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Voluntary Corporal Punishment Reduces Suspension Rates

by Tim Yancey

Originally published in Secondary English in 2001

A student comes to class late for the third consecutive day, and this latest tardy just happens to be his/her fifth one for the semester. In previous school years, the teacher would have written an office referral for excessive tardiness, and she would have given the referral to the discipline office's secretary on planning period, after school, or perhaps the next morning.

Regardless of when the teacher turned the referral into the office, chances are the office did not summon the student until the next day at the earliest. Once in the office, the student probably received notification to attend the after school detention program (formal) which meets once a week for 30 minutes up to two hours depending upon the severity of the offense. Then, the student has to arrange for his/her schedule to attend the detention.

Many times the student refuses detention, in which case, the administrator either assigns in-school-suspension (ISS) or out-of-school-suspension (OSS). If the student agrees to attend ISS, he/she will serve it when a space is available (which might be a few days, a week, or more). Either way, by the time the student reaches the ISS room, he/she probably has forgotten why he/she is serving ISS in the first place. Sometimes the student refuses ISS and decides to take OSS. The student may miss some assignments that cannot be made up, but he/she enjoys a day off from school.

So goes the sometimes complex and delayed response to misbehavior in many American secondary schools. Over time, a relatively minor infraction can become significant, forcing the student to miss valuable time in class. Several years ago many schools handled minor misbehavior problems by using corporal punishment, which usually meant a swift hit with a wooden paddle across the student's buttocks. Many states and school systems have now banned corporal punishment, but can this form of punishment that some call "barbaric" be useful in keeping some students on the straight and narrow path?

Regardless of how schools handle minor disturbances, detention, ISS, OSS, or corporal punishment, all forms of discipline have their limitations. Various research illustrates the problems with disciplinary measures.

Corporal punishment

Twenty-seven states prohibit corporal punishment in public schools, and many school districts or individual schools have chosen not to use it (Head, 3). Head cites seven major reasons against the use of corporal punishment: "it is ineffective, it can lead to abuse, it can unintentionally cause serious physical damage, it trains a child to use violence, slapping or any other type of force used on the buttocks is a sexual violation, spanking lowers a child's IQ, and spanking creates fear in the child" (4-5).

Jeff Charles (2000) examined much research on the effects of corporal punishment and its effect on school items. Charles reported that in the "top 10" paddling states no positive outcomes could be found. The "top 10" included: Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Seven of these states have below average graduation rates. The SAT scores and the crime statistics in these states showed no significant improvement when compared to states where corporal punishment is not allowed. Five of the states have higher teen pregnancy rates than the national average.

Other research shows that corporal punishment is ineffective, leads to sexual abuse, causes physical damage, trains a child to use violence, and can lower a child's I.Q. (Benatar, 1998; Hyman, 1997; Lefkowitz, 1977; Greven, 1990; Straus, 1999; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1986; Vockell, 1991). Research also shows that paddlings are given more regularly to male students and to minority students.

Despite all of its negative outcomes, corporal punishment does have some advantages. One advantage is the student perceives the event as unpleasant; however, this advantage does have limitations. Another positive is corporal punishment can be administered quickly and be over with quickly, and it is a very clear, specific and obvious consequence (Vockell, 1991).


Many of the same limitations of corporal punishment can be found in ISS. Although early reports showed ISS had promise, later research (Costenbader & Markson, 1994; Diem, 1988; Johnston, 1989; Matusiak, 1993; Mendez & Sanders, 1981; Morgan, 1991; Silvey, 1995; Stage, 1997) raises suspicion about the validity of ISS. "Close examination of in-school suspension programs may reveal that their effectiveness has not been as complete as expected or claimed" (Mendez & Sanders, 1981, 65).

ISS does not improve attendance (Mendez & Sanders) and has a high recidivism rate (Costenbader & Markson, 1994; Matusiak, 1993). Students who have served time in ISS often fail to graduate (Diem, 1988; Johnston, 1989). Opponents of ISS point out that studies (Costenbader & Markson, 1994; Diem, 1988; Morgan, 1991) show a disproportionate number of minority students and male students are assigned ISS. Silvey (1995) showed no significant difference in the academic achievement of students before and after serving ISS.

Aside from all of the negative aspects of ISS, the bottom line is it does not appear to reduce disruptive behavior, at least not in students with behavior disorders. "There were no apparent effects of the in-school suspension interventions on classroom disruptive behavior, since there were no systematic differences in disruptive classroom behavior by in-school suspension phase. In fact, the rate of student disruptive behavior remained rather constant across the four in-school suspension interventions, indicating that no type of in-school suspension generalized to classroom behavior any more efficaciously than another" (Stage, 1997, 72).


Although many educators still perceive OSS to be an effective disciplinary strategy (Billings & Enger, 1995), much research has found OSS to be ineffective and in many cases discriminatory (Adams, 1992; Andrews, Taylor, Martin & Slate, 1998; Comerford, 1987; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Mizell, 1978;). One negative aspect of ISS cited in the literature is its punitive nature. Punishment, such as suspension, expulsion, and probation, keep students away from the learning environment but offers no corrective action. Typically, students who get suspended are usually weak academically and by missing instruction, they may fall further behind in their studies. A disproportional number of minority students, male students, and special education students receive OSS (Collins, 1985, "Commission for Positive Change in Oakland Public School, Ca.," 1992; Dix & Karr-Kidwell, 1998; Streitmatter, 1986; Streva, 1983).

Another disadvantage with OSS is students who receive OSS may be labeled "whereby teachers and staff interact differently towards these students who are notorious for disruptive behavior" (Adams, 1992). A third problem with OSS is many of the suspended students go unsupervised if they are not in school (Collins, 1985). As a response to the problems associated with OSS, many students who are suspended drop out of school (Costenbader & Markson, 1994; Wheelock & Dorran, 1988).

Current Study

This study involved examining the discipline records at Gordon Central High School (GCHS), a school of 1,378 students, in Calhoun, Georgia, and issuing questionnaires to teachers and students to determine their opinions about the new policy of volunteer corporal punishment. The study examined the discipline records for the months of October, November, January and February. The administration did not use corporal punishment at all in October and November. Volunteer corporal punishment began in January.

During the months of study, the discipline office received 2,063 office referrals. From these referrals, 880 resulted from truancy/skipping, tardiness or failure to accept formal detention. This total includes repeat offenders. The total does not reflect all referrals from teachers for tardiness because many times teachers assign formal detention, and the reason for the detention is not stated on the referral sheet. The consequence for truancy/skipping, tardiness and refusing formal detention range in severity from detention to ISS or OSS.

In an effort to give administrators an alternative to ISS, to ease overcrowding in ISS and to give more instantaneous punishment, GCHS began a voluntary corporal punishment program whereby students can decide to take a paddling or receive the standard punishment of detention, or ISS. Indirectly, this new alternative method decreases the number of formal detentions because students who previously would have neglected to attend formal detention can opt for corporal punishment. Students receive one to three swats with a wooden paddle on their buttocks from assistant principal Jerry Burkett. Another adult, usually another administrator or a teacher, always witnesses the paddlings. Before the voluntary corporal punishment began in late January 2000, no GCHS student had been paddled in almost 10 years, according to assistant principal Gary Lemmons. The Gordon County Board of Education did not prohibit corporal punishment; the two middle schools continue to use it, but GCHS chose not to use this discipline.

The voluntary corporal punishment has established rules to follow. Any male 17 or older referred to the attendance or discipline office for a minor infraction is given the option of corporal punishment. If a male is under 17, parental permission must be gained. Female students can also receive corporal punishment, but the guidelines are a little different. The parents of all female students opting for corporal punishment must be contacted for approval.

Thus far administrators have issued 215 paddlings to 125 individual students, 14 of which were females. Gender bias is not an issue because students must volunteer to receive corporal punishment; males simply choose to take this forms of punishment more frequently. Of the 215 paddlings, over 38% were for tardiness and almost 23% were for truancy/skipping. Under the former system, these 141 referrals would have resulted in formal detention, ISS or OSS.

Paddlings Reasons
Male: 111 Tardiness- 38%
Female: 14 Truancy/Skipping- 23%
Total Paddlings: 215 Results: 141 less discipline alternative

According to Lemmons, the new program is meeting its goals. The number of students receiving ISS decreased by 38 in February and March when corporal punishment was an option. In October and November when no corporal punishment was used, 187 students received ISS, but in February and March only 149 received ISS. While this is not a large number, the reasons as to why students receive ISS show the new corporal punishment option is working. In October and November, 40% of the ISS assignments were for truancy/skipping, or tardiness. By contrast in February and March, 32% of the ISS assignments were for the same offenses. In October and November on 109 occasions, students refused to accept formal detention. In February and March, 81 students refused to accept formal detention.

Discipline Feb. & March Oct. & Nov.
ISS Decreased by 38 Increased by 187
ISS for Truancy/Skipping 32% 40%
Refusal of Discipline 81 students 109 students

Lemmons admits the new program has a few problems that still need to be worked out. "No one consequence works for all students, but this seems to be having a more positive impact on the ninth graders and to a smaller degree of success with the tenth graders. He admits the new strategy is not working as effectively with the juniors and seniors. Many of the repeat offenders are in these two groups of students. A few of repeat offenders have been paddled five or more times, but for some they eventually learn their lesson.

One unidentified junior was overhead saying to a friend who had just asked him to skip the regular school lunch and go to a fast food restaurant off campus (this is against school policy) "No way man. I'm tired of Burkett hitting me." The student said he had been paddled on 10 different occasions.

Students and teachers both support using corporal punishment. In a school-wide survey, 14 out of 45 teachers listed corporal punishment as being the most effective discipline tool. "Corporal (punishment) is the best because the student fears it. They don't have any fear of the other forms of discipline." Another teacher responded, "Corporal punishment is most effective because it hurts them. Since students have been paddled for bad behavior in my classroom, they have not repeated that behavior."

Not all teachers favor the use of corporal punishment. "It's barbaric to think that hitting 16 and 17 year olds is going to help them solve their behavior problems," said one teacher. Another teacher wrote, "It's ridiculous paddling high school students. It might work on younger kids, but once they get here, I think they kind of outgrow it."

When asked if corporal punishment is more effective than OSS, teachers gave corporal punishment an average rating of 3.53 out of 5 as compared to the 3.0 response for the effectiveness of OSS. In an identical survey item in regards to ISS, corporal punishment received an average rating of 3.6 and ISS received a 2.9

In a survey of 39 students, 18 listed corporal punishment as being the most effective punishment. One response from a male student who had received a paddling summed up the positive feelings of students. "I think paddling is the most effective. It makes you think about doing something again. You think about that swat and it does hurt. OSS is just laying out of school to people."


Although many states and school districts no longer permit corporal punishment, perhaps Gordon Central has developed a program where it can still be effective without causing an outcry from parents and government agencies. The voluntary corporal punishment plan appears to be working for GCHS. The number of students refusing formal detention, ISS and OSS has dipped slightly. Many of the negative aspects associated with corporal punishment do not become an issue when students volunteer to take the punishment. The fact remains that no one form of punishment is going to make all students conform to the established rules. The voluntary corporal punishment plan is simply another tool that seems to work well for some students. As educators, we must continue to search for new ways to improve the quality of our schools.

Works Cited

Adams, A.T. Public High Schools: The Uses of Rehabilitative and Punitive Forms of Discipline: A Final Report. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington, D.C., 1992. ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 354 633.

Andrews, S.P.; Taylor, P.B.; Martin, E.P.; and Slate, J.R. "An Evaluation of an Alternative Discipline Program." The High School Journal, April/May 1998.

Benatar, D. "Corporal Punishment." Social Theory & Practice, Summer 1998.

Billings, W.H.; Enger, J.M. Perceptions of Missouri High School Principals Regarding the Effectiveness of In-School Suspension as a Disciplinary Procedure. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Biloxi, Ms, 8-10 November, 1995, ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 392 169.

Charles, J. What Good is School Paddling?EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window 6/8/00.

Collins, C.G. In-School Suspensions. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children, 15-19 April 1985, ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 258 353.

Comerford, D.J. III; Jacobson, M.G. "Capital Punishment for Misdemeanors": The Use of Suspension at Four Suburban Junior High Schools and Viable Alternatives That Could Work. An Ethnographic Study. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C., 20-24 April 1987. ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 287 196.

Costenbader, V; and Markson, S. "School Suspension: A Study with Secondary School Students." Journal of School Psychology, 1998.

Costenbader, V.K.; and Markson, S. "School Suspension: A Survey of Current Policies and Practices." NASSP Bulletin, October 1994.

Diem, R. A. "On Campus Suspensions: A Case Study." The High School Journal, October/November 1988.

Dix, J.E; Karr-Kidwell, P.J. Analysis of Student Misbehavior Patterns: Corrective Guidelines for Administrators and Teachers in Alternative Education Programs. 30 April 1998. ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 420 909.

Greven, P. "Aggression and Delinquency." Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishments and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1990.

Head, D. Child Corporal Punishment: SpankingEXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window 3/27/00

Hyman, I. "What Spanking Does for Kids." The Case Against Spanking: How to Discipline Your Child Without Hitting, Jossey-Bass Publishers (1997), pp. 58-62.

Johnston, J.S. "High School Completion of In-School Suspension Students." NASSP Bulletin, December 1989.

Lefkowitz, M.M. Growing Up to be Violent: A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Aggression, Pergamon Press: New York, New York (1977)

Mendez, R.; and Sanders, S. G. "An Examination of In-School Suspension: Panacea or Pandora's Box." NASSP Bulletin, January 1981.

Morgan-D'Atrio, C. and Others. "Toward Prescriptive Alternatives to Suspensions: A Preliminary Evaluation." Behavioral Disorders, February 1996.

Silvey, D.F. The Effects of In-School Suspensions on the Academic Progress of High School Science and English Students. April 1995, ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 389 069.

Stage, S.A. "A Preliminary Investigation of Relationship between In-School Suspension and the Disruptive Classroom Behavior of Students with Behavioral Disorders." Behavioral Disorders. November 1997.

Straus, M., Ph.D. Spanking Teaches Short-Term Lesson, But Long term Violence. 6/8/00.

Streitmatter, J.L. "Ethnic/Racial and Gender Equity in School Suspensions." The High School Journal, December 1985/January 1986.

Streva, M.A. The Evolution of Discipline: Alternative to Suspension Programs. New Mexico State University, 1 May, 1983. ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 233 443.

Vockell, E.L. "Corporal Punishment: The Pros and Cons." Clearing House, March/April 1991.

Wheelock, A.; Dorman, G. Before It's Too Late: Dropout Prevention in the Middle Grades. Carrboro, NC: Center for Early Adolescence, 1988.

Wilson, J.Q. & Herrnsteion, R.J. Crime and Human Nature. Simon and Schuster, New York NY (1986).

Reproduced by kind permission of the author

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