Over the last several years, education policymakers and school leaders have worked to rein in excessively punitive school discipline practices. Motivated by concerns about disproportionality in discipline rates and the consequences of harsh discipline, they have limited the use of suspension and expulsion, especially for young children. It’s been among the most active areas of state and district education policymaking, while also attracting the attention of federal policymakers.

In this context, it seems remarkable that so many states continue to allow corporal punishment in schools and that there hasn’t been more legislative effort to end the practice. According to the Education Commission of the States, 23 states either explicitly allow corporal punishment in public schools or defer to localities on its use.

Perhaps even more remarkable is that state laws on corporal punishment, unlike many laws on exclusionary discipline, do not distinguish between children of different ages. We reviewed state legislation on corporal punishment (aided by research from the National Center for Safe Supportive Learning Environments). Our review turned up no cases of states prohibiting the use of corporal punishment for young children where the practice is allowed for older children. This is true even for children enrolled in school-based pre-K programs. State laws that allow educators to hit 14-year-olds generally allow educators to hit 4-year-olds as well.

We don’t accept that any child, of any age, should be subject to corporal punishment at the hands of a teacher or school administrator. However, with corporal punishment in grades K-12 still a contentious issue in some areas, we looked into the practice in pre-K in particular. While it appears less common at these ages—and harder to track, with many children in private child-care centers that do not provide data—we would hope that objections to corporal punishment for very young children are shared widely enough to motivate legislative action.

Read the full article about corporal punishment of school-aged children by Marie Falcone, Diana Quintero, and Jon Valant at Brookings.