The persistent problem of preschool expulsions

Illinois enacted a law in 2018 aimed at curbing preschool expulsions. Progress has been made, but racial disparities in expulsions persist, a UIC expert says.

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Young children who are expelled need extra social and emotional support and their teachers, often undervalued, need to be championed and provided with adequate resources, said Kate Zinsser, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Young children who are expelled need extra social and emotional support and their teachers, often undervalued, need to be championed, a UIC expert says.

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Expelling kids enrolled in daycare and preschool is hardly child’s play.

Pre-K students are expelled at a rate more than three times that of children in grades K–12, and a disproportionate number of those expelled are Black, studies show.

Being expelled so young, as their schooling has barely begun, sets those boys and girls on a rocky road for success in their later years. They are more likely to face similar disciplinary action when they’re older, to drop out of high school, to fail a grade and to end up behind bars at some point in life.

Such punishment creates a ripple effect. In a mixed-race class, their white peers can see who is being singled out and disciplined for their behavior. As a result, their peers are at risk of forming negative opinions about people of color, especially African Americans, at a very early age, according to Kate Zinsser, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Editorial

Editorial

Illinois enacted a law in 2018 aimed at curbing preschool expulsions. But the problem, and the associated inequities, persist.

Formal expulsions and informal withdrawals of students continue, Zinsser told WBEZ education reporter Nereida Moreno in a recent interview.

As we pointed out last year, a UIC study found that the Illinois preschool expulsion rate fell to 3.71 children per 1,000 in 2020, down from 12.61 children per 1,000 in 2018. But Black students, who represented just 17% of enrollment, made up 33% of those who were expelled.

Research has shown that when expulsions and suspensions are banned or restricted for K-12 students, only white students benefit, while racial and ethnic disparities in discipline remain intact.

Without similar data infrastructure on most childcare systems across the country, it is hard to tell whether such laws are helpful for younger students, said Zinsser, who wrote a new book on the matter: “No Longer Welcome: The Epidemic of Expulsion from Early Childhood Education.”

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Young children who are expelled need extra social and emotional support and their teachers, often undervalued, need to be championed and provided with adequate resources, Zinsser said.

Putting a burned-out, low-paid teacher in a roomful of children with a lot of energy will never end well.

“We put teachers in stressful situations with children who need a lot from them, but we haven’t adequately invested in their preparation,” Zinsser said.

Zinsser’s book should be required reading for educators, school board members and legislators willing to address the problem.

The voice of experts is needed to solve it.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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