boy building castle

Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today

A boy builds a tower at his state preschool program in East Palo Alto.

Children who are expelled or suspended from preschool are more likely to have problems – including higher rates of incarceration – later in life, according to new report titled Point of Entry: The Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline.

Preschoolers in public programs, according to research from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights cited in the report, were expelled at more than three times the rate of K-12 students in 2014.

Behavior that can lead to suspension or expulsion, such as being defiant to adults or aggressive to other children, may indicate a need for counseling or mental health support, according to the report by the progressive policy group Center for American Progress. Exclusion from school used to be a last resort, but has become “wildly overused and disproportionately applied to children of color,” the report states.

“The school to prison pipeline is not a natural phenomenon,” said Maryam Adamu, one of the study’s authors, in a recent interview with EdSource. “It’s so important in the early years that discipline practices are developmentally appropriate. There are ways that schools imitate the criminal justice system.”

The report, released in October, examines a range of research on suspensions and expulsions in preschool settings. The findings include:

  • African-American preschoolers were the most likely to be enrolled in low-quality preschool and the least likely to be enrolled in high-quality preschool.
  • African-American children make up 18 percent of enrollment in public preschool, but they account for 42 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 48 percent of those receiving multiple suspensions. (A recent study of young students in Texas found similar disparities.)
  • Young students who are suspended or expelled are “several times more likely to experience disciplinary action later in their academic career; drop out or fail out of high school; report feeling disconnected from school; and be incarcerated later in life.”

Adamu believes that early childhood education, and the positive or negative experiences during that time, can have an outsize impact on a child’s future: “Ninety percent of brain development occurs from 0 to 5. Those are the years when kids learn to label themselves in a certain way. How they learn to perceive school and adults in charge can follow them throughout their life.”

The study makes policy recommendations, including prohibiting suspensions and expulsions in early childhood settings, expanding access to childhood mental health support services, and providing increased professional development for teachers that focuses on classroom management in racially diverse preschools.

Adamu said only about 20 percent of teachers and providers serving children under 5 reported receiving specific training on facilitating children’s social and emotional growth in the past year, according to research from the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education. “Young children are just learning impulse control, they are figuring out how to be with other kids and react to adults. The more teachers are trained to navigate behavioral issues that arise, the better the school experiences and the lower the chance of expulsion.”

Higher quality preschool programs also feature smaller class sizes that can help reduce behavior problems that lead to suspensions or expulsions. “When child-to-adult ratios are higher, discipline situations are harder to deal with,” said Adamu. “Access to screening and referral services can also give teachers better tools. Instead of pushing kids out of the school, connect them with help.”

“Too often the only option is suspending kids,” she said. “Let’s take that option off the table.”


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  1. Pamela Redd 9 months ago9 months ago

    The concept is great, yet the ability to provide what the child needs is difficult to implement. And it boils down to money. No educator truly enjoys expelling a child, and if there were other options, they would be exercised. Most schools do not have the resources that were mentioned; if they did, they would be used. Expulsion is not the first option. There are other school settings where the … Read More

    The concept is great, yet the ability to provide what the child needs is difficult to implement. And it boils down to money. No educator truly enjoys expelling a child, and if there were other options, they would be exercised. Most schools do not have the resources that were mentioned; if they did, they would be used.

    Expulsion is not the first option. There are other school settings where the child may be able to be successful, but it takes many weeks of attempting different interventions available. In the meantime, students and staff safety are compromised, as well as educational opportunities. I would lke to see the focus to shift to how schools can be given more resources to help these children, and their families, who are in crisis.

  2. Anne 9 months ago9 months ago

    The primary curricular content of Kindergarten is learning to go to school - to sit still and listen for 10 minutes or more, to share, to wait your turn ... ABC's and counting to ten are merely the focus of what the student is listening to and the activities he shares and waits his turn for. He can learn the ABC's and numbers elsewhere but he can't learn to go to school … Read More

    The primary curricular content of Kindergarten is learning to go to school – to sit still and listen for 10 minutes or more, to share, to wait your turn … ABC’s and counting to ten are merely the focus of what the student is listening to and the activities he shares and waits his turn for. He can learn the ABC’s and numbers elsewhere but he can’t learn to go to school unless he actually goes to school. A student slow in learning the skills of being a student merits special attention, but not exclusion. Where is it written that he must be in a traditional class with 20-30 other 5 year olds? Where is it written that he will have a regular teacher? Perhaps he would learn best in a smaller group, perhaps with others like him who are struggling to learn to go to school. Perhaps a professional expert in behaviors would be the most appropriate adult for him to be with, rather than a teacher. Perhaps he can transition from being mostly disruptive to being able to demonstrate self control for ever longer periods of time in a larger class. Expelling him will only delay the development of the skills he must learn to take advantage of the education our schools provide.

  3. FloydThursby1941 9 months ago9 months ago

    In some ways I agree, kids who are failing need intensive tutoring and we can afford it rather than bombs and prisons for minor offenses and tax cuts for hedge funds. Where I disagree is this. My 4th grade son, in Kindergarten, had a kid in the class who was just nuts. It was all about him. He threw scissors, screamed, cursed, threw a chair, started fights. It's selfish to … Read More

    In some ways I agree, kids who are failing need intensive tutoring and we can afford it rather than bombs and prisons for minor offenses and tax cuts for hedge funds. Where I disagree is this. My 4th grade son, in Kindergarten, had a kid in the class who was just nuts. It was all about him. He threw scissors, screamed, cursed, threw a chair, started fights. It’s selfish to do that because you’re essentially saying you personally getting attention is more important than 21 other kids learning. All 5 of my kids had this kindergarten teacher and she was ready to quit if he stayed. He was ultimately counseled out. He was there 3 weeks and every day there was a story about him. It was just too extreme. I believe in 2d chances and 3d chances, but that’s about it. If a child is militantly saying they can’t be expelled, but they are going to insist on disruptive behavior every day, day after day, then expulsion has to be on the table. You have to analyze the net impact. Usually poor kids are with other poor kids. If one kid has such issues he ain’t likely to be successful anyways and he is damaging the education of 21 others, the 21 others have rights too, as does the teacher who may be severely annoyed. Studies have shown a huge difference between a 25th percentile and 75th percentile teacher. I’m sure having one kid going berserk every day has at least an equal impact, particularly if it is willful defiance. Accidental is one thing, but repeated, willful defiance must be stopped or that kid will definitely end up in prison and will hurt his classmates futures along the way, and those classmates are going to have to pay the tax to pay for his prison, food stamps and welfare, so you need the tax money. You can’t let one kid’s bad attitude increase the odds of poverty of 21 other kids just to try and be politically correct.

  4. Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

    Suspending preschoolers is not about the kids, it's about the parents. Suspension is the end of a process - it doesn't happen out of the blue, it happens after many attempts to get the issues corrected. If the parents are not responding and taking care of their child's behavioral issues during the lead up to suspension, I guess you have two options - slap them across the face or suspend their child. I suspect … Read More

    Suspending preschoolers is not about the kids, it’s about the parents.

    Suspension is the end of a process – it doesn’t happen out of the blue, it happens after many attempts to get the issues corrected. If the parents are not responding and taking care of their child’s behavioral issues during the lead up to suspension, I guess you have two options – slap them across the face or suspend their child. I suspect the latter option might work better.

    This article confuses cause and effect. Quite likely the reason kids who are expelled are in trouble later is because they continue the same behavior throughout their life. It’s not the school’s job to fix that – it’s the parents job.

    If the parents are not going to take responsibility then why would we want those kids in the same class as other kids – who are behaving and actually trying to learn something?

    Teachers don’t have the time to be parents as well as educators, and shouldn’t have to. If you can’t get a PRESCHOOLER to behave, you’re truly failing as a parent, and it’s also not the teacher’s job to fix that.

    Replies

    • CarolineSF 9 months ago9 months ago

      In response to Todd, confusing cause and effect -- correlation vs. causation -- is a chronic issue in education reporting. Not to mention all reporting and the public discussion in general. (Todd's comment: "This article confuses cause and effect. Quite likely the reason kids who are expelled are in trouble later is because they continue the same behavior throughout their life." Or, I would add, because the issues and circumstances that lead to that … Read More

      In response to Todd, confusing cause and effect — correlation vs. causation — is a chronic issue in education reporting. Not to mention all reporting and the public discussion in general.

      (Todd’s comment: “This article confuses cause and effect. Quite likely the reason kids who are expelled are in trouble later is because they continue the same behavior throughout their life.” Or, I would add, because the issues and circumstances that lead to that behavior continue in their lives. Todd was responding to this point: “Young students who are suspended or expelled are ‘several times more likely to experience disciplinary action later in their academic career; drop out or fail out of high school; report feeling disconnected from school; and be incarcerated later in life.’ “)

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