Poster Paper: The Impact of Corporal Punishment Policies on Students

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rui Wang, American University

This paper studies the impacts of school districts’ corporal punishment bans on students’ academic and non-academic outcomes.

School discipline techniques are essential management tools for teachers and school administrators to manage school environments and facilitate students’ learning. Corporal punishment, one of the most controversial discipline techniques, was upheld as a legal discipline technique in 1977 (Ingraham v. Wright). Currently, 32 states have banned corporal punishment in schools, but more than 160,000 students experience corporal punishment each year in the 18 states that continue to allow the practice (Gershoff and Font, 2016).

There is a long debate on whether schools should ban corporal punishment. Recent research suggests that children who experience corporal punishment are more likely to develop mental disorders, aggressive behaviors, and delinquent and antisocial tendencies that hinder their academic performance (Curran et al., 2018; Zolotor et al., 2011; Nelson et al., 2004; Durrant et al., 2000; McEvoy et al., 2000). However, crime deterrence theory and learning theory suggest that corporal punishment helps to reduce misbehavior and maintain class order by increasing the cost of misbehavior (Becker, 1968; Domjan, 2000). This study provides novel empirical evidence on the impacts of school corporal punishment on various student outcomes using Texas school data to address the following two questions:

  1. Does banning corporal punishment increase student misbehavior?
  2. Does banning corporal punishment improve academic achievement?

This study obtains school performance and district discipline data from the Texas Education Agency. Corporal punishment bans vary at the district level in Texas. I exploit this variation to conduct a difference-in-differences style analysis using data from the 2010-11 to 2016-17 school years. Currently, 206 (about 20%) of Texas public school districts have banned corporal punishment. During the study period, 61 (about 6%) school districts banned corporal punishment, and 9 other school districts revoke corporal punishment bans in their school districts. The variation of the policy mainly comes from those 70 school districts that changed their corporal punishment policy. This paper focuses on the number of student conduct code violations at the district level and average math scores at the school level as outcomes to answer the above questions.

This paper estimates the causal impacts of district corporal punishment bans on student outcomes using a difference in difference (DID) model that controls for school or district fixed effects. Preliminary results indicate that district corporal punishment bans are associated with 13% less violations of school conduct codes. Impacts on math scores are mixed.