Corporal punishment, once a standard behavioral tool in schools, is becoming less common in North Carolina. Teachers are now trained to use positive reinforcement, which research shows is more effective.
By Marisa Grant
A recent study by Action for Children North Carolina shows that the use of corporal punishment is on the decline in the state’s public school system. During the 2012-13 school year, there were 184 reported incidents of corporal punishment, down from 404 the previous year.
Of 115 school districts, the use of corporal punishment remains in only six: Robeson, Graham, Swain, Madison, McDowell and Onslow.
Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow with Action for Children North Carolina, said the decline in the use of corporal punishment is a result of “research that has found no academic benefit to hitting students. Districts have switched to other methods of discipline that are associated with positive academic outcomes. The most popular of these is Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.”
Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) involves a tiered-system approach in which teachers define behavioral expectations, outline consequences for problem behavior, develop methods of increasing communication between home and school and reward appropriate behavior.
A 2013 annual report from the N.C. PBIS Initiative indicates that there is a continued correlation between positive support in the classroom and academic success. The report found that during the 2011-12 school year, high schools that implemented PBIS had higher graduation rates than the statewide average.
Corporal punishment is defined as “the intentional infliction of pain upon the body of a student as a disciplinary measure.” In North Carolina, school officials are allowed to use wooden paddles and there are no restrictions on the number of times a student is allowed to be struck.
In fact, officials do not have to report the number of times a student was hit, only that corporal punishment was used. State law requires that the use of corporal punishment cannot result in any student requiring medical care beyond first aid.
Robeson County saw the highest use of corporal punishment in the state, with 141 of the 184 reported instances, or 76 percent. Representatives of the school district superintendent’s office and the support group Communities in Schools of Robeson County declined to comment on the study.
Corporal punishment has been prohibited by school authorities in 99 districts. In 10 districts, the practice is formally allowed but officials have chosen not to use it as a method of punishing students. Those districts are Alleghany, Alexander, Ashe, Bladen, Caswell, Macon, Person, Randolph, Stanly and Thomasville.
Opponents to the use of corporal punishment in the state include the state board of education, Superintendent June Atkinson, the N.C. Association of Educators and the N.C. PTA.
Multiple attempts to obtain a comment from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office about the use of corporal punishment in public schools were unsuccessful.
Cover cartoon of students receiving the cane, 1888. Copied and digitised from an image appearing in Queensland figaro, 28 July 1888, p. 140. Courtesy wikimedia creative commons.