By Shantel Meek, PhD (Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families)
Psychologists, neuroscientists and economists alike agree: The beginning years of any child’s life are critical for building the early foundation of health and wellness needed for success in school and later in life. As a community, we hold the responsibility of ensuring that children’s earliest experiences always foster- and never harm- their development, particularly during this highly sensitive and formative period.
But what happens when 3- and 4- year olds go through the negative and stressful experience of being expelled from preschool? Recent data indicate that expulsions and suspensions occur at high rates in preschool settings, by some estimates, at even higher rates than in K12 school settings, an alarming statistic given that school expulsion and suspension are associated with negative educational and life outcomes, according to a well-established body of research. In addition, stark racial and gender disparities exist in these practices, with young boys of color being suspended and expelled much more frequently than other children.
These troubling and unacceptable trends warrant immediate attention and partnership between researchers, clinicians, teachers, families, and policy makers at all levels.
Last week, the President and his Administration hosted the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together federal, state, and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates to highlight efforts across the country to expand access to high-quality early learning programs for our youngest learners. The Summit signaled collective action across sectors, and across America, in a variety of areas in early childhood education. The day included a robust breakout session on equity and excellence in the earliest years, which covered the importance of supporting programs and States in preventing, limiting, and eventually eliminating expulsion and suspension practices across all early learning settings.
The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education announced the release of a joint policy statement on expulsion and suspension practices in early learning settings, which includes a set of recommendations for early learning programs and States to prevent, limit, and eventually eliminate expulsion and suspension. The recommendations include:
Developing and clearly communicating preventive guidance and discipline practices;
Developing and clearly communicating expulsion and suspension policies and implementing those policies uniformly and without bias;
Investing and continuously growing the skills of the early childhood workforce focusing on children’s social-emotional and behavioral health, strengthening partnerships with families, employing strategies to prevent and correct implicit or explicit biases, and conducting universal developmental and behavioral screening and appropriate follow-up;
Setting goals and analyzing trends in data to assess progress in reducing expulsion and suspensions; and
Making use of free resources to enhance staff training and strengthen family partnerships.
In addition, HHS announced over $4 million in investments to support preventive and intervention practices, including early childhood mental health consultation, a capacity-building practice for early learning teachers and families, with demonstrated effectiveness in reducing and preventing expulsions and suspensions.
Image source: Flickr user Quinn Norton via Creative Commons