II. Methodology

For this report, researchers from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted 181 in-person and telephone interviews with experts and individuals directly affected by corporal punishment, including parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Seventy-one interviewees were current students, recent high school graduates, or young people who left school without obtaining a diploma. Of the current and former students we interviewed, 34 were between the ages of 9 and 17, and 37 were between 18 and 26. All of these young people were interviewed in person in Mississippi or Texas, where corporal punishment is widely used.

We spoke with 40 parents of students in school districts that use or used corporal punishment, 24 teachers who have relevant experience, 12 officials (including current and former school board members and current or former superintendents or assistant superintendents), and three school administrators. In addition, we spoke with lawyers, advocates, and educational experts to obtain information on all sides of the issue. Finally, we contacted 40 school districts with high rates of paddling in Mississippi and Texas by email, fax, and telephone, and received nine responses to our queries.

We chose to focus on Mississippi and Texas after examining data from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which measure prevalence of corporal punishment (and other school discipline and educational tracking data) by school district, by race, and by gender. As discussed in this report, the OCR data likely undercount the number of incidents of corporal punishment that take place in a year, because some instances of school corporal punishment are not recorded by schools and thus not included in these data, and because the data are recorded per student per year, and therefore do not record occurrences where a student is hit multiple times in one year. Nonetheless, the OCR data provide the most reliable numbers presently available on the use of corporal punishment in US public schools. According to these data, Mississippi has the largest percentage of students who receive corporal punishment each year and Texas has the largest absolute number of students subjected to corporal punishment. We also decided to focus on Mississippi and Texas after discussions with advocates against corporal punishment and other experts in educational policy in each state.

Within each of the target states, we focused on particular school districts that had high rates of corporal punishment. First, we looked at the OCR data to locate districts with high rates of corporal punishment (both absolute and as a percentage of the student population); and second, we looked at districts where African-American boys and girls were punished at disproportionate rates. We measured disproportionality by comparing the rate at which a racial or gender group appeared among students who are physically punished to that group’s proportion of the student population, on a district-by-district basis. We also traveled to districts with high rates of corporal punishment and interviewed teachers, administrators, or school board members in those districts.

We conducted in-person research in Mississippi in December 2007 and in Texas in February 2008. We conducted additional interviews with individuals in locations throughout the United States by telephone between September 2007 and May 2008. All students were interviewed in person; some adults were interviewed by telephone. Interviews were conducted in one-on-one settings in almost all circumstances, although some children, particularly younger children, were interviewed in the presence of their parents. We conducted several group discussions with students for background information but comments from these discussions were not used directly in the report.

Within the targeted school districts, students, parents, and teachers were referred to us by one another or through assistance from non-profit organizations or community members. Occasionally, current and former students were approached on college campuses or at shopping malls in the targeted districts. All interviews were conducted in English.

Before interviewing any subject, we obtained written or oral consent to use the information obtained in the interview, and we determined whether the interviewee wished to remain anonymous. We obtained written consent from all in-person interview subjects, oral consent from those interviewed by telephone, and parental consent to speak to minors aged 16 or younger. Participants did not receive any material compensation in return for speaking with us. All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the data would be collected and used. Care was taken not to retraumatize affected children.

All children interviewed are identified in this report with pseudonyms to safeguard their privacy and ensure there is no retaliation against them. Neither the first names nor last initials we use in such cases correlate in any way with the child’s actual name. In some cases certain other identifying information such as school, town, or grade level also has been withheld for the same reasons. In addition, all parents, teachers, administrators, school board members or other adults who requested confidentiality are identified with pseudonyms. Where interviewees gave consent to use their real names, we have so indicated in the relevant citations.