Kids who are paddled at school are more likely to be black, more likely to be poor and more likely to be boys. And that's why a UTC professor studying the issue says schools should rethink their policies on corporal punishment.
Poor and minority children already face an uphill educational battle, with lower overall academic achievement and lower graduation rates.
And Darrell Meece, an education professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says paddling only makes things worse. His dive into data on corporal punishment found that kids who are paddled are three times more likely not to graduate high school.
"Children who are living in poverty, children who are in minority groups are less likely to graduate in the first place. We know that," he said. "Corporal punishment exacerbates that, it makes it even less likely that they graduate. These are vulnerable kids already."
So how did he come to that damning conclusion?
Meece used data from the Childhood Development Project, a longitudinal study of children from early childhood through adulthood that tracks social development and adjustment. Dating to 1987, the study tracks the progress and outcomes of students from schools in Nashville, Knoxville and Bloomington, Ind., though Meece excluded the Indiana data in his analysis. The project is well-cited in academic journals and tracks students' demographics and circumstances as well as their social, emotional, ethical and academic development.
But because poor children and racial minorities are already less likely to graduate, Meece compared kids who were paddled to kids who weren't while controlling for race and poverty.
"Compared to children who aren't paddled, matched on other factors like family, socioeconomic status, race and so on, children that receive corporal punishment in school are less likely to graduate," he said.
Meece analyzed results from two groups of 32 children. In the group that wasn't paddled, Meece found that three students did not graduate high school or receive a GED by age 25. Among those who were paddled, nine did not graduate within that time frame.
Those results, as well as academic research pointing to other dangers of corporal punishment, have Meece and Janetta Fleming Bradley, a UTC associate professor of education, calling for an end of the practice in public schools.
While research in the field is relatively lacking, the professors say corporal punishment increases aggressive, hostile and abusive behavior in students.
"In no other setting can we hit people and get away with it," Bradley said. "Not in mental institutions, not in prisons and not in hospitals. Only in schools."
And Bradley says the issue is particularly poignant for aspiring teachers, many of whom are surprised to find out that school paddling is still alive and well. Tennessee is one of 19 states -- predominantly in the South -- that still allow corporal punishment in schools. And Hamilton County is the largest public school system in the state that has yet to ban paddling.
For professionals such as teachers and child social workers, codes of conduct often begin with the promise to do no harm. Bradley said that makes corporal punishment an ethical dilemma for teachers.
"We should be able to come up with a better tool," she said.
While its use is sporadic, it's hard to tell just how often corporal punishment is used in our schools. Meece and Bradley have had trouble finding reliable data on paddling.
"It's almost like people assume it's not really going on," Meece said. "If it's really so rare that you don't need to keep records on it, then why not get rid of it?"
National data is years old. And Hamilton County Schools officials say they have no readily available data on the use of corporal punishment, though such figures are periodically reported to the federal government.
"I think the reason is because it's really weeding its way out," said Sheryl Randolph, the school system's director of student services.
Randolph said paddling instances are rare. She estimates only four or five schools in the county still use it. It is documented, she said, along with expulsions and suspensions. But paddlings, unlike suspensions or expulsions, are not compiled in aggregate.
"It is recorded," she said. "It's not that we don't know."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.