In 2016, information from The National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that approximately 17,000 preschoolers had been expelled, with approximately 250 preschool students being suspended or expelled on average on a daily basis. This alarming statistic coincides with another finding from a Yale University study: Pre-K students are three times more likely to be expelled than their K-12 counterparts. Now, a new study in the American Educational Research Journal by Courtney Zulauf and Katherine Zinsser from the University of Illinois at Chicago may have some answers as to why: whether preschool teachers perceive their relationship with parents as positive or negative.
The Importance of Early Childhood Education
The benefits and importance of early childhood education have been well documented: improved social skills, better performance in grade school, improved attention spans, enthusiasm for learning, and more. However, children who experience frequent disruption in their schooling and childcare at a young age may suffer long-term effects that affect their entire educational career and into adulthood. For example, young children who have inconsistent schooling often fail to develop deep bonds and connections with their teachers; students who are expelled at an early age are at greater risk of dropping out of secondary school. Given the long-lasting effects of early childhood education, it would seem pertinent to provide the necessary stability and support for young children to develop and flourish.
The study employed a mixed-method methodology which included surveys with preschool teachers and follow-up interviews. A total of 107 teachers across 54 preschool centers in the Chicago area participated in the survey, with 27 teachers responding to and participating in follow-up interviews. Follow-up interview participants were selected with intention so that half had not expelled any children, 25% had requested the expulsion of one child, and the other 25% had requested the expulsion of two of more children.
The researchers divided responses into two separate groups: teachers who had not previously requested the removal of a student in their class versus teachers who had requested one or more student removals from their classrooms. The researchers communicated the following findings:
- Teachers who had requested the removal of a student generally had more negative perceptions of parents, versus teachers who had not made a removal request of a student. In particular, the teachers with a negative perspective expressed difficulty in working with parents on challenging behavioral issues and attributed children’s behavior to parental characteristics such as marital status and familial circumstances.
- Teachers that requested the removal of a student generally expressed that they did not report a child’s disciplinary problems until they felt that they had exhausted several methods in the classroom on their own. In contrast, teachers who had not made such a request generally indicated the need to communicate proactively with parents and to sit down with them and listen to their situation. This also correlates with a finding of the study that teachers who did not request the removal of a student generally explored multiple ways to communicate with parents, whereas teachers who had made these types of requests had limited communication with parents.
- Teachers with removal requests characterized center leaders as individuals who directed them to handle problems on their own or took situations into their own hands. In contrast, non-requesting teachers described their center leaders as supportive, friendly, and experienced in dealing with parents. Furthermore, non-requesting teachers described a strong culture of parent involvement at their centers, with clear communication about behavioral expectations and policies.
The findings of this research study contribute to a wealth of information on the effectiveness and importance of early childhood education. The researchers clearly indicated that while they found differences between the teacher group that had requested the removal of a student versus the group that had not, they could not conclusively affirm this casualty. However, the results of this study provide important insight into potential reasons and symptoms behind the startling statistic of preschool expulsions.