Nationally, 10.4 percent of teachers
reported expelling such young students in the same period, for
an expulsion rate of 6.7 for every 1,000 students, according to
the Yale University study titled "Pre-kindergartners Left Behind:
Expulsion Rates in State Pre-kindergarten Systems.'' State officials
reacted passionately to the findings.
"This is another urgent wake-up call for the extraordinary
need to help children and their families as soon as possible,''
said state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein. "We have to intervene
in the lives of these children and their families as early as
State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg called the statistics
"sobering and a reason for our concern.''
The study's author was passionate, too. "Three- and 4-year-olds
are barely out of diapers. No one wants to think of these children
being pushed out of school,'' said author Walter S. Gilliam,
a child psychiatrist with the Edward Zigler Center for Child
Development and Social Policy at Yale. "Some children are bounced
from one program to the next and parents come to view their children
as education failures before kindergarten.''
The study also found that youngsters in pre-kindergarten programs
are being expelled at triple the rate of their peers enrolled
in kindergarten through 12th grade, and that expulsion rates
are the lowest in programs in public schools and Head Start programs
and highest in private and faith-based programs. The statistics
for K-12 expulsions were collected in the 2000-01 school year
and the findings on pre-kindergarten expulsions are for the 2003-04
school year, though Gilliam said he doesn't have any reason to
believe the ratios would shift much from year to year.
Gilliam did not catalog the reasons for the expulsions, so it
is unclear how serious or disruptive the misbehavior of the expelled
Karen Hill-Scott, a pre-kindergarten consultant in California
who recently designed a master preschool plan for Los Angeles,
said that because preschool is optional -- unlike kindergarten
through Grade 12, which are mandated by law -- students can be
expelled more easily without legal challenges or having to supplement
the child's education with tutors.
"There is a mandate for public education that is not there
for preschool,'' Hill-Scott said during a teleconference with
reporters. "K to 12 has institutional protections -- children
have a right to be in those programs no matter what.''
The study also concluded that 4-year-olds were expelled at a
rate of about 50 percent greater than 3-year-olds; boys were
expelled at a rate more than 4.5 times that of girls, and African
Americans attending state-funded programs were about twice as
likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian children and over
five times as likely to be expelled as Asian American children.
Gilliam said more 4-year-olds may get expelled from school if
they misbehave in classes that include 3-year-olds because "it
increases concerns that older children will hurt a younger child.''
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman
of the Connecticut General Assembly's education committee, was
startled to hear of the study's findings, particularly the state's
ranking in the nation. Connecticut was ranked 7th among 40 states
that have state-funded pre-kindergarten programs.
"I have no reason to believe that small children in Connecticut
are any less well behaved than small children around the country,''
he said. "So the excessively high rate of pre-kindergarten students
being expelled clearly reflects inadequacies in the training
we offer to pre-K instructors.''
Gilliam agrees. In his study, he lists recommendations to reverse
the trend, including: prohibiting expulsions of children from
state-funded pre-kindergarten programs and increasing teacher
training in addressing children's behavioral problems. He also
recommends that programs develop clear policies for helping children
with behavioral problems, including providing individual classroom
aides and alternative programs that offer small group sizes with
highly trained teachers.
In his study, Gilliam states that when teachers have access
to behavioral consultants, "the likelihood of expulsion was
lower.'' In the best scenario, he wrote, teachers have direct
access to a behavioral specialist, such as a child psychologist
or psychiatrist, who is in their building or who makes regular
visits to the classroom.
The recommendations make sense, Sternberg said. "Within the
preschool setting, people are not well trained generally and
they're certainly not trained to understand mental health issues
and how to deal with them in the classroom,'' she said. "There
does need to be more support and training for teachers.''
Fleischmann said he will direct the Office of Legislative Research
to gather information for legislators to study, including successful
models in other states. He stopped short of saying he would seek
to ban expulsions of pre-kindergartners altogether, but did say
that the extreme punishment doesn't make sense as a solution
for dealing with children who have trouble controlling their
"It makes the child feel like a failure and it eliminates the
opportunity for them to learn and sets them farther behind socially,''
Fleischmann said. "It most likely exacerbates the problems that
the children have in kindergarten and it makes a bigger problem
for the kindergarten teachers.''
Sternberg said she wouldn't necessarily favor an outright ban
on expulsions, either. "I'm never behind zero tolerance in any
of its forms. Within preschool, you do have to ask what could
be so horrendous you'd have to expel a preschooler,'' she said.
But if the programs are funded by the state, she said, then the
state should provide guidelines. "There should be more direct
The study comes out just two weeks after it was revealed that
hundreds of pre-kindergartners, kindergartners and first-graders
in Connecticut were suspended during the 2003-04 school year.
* Ban expulsion of pre-kindergartners from state-funded programs.
* Provide alternate programs for troubled young children.
* Improve teacher training, particularly in how to teach children
from diverse cultural backgrounds.
* Study why boys and African Americans are at greater risk for
* Intervene early to help vulnerable children
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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