The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The states where teachers still beat kids

In America's South, the beatings will continue.

A new study published today finds that seven Southern states account for 80 percent of in-school corporal punishment in the U.S.: Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

The research by Dick Startz, an economics professor at U.C. Santa Barbara, and released by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center used data from the Department of Education's Civil Rights Division to determine the breakdown.

Corporal punishment at school is illegal in 31 states. Of the 19 that technically allow it, many do not appear to practice it at all, according to Startz' numbers. But some states are use the practice relatively often. In Mississippi there were more than six instances of corporal punishment -- defined as "paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment imposed on a student" -- for every 100 public school students during the 2011-2012 school year.

In other words, one out of every 17 public school students in Mississippi can expect to get beaten by a school administrator during a typical school year.

These beatings don't happen at random, however. Startz found that overall, "black children are twice as likely as white children to be subject to corporal punishment" at school. This is partly because black kids are disproportionately likely to live in states where such punishments are allowed, and also because black students are more likely to be singled out for corporal punishment by educators.

In Mississippi, for instance, white students were physically disciplined at a rate of 4.7 beatings per every 100 students. Among black students, the rate was 8.1 per every 100 students.

"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," Startz writes.

The persistence of corporal punishment is schools is all the more puzzling when you consider the research: "Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children," the American Psychological Association wrote in 2012.

The American Academy of Pediatrics "strongly opposes" the practice. So does the United Nations. These groups agree that the evidence is clear: beating children does far more harm than good.

Every time a child is beaten in school, Startz writes, "something or someone has failed that child along the way." In at least 19 states, those failings are still protected and encouraged by state law.