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 data 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.

Mississippi has the ignominious distinction of being by far the most punitive state in the US, followed closely by ArkansasFlorida, and South Carolina. (Scroll over each state to see raw numbers for one 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 California for being the least punitive state, followed by Hawaii, North Dakota, and Utah. 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. And they never will.

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.

And now, an apology to the kids: we're truly sorry that your caregivers are still handling your challenges in ways that are so unenlightened, ineffective, and obsolete. We're doing our best to change things for all of you.

Punitive Index