California introduces measures to stem the preschool-to-prison pipeline
- California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last month that requires publicly supported schools to make every effort to address behavioral issues at the preschool level before allowing schools to expel students. Behaviors such as biting, kicking, shoving and screaming that were deemed expulsion-worthy in the past now must trigger a series of school-based interventions and referrals before expulsions can take place.
- Because preschool is generally not required, data indicate that expulsions, including soft expulsions which strongly encourage parents to remove students from the classroom, are higher at the preschool level than at K-12.
- Federal data indicating that such expulsions disproportionally affect African-American and Latino boys, initiating the preschool-to-prison pipeline, has sparked similar efforts in more than 20 states to eliminate suspensions among young children due to new federal and Head Start position statements issued in 2014.
Many preschool teachers have not acquired the expertise to handle students with challenging behavior issues, so it is easy to see why expulsion might seem to be the solution for removing a preschooler who is disrupting learning for the rest of the children.
Some children need more time learning acceptable behavior in the classroom and how to handle frustration and anger. But sometimes deeper issues are involved, such as unstable family situations, learning disabilities or physical, emotional, and mental health difficulties. Professional development and coaching for preschool teachers can help establish routines in the classroom that teach young children to develop self-regulation skills. Research has also shown that giving early-childhood educators access to mental health consultants can improve students' behavior.
Since a child's preschool experience is the foundation for his or her future educational journey, it may be time for communities to invest more money in training preschool teachers and providing the support systems needed to offer early interventions for children with problem behaviors. Young children still have 12 or 13 years of public school ahead of them and society will be affected by their decisions and behavior in the future. Finding ways to understand and address these issues early can benefit everyone in the long run.