A new report released by the Center for American Progress and the National Black Child Development Institute details the lasting harm of preschool suspension and expulsions, highlighting that for many children, especially children of color, the preschool classroom can serve as an entry point to the criminal justice system. The report arrives at a time when national attention and momentum has been focused on ending over-criminalization and mass incarceration, as well as reforming the United States’ broken criminal justice system.
“The earliest years of a child’s life can be the most impactful, and high-quality early learning classrooms have the potential to change their course. Unfortunately, for many young students, especially African American students, the preschool classroom is not a place to learn but instead a place where punishment is meted out—very often unfairly,” said Maryam Adamou, a CAP research associate. “Preschool suspensions, expulsions, and other zero-tolerance policies can have lifelong negative effects on young students. To end the preschool-to-prison pipeline, it is clear that a multi-pronged approach (starting by eliminating suspensions and expulsions in early childhood settings) is necessary.”
“Success in life is based on many contributing factors, but chief among them is time spent in high-quality learning environments, receiving an effective education,” said Georgia Thompson, director, NBCDI Affiliate Network and Training Institute at the National Black Child Development Institute. “A suspension or expulsion can be detrimental not only to a child’s learning, but also to his or her social-emotional development at a time when it is critical to forge important relationships with the adults in their life. That significant numbers of Black children, often very young, are expelled and suspended from school reflects a loss of our society’s value for building on the strengths of those relationships and the potential all children possess—and that has to end.”
Data released last year by the U.S. Department of Education paints a troubling picture of preschool discipline across America, especially for communities of color. For instance, African American children represent 18% of all preschoolers but make up 42% of those suspended and nearly half of those suspended multiple times. At the same time, non-Hispanic White preschoolers make up 43% of enrollment but 28% of preschool suspensions.
The report from CAP and the NBCDI highlights the trends around preschool discipline by exploring the interconnected factors tied to preschool discipline, including the rise of zero-tolerance policies and mental health issues in young children, as well as the factors that cause suspensions and expulsions in early education environments.
These factors include the implicit biases of teachers and school administrators and how these biases affect their perceptions of challenging behaviors; the lack of support and resources for teachers; and the effect of teacher-student relationships.
In their report, CAP and the NBCDI offer recommendations and approaches to increase the protective factors available to ensure that young children stay in school and reap the full benefits of early learning while simultaneously supporting schools and teachers to actively resist the criminalization of African American youth.
Those recommendations include:
• Prohibiting suspensions and expulsions across early childhood settings
• Improving teacher preparation and education with an eye toward cultural responsiveness and racial equity
• Expanding access to in-school behavioral and emotional support services, including early childhood mental health consultation, or ECMHC
• Increasing funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, or MIECHV
• Supporting a diverse teacher workforce and pipeline
• Promoting meaningful family engagement strategies