, leaders are embracing the restorative justice movement and similar measures that rely less and less on techniques that negatively impact student learning and discriminate on the basis of race, color and national origin.

"Successful programs may incorporate a wide range of strategies to reduce misbehavior and maintain a safe learning environment, including conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling, and structured systems of positive interventions. The Departments recognize that schools may use disciplinary measures as part of a program to promote safe and orderly educational environments,” wrote the Department in a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter.

Yesterday, the National Women’s Law Center, the Academy on Violence and Abuse, ACLU, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry released a joint letter urging leaders and policymakers to consider such alternatives to end corporal punishment immediately.

"[P]olicymakers should...give schools and educators new tools to foster a positive school climate by encouraging the use of school-wide positive behavior supports, an evidence-based approach to school discipline proven to reduce school discipline referrals and support improved academic outcomes," they wrote.

"Local and state educational agencies should also take advantage of grants from the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides funds to educational agencies to develop and implement restorative justice and positive behavioral supports and interventions in classrooms and schools and train teachers and staff in these methods."

 

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Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

11/22/2016

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