Secretary of Education John King Sends Letter to States Calling for an End to Corporal Punishment in Schools

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. sent a letter today urging state leaders to end the use of corporal punishment in schools, a practice repeatedly linked to harmful short-term and long-term outcomes for students.

“Our schools are bound by a sacred trust to safeguard the well-being, safety, and extraordinary potential of the children and youth within the communities they serve,” King said. “While some may argue that corporal punishment is a tradition in some school communities, society has evolved and past practice alone is no justification. No school can be considered safe or supportive if its students are fearful of being physically punished. We strongly urge states to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in schools– a practice that educators, civil rights advocates, medical professionals, and researchers agree is harmful to students and which the data show us unequivocally disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities.”


  • School corporal punishment refers to causing deliberate pain or discomfort in response to undesired behaviour by students in schools. It often involves striking the student either across the buttocks or on the hands, with an implement such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper, leather strap or wooden yardstick.
  • Corporal punishment has been banned in 28 states and D.C. and ha
    Corporal Punishment Letter by Secretary of Education
    John B. King

    s been abandoned by individual districts in many others.

  • Corporal punishment in school is also associated with poorer academic outcomes.
  • Despite that progress, more than 110,000 students across the country were subjected to corporal punishments in 2013-14.


There is a wide consensus from teachers’ groups – including both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association – as well as the National PTA, medical and mental health professionals, and civil rights advocates that corporal punishment has no place in our schools. Eighty organizations, include the National Women’s Law Center, are releasing a letter this week calling on states and policymakers to end this practice.

“It is a disgrace that it is still legal in states to physically punish a child in school. Students are subject to corporal punishment for something as minor as cell phone use or going to the bathroom without permission. And students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately victims of physical punishment,” said Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Vice President for Program at the National Women’s Law Center. “Not only does corporal punishment inflict pain and injury, it also stifles students’ ability to learn. Policymakers must eradicate violence against schoolchildren and instead foster learning environments that are safe and productive. This barbaric practice must end.”In the short term, students who receive this form of punishment show an increase in aggressive and defiant behavior – the opposite of the intended outcome. [1] In the long term, students who experience physical punishment in school are more likely to later grapple with substance abuse and mental health issues, including depression, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress. [2]Corporal punishment in school is also associated with poorer academic outcomes. Research has shown, for example, that corporal punishment can affect students’ cognitive functions,[3 ] lessening brain development, [4] verbal ability, [5] problem-solving skills in young children, [6] and lowering academic achievement. [7]Corporal punishment has been banned in 28 states and D.C. and has been abandoned by individual districts in many others. Despite that progress, more than 110,000 students across the country were subjected to corporal punishments in 2013-14, according to the latest version of the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).

What’s more alarming is that the CRDC shows that corporal punishment is used overwhelmingly on male students and is much more commonly administered to African-American students of all genders. In nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at a higher rate than students without disabilities.

For more on the CRDC data, the Department is also releasing new maps that show where the use of corporal punishment occurs across the country.

The letter from the Secretary was sent to governors and chief state school officers and provides links to resources that can be promoted by those state leaders and adopted by district and school leaders.

The letter builds on the Obama Administration’s work with states and districts through its Rethink Discipline campaign, which has focused attention on the importance of school disciplinary approaches that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments in which students can thrive. These efforts include

  • Supportive School Discipline Initiative:
    • In 2011, the Departments of Education and Justice announced the launch of a collaborative project to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school. A cornerstone of this Initiative is the School Discipline Consensus Project, managed by the Council of State Governments and supported by various philanthropic organizations. The Consensus Project brought together practitioners from various fields to develop consensus recommendations to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
  • Joint Federal Policy and Legal Guidance:
    • Education and Justice jointly released a School Climate and Discipline Guidance Package in 2014 to provide schools with a roadmap to reduce the usage of exclusionary discipline practices and clarify schools’ civil rights obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the administration of school discipline.
  • #RethinkDiscipline Convening and Public Awareness Campaign:
    • The Departments of Education and Justice launched Rethink Discipline at the White House in July of 2015, convening school district teams, including superintendents, some law enforcement practitioners, and justice officials from across the country and sparking a national dialogue around punitive school discipline policies and practices that exclude students from classroom instruction and targeted supports.
  • Rethink School Discipline – Resource Guide for Superintendent Action:
    • Department of Education developed a resource guide with a set of potential action items to help school leaders implement safe, supportive school climate and discipline. This was done by engaging stakeholders, assessing the results and history of existing school climate and discipline systems and practices; implementing reform; and monitoring progress.
  • Support for State and Local Educational Leaders and Partners from Other Systems:
  • Fostering Safe and Supportive Learning Environments:
  • Addressing Implicit Bias and Discipline Disparities in Early Childhood Settings:
    • In 2016, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced a new investment of $1 million in the Pyramid Equity Project to establish national models for addressing issues of implicit bias, and uneven implementation of discipline, including expulsions and suspensions, in early learning programs.
  • Providing Guidance to Schools on Ensuring Equity and Providing Behavioral Supports to Students with Disabilities:
    • In 2016, the Department of Education announced the release of a significant guidance document in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter. This emphasized the requirement that schools provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities who need them. It also clarified that the repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports. Also included was a Summary for Stakeholders.
  • Best Practices and Procedures for School Resource Officers:  In September of 2016, U.S. Departments of Education and U.S. Justice released new tools to assist states, districts and schools in the implementation of best practices for the appropriate use of school resource officers (SROs). The release is the result of collaborative work between both Departments to define the best use of law enforcement officers when utilized within a school environment. The Departments also jointly released the Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics. These new resource are designed to help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights.

The letter also advances the goals of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which was launched in 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.
For more information about the Administration’s work on school climate and discipline go to


[1] Gershoff, E. T., Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children, Child Dev. Perspective (2013), 7: 133–137,; Sheehan, M. J. & Watson, M. W., Reciprocal influences between maternal discipline techniques and aggression in children and adolescents, Aggressive Behavior (2008), 34, 245–255. 
[2] Afifi, T.O., et al., Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results from a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample, Pediatrics, Volume 130, Number 2 (August 2012), available at; Gershoff, E.T., Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 128, No. 4, 539–579 (2002).

[3] Straus, M.A., and Mallie J. Paschall. Corporal punishment by mothers and development of children’s cognitive ability: a longitudinal study of two nationally representative age cohorts. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma (2009); 18: 459-483.

[4] Tomoda, A., Hanako Suzuki, Keren Rabi, i-Shin Sheu, Ann Polcari, and Martin H. Teicher, Reduced Prefrontal Cortical Gray Matter Volume in Young Adults Exposed to Harsh Corporal Punishment, Neuroimage (2009 Aug), 47(Suppl 2): T66–T71.

[5] MacKenzie, M.J., Eric Nicklas, Jane Waldfogel, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. Corporal punishment and child behavioral and cognitive outcomes through 5 years-of-age: Evidence from a contemporary urban birth cohort study. Infant Child Dev. (2012 January/February); 21(1): 3–33.
[6] Talwar V., Carlson S. M. and Lee K. (2011), “Effects of a Punitive Environment on Children's Executive Functioning: A Natural Experiment,” Social Development, 26 July 2011; see also Hyman, I. A., Corporal punishment, psychological maltreatment, violence, and punitiveness in America: Research, advocacy, and public policy. Applied and Preventive Psychology (1995), 4, 113–130.

[7] Hyman 1995; see also Dupper, David R, and Amy E. Montgomery Dingus, Corporal punishment in US public schools: A continuing challenge for school social workers, Children & Schools 30(4) (2008): 243-250, available at