The rate of expulsion from public U.S. preschools is three times that of students in K-12 settings, and it is estimated that the rate is higher in private settings (Gilliam, 2005). Of particular concern, significant gender and racial disparities exist, with children of color at heightened risk of facing exclusionary discipline before even beginning formal schooling. According to federal data, while Black children only make up 19% of preschool enrollment, they comprise 47% of preschoolers suspended or expelled and Hispanic/Latino students are equally over-represented in out-of-school suspensions (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).
In response to high and racially disproportionate rates of expulsion from early childhood care and education (ECCE) settings, Illinois passed Public Act 100-0105 in 2017, prohibiting the expulsion of any child in a state-licensed or funded ECCE program. Currently, this legislation remains the most progressive and comprehensive state-level approach to mitigating ECCE expulsion (Loomis et al., 2021).
While Illinois has been lauded for its efforts to prevent the exclusion of our young children from ECCE programs, we know that expulsion is symptomatic of many larger problems – an overburdened, underfunded, undervalued, and fragmented early childhood system. As such, there is a real potential for well-intentioned legislation forbidding this harmful practice to result in a plethora of unintended consequences. Our longitudinal, mixed-methods study of the implementation of PA 100-0105 over the past several years has highlighted this reality.
Years 1 and 2 of our study demonstrated that ECCE professionals often feel as though they do not have enough support or resources to retain children with severely challenging behaviors, despite their strong desires to do so (Silver et al., 2021). Unfortunately, COVID-19 has hit the field of ECCE, an industry that already operated on razor thin margins, extremely hard. Resources that administrators had previously shared were scarce (e.g., mental health consultants) may now be nonexistent as a result of the pandemic.
Through conversations with our collaborative team of practitioners, policymakers, and advocates throughout COVID-19, the need for continued research to guide policy and practice in this unprecedented time became increasingly clear. In response to unparalleled challenges within ECCE due to the pandemic and the continued absence of a coordinated state-wide data system, we launched the third iteration of an ECCE administrator survey in Fall 2020. The primary aims of the current study are as follows:
- Continue to capture rates and demographics of exclusionary discipline in the absence of a statewide data system.
- Identify ECCE program administrator’s remaining concerns and barriers to compliance with the legislation.
- Assess the impacts of COVID-19-related program closures on exclusion and re-admission decisions.
With support from our SPSSI Local- and State-Level Policy Work Grant, we are currently analyzing our Year 3 survey data (N=141). Preliminarily, we are seeing that exclusion rates have decreased from year to year, with the lowest rates to date being in the 2019-2020 school year, though we will be running a follow-up analysis to estimate the yearly rate we would have expected to see without program shutdowns caused by COVID-19. We are also currently continuing to work with our state partners to plan for Year 4 of data collection.
Gilliam, W. S. (2005). Prekindergarteners left behind: Expulsion rates in state prekindergarten systems. Foundation for Child Development. New York, NY.
Loomis, A., Davis, A., Cruden, G., Padilla, C., & Drazen, Y. (2021). Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion: A Content Analysis of State Legislation. Early Childhood Education Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-021-01159-4
Silver, H. C., Zinsser, K. M., Zulauf-McCurdy, C. A., Lowe-Fotos, A., Orr, L., & Estlund, M. (2021). Transforming early childhood discipline policy through collaborative research and evaluation. Translational Issues in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1037/tps0000279
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. (2016). 2013-2014 Civil rights data collection: Key data highlights on equity and opportunity gaps in our nation's public schools. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/o ces/list/ocr/docs/crdc-2013-14.html.
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