You’re Out of Here! How We Can Keep Young Children in the Classroom

July 18th, 2014 | by SRC

The recent article on the proposed bill to ban school suspensions for pre-k students describes a pervasive issue that we believe shines a spotlight on today’s prekindergarten programs. The rate of suspensions of young children reveals the lack of support for children’s social and emotional development, as well as professional learning and development for teachers of our youngest students on how to promote positive behaviors and deal effectively with challenging behaviors.

“If you have a preschool program and you expel the children who need it the most, you’re sabotaging your rate of return,” said Walter S. Gilliam, a Yale University associate professor of psychology who has conducted research on preschool discipline. “No child is more in need of a school-readiness-boosting preschool experience than a child who is being expelled or suspended from a preschool.” Christina Samuels cites Gilliam’s research in Education Week, which has shown that large class sizes and long preschool days also correlated with higher rates of expulsion, as were classrooms that reported frequent use of flashcards and worksheets and less time in the day devoted to make-believe play. The more children per teacher, and the longer the preschool day, the more likely a teacher would resort to expulsion. Teachers who reported a high degree of job stress tended to resort to expulsions more so than other teachers. On the other hand, research shows that when teachers feel more competent in working with young children who present challenging behaviors and confident in supporting their emotional development that suspension and expulsion rates decline.

In addition to the high rates of suspensions and expulsions, the data also revealed a number of disparities. Boys were expelled at a rate more than 4.5 times that of girls. African-Americans were about twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and White children, and more than five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-American children.  With research showing clear links between such disciplinary events and poorer outcomes, such as increased chances of dropping out of school and entering the judicial system, it becomes even more important that these inequities are addressed to ensure that all children are being offered the same opportunities needed to succeed.

 The solution isn’t a mystery – support for children’s social and emotional development and high-quality professional learning and development for teachers is the answer. There is a mountain of research on the importance of social-emotional learning. Every state has standards for children’s social and emotional development as children enter kindergarten, but many systems choose to focus on literacy and mathematics to the exclusion of these important developmental needs. There are evidence based programs for positive behavior support, and available support for early childhood programs that have been shown to reduce suspension and challenging behaviors and lead to more successful students and families in the short and long term.

What other ways do you think stakeholders and administrators can support this issue?


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