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Brown Center Chalkboard

Schools, black children, and corporal punishment

Dick Startz

As we approach the annual celebration of Dr. King’s life, it is worth examining the difference in how our schools discipline black and white children. In public schools in the United States, black children are twice as likely as white children to be subject to corporal punishment. Figure 1 shows the comparison, derived from nationwide data reported by schools to the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education.[1] (All data is for the 2011-2012 school year, the latest year available.) The continuing disproportionate corporal punishment of black children is a reminder that some aspects of the “bad old days” are not fully behind us.

Incidence of corporal punishment per 100 students, annual rate

Figure 1

The 42,000 reported incidents of black boys being beaten, and 15,000 incidents for black girls, by educators in their school reflects two facts. First, black students are more likely to be located in states that use corporal punishment extensively. Second, in many states black students are disproportionately likely to be singled out for corporal punishment. Figure 2 shows the annual incidence of corporal punishment by state, with states where the incidence is less than once per ten thousand students greyed out.

Annual incidents of corporal punishment per 100 students

Figure 2

While corporal punishment is used in almost every state, seven states account for 80 percent of school corporal punishment in the United States: Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. [2] For black students, six of these states (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee) plus Louisiana account for 90 percent of corporal punishment. One reason that black students are subject to more corporal punishment is that they live in those states responsible for most of the corporal punishment of all children.

Where is corporal punishment racially disproportionate? Essentially, and sadly unsurprisingly, the first answer is that black students are disproportionately beaten in parts of the Deep South. Black students are twice as likely to be struck as white students in North Carolina and Georgia, 70 percent more likely in Mississippi, 40 percent more likely in Louisiana, and 40 percent more likely in Arkansas. Figure 3 shows the ratio of the frequency of corporal punishment for black students compared to the frequency for white students, with states where the incidence is less than once per ten thousand students or where the rate is equal or lower for black students greyed out.

States with disproportionate corporal punishment relative probability of punishment black vs white students

Figure 3

Some high corporal punishment states are not particularly racially disproportionate. Texas, notably, uses corporal punishment on black students and white with equal likelihood. Texas shows up on the lists of where black students are hit because it is a large state that administers corporal punishment at a moderately high rate. Alabama—where the rate of corporal punishment is 10 times the national average—also shows equal rates of black and white children experiencing physical violence from educators. In North Carolina, black students are twice as likely to be struck as white students, but North Carolina uses corporal punishment relatively infrequently and so accounts for a small proportion of punishment of black students. Notably, in South Carolina the rate of corporal punishment is below the national average and is not racially disproportionate.

While heavy use of corporal punishment is more common in states of the former Confederacy, racially disproportionate application happens in northern states as well. Schools in Pennsylvania and Michigan are nearly twice as likely to beat black children as white, although both have low overall rates of corporal punishment.

Author

D

Dick Startz

Professor of Economics - University of California, Santa Barbara

Perhaps most surprisingly, corporal punishment in Maine is wildly disproportionate—with black children being eight times as likely to be hurt as white children. Colorado, Ohio, and California also have rates of corporal punishment for black children that are 70 percent or more higher than for white children.

In Figure 4, I show rates of corporal punishment for white students on the horizontal axis and for black students on the vertical axis. States above the 45° line in Figure 2 have racially disproportionate corporal punishments. The states clustered at the lower left of the graph have relatively lower rates of corporal punishment, sometimes disproportionate and sometimes not.

Mississippi stands alone.

Corporal punishment per 100 students

Figure 4

While the symbolism of continued physical violence against black children is inescapable, the disproportionate application of other forms of discipline may be of even greater concern. Except in Mississippi and Arkansas, the typical black student will probably not be subjected to corporal punishment during his school career. In contrast, school suspensions are much more common. Figure 5 shows rates of suspension by race.

Suspensions per 100 students

Figure 5

Note that an astounding 15 percent of black students receive an out-of-school suspension in a given year, a rate nearly 4 times that of white students; in-school suspensions are more than twice as likely among black students. Figure 5 shows out-of-school suspension rates for black and white students by state.

Out-of-school suspensions per 100 students

Figure 6

Out-of-school suspensions are applied disproportionately in every state—all points are above the red line. And these discipline patterns do not line up with old geographic patterns. The highest suspension rates for black students are in Wisconsin. And the greatest disparities (measured as the ratio of black-to-white suspension rates) are in the District of Columbia.

Every time a child is beaten in school and every time one is suspended and thus loses learning time, something or someone has failed that child along the way, regardless of the “reason” for the punishment. So long as these failures fall disproportionately on black children, we are not yet living up to the dream that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Appendix

 

Discipline per 100 students

 

Corporal punishment

Out-of-school suspension

 

Black

White

Black

White

Alabama

3.583033

3.869057

17.90929

5.468595

Alaska

NA

0.103160

8.592955

3.645956

Arizona

0.029171

0.050941

12.32562

4.555046

Arkansas

5.897032

4.205989

18.15124

4.832772

California

0.051100

0.029146

14.44344

4.803916

Colorado

0.057981

0.022656

11.12507

3.413624

Connecticut

0.030811

0.025587

12.19697

2.117891

Delaware

0.000000

0.000000

18.50083

5.836653

District of Columbia

0.059520

0.000000

16.31737

0.872663

Florida

0.197324

0.239999

19.85793

8.790211

Georgia

1.125453

0.577535

16.07318

4.434872

Hawaii

0.000000

0.000000

1.538462

1.145156

Idaho

NA

0.036444

5.891822

2.945636

Illinois

0.031373

0.038082

15.35005

3.406990

Indiana

0.063847

0.062103

20.57063

5.230889

Iowa

0.022850

0.061744

15.22203

2.656221

Kansas

0.011166

0.013882

12.80741

2.792517

Kentucky

0.048563

0.190368

13.02577

4.424482

Louisiana

0.759494

0.537434

13.41064

5.476110

Maine

0.432043

0.057917

8.010801

3.839565

Maryland

0.000000

NA

8.901257

3.729914

Massachusetts

0.004890

0.015254

10.63718

3.376658

Michigan

0.179947

0.090549

20.77535

5.397792

Minnesota

0.030967

0.028806

13.56956

2.204543

Mississippi

8.059325

4.747161

15.36107

5.419384

Missouri

0.683648

0.553408

20.52077

4.393734

Montana

0.000000

0.043081

5.335968

3.311940

Nebraska

0.019723

0.028463

18.29791

3.194068

Nevada

0.000000

NA

12.38813

4.214409

New Hampshire

0.000000

0.051235

13.11094

5.099147

New Jersey

0.018340

0.016058

11.39809

2.773110

New Mexico

0.088313

0.007161

10.81837

4.902616

New York

0.022768

0.031960

6.698778

3.031192

North Carolina

0.045919

0.022889

16.71766

5.230456

North Dakota

NA

0.043300

2.846739

1.343501

Ohio

0.054495

0.028990

18.37799

4.323960

Oklahoma

0.937784

1.650464

15.15327

4.706784

Oregon

0.000000

0.006020

11.93396

4.788382

Pennsylvania

0.199160

0.099676

17.13759

3.469501

Rhode Island

NA

NA

16.29604

6.434000

South Carolina

0.021752

0.020802

17.06215

6.371353

South Dakota

0.116550

0.121998

8.071096

2.184158

Tennessee

1.020022

1.148149

19.35562

4.376236

Texas

0.825640

0.843602

12.84153

2.717089

Utah

NA

0.004343

6.567593

1.978244

Vermont

0.000000

0.030065

6.702997

4.289775

Virginia

0.020342

0.017897

14.10793

4.615755

Washington

NA

0.001729

11.65880

4.614335

West Virginia

0.143052

0.133395

17.50681

7.994511

Wisconsin

0.010465

0.027360

25.60784

2.697800

Wyoming

0.000000

0.016005

8.499234

3.295765

Discipline per 100 students is 100 times the ratio of discipline of a particular type reported for all students of a given race to the corresponding overall enrollment figures given by the Office of Civil Rights, for 2011-2012.



[1] The Office of Civil Rights collected data from all U.S. public schools. The data used here is aggregated to the state and national level by the Office of Civil Rights and can be found at http://ocrdata.ed.gov/StateNationalEstimations/Estimations_2011_12. Data is reported either directly by school districts or by states’ education agencies on behalf of the districts. Data on corporal punishment may count multiple incidents for a single student as multiple occurrences. According to the Office of Civil Rights, “Corporal punishment is paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment imposed on a student.” Data for suspensions reports counts of students with multiple out-of-school suspensions as a single incident. Because all data is self-reported, it is not known whether all districts use the same standards in reporting.

[2] According to the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center corporal punishment in schools is banned in most states. While most states do not permit corporal punishment in schools, they nonetheless report that schools beat children. Only Delaware and Hawaii report no corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is also rare in Maryland and Nevada, with fewer than three instances reported.

The Brown Center Chalkboard launched in January 2013 as a weekly series of new analyses of policy, research, and practice relevant to U.S. education.

In July 2015, the Chalkboard was re-launched as a Brookings blog in order to offer more frequent, timely, and diverse content. Contributors to both the original paper series and current blog are committed to bringing evidence to bear on the debates around education policy in America.

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