Which States Have the Most Punitive School Discipline?

It's hard enough being a kid these days, but when it comes to punitive school discipline, some states make it way harder. Using the most currently available data (2013-14) from the U.S. Department of Education, the states in the brightest color red in the map below are those with the highest combined rates of school suspensions, expulsions, use of restraint and seclusion, paddling, arrests at school, and referral to the police. The lightest states are those that are least punitive. Our methodology: we gave the heaviest weighting to hands-on procedures (restraint, seclusion, paddling), police involvement, and expulsion; we gave a slightly lower weighting to out-of-school suspension, and the lowest weighting still to in-school-suspension. We calculated a "Punitive Index" for each state based on the weighted total of punitive interventions relative to the estimated population of children under the age of 18 in the state. (We'll be updating the map once the state-by-state data for 2015-16 are made available.)

Mississippi has the ignominious distinction of being by far the most punitive state in the US, followed by Arkansas, South Carolina, and Alabama. (Scroll over each state to see raw numbers per year for each of the above interventions.) And there is an association between treating kids badly and rates of incarceration of adults. Click here to see incarceration rates by state.

Kudos to Utah for being the least punitive state, followed by North Dakota, Idaho, and California. And kudos to Florida and North Carolina for showing significant improvement. (Click here for rankings by state.) But every state has work to do. Most of these punitive interventions are used in schools in every state, and none of these interventions solve the problems that are causing challenging behavior in our students.

By the way, there is good reason to believe that the data reported by the U.S. Department of Education are underestimates. For example, a report from Disability Rights/Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Ties, and Wisconsin Facets documented over 20,000 restraints and seclusions in Wisconsin during the 2013-14 school year, while the US Department of Education reported just over 3,800 for the same school year. 

And if you're thinking it's just the kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges who are suffering, think again: all kids are affected adversely when ineffective school discipline is deployed, when they see classmates being treated in an inhumane way, and when they don't feel safe at school.

Punitive Index