As limits on preschool expulsions grow, report shows implementation challenges

By Linda Jacobson

(Originally published June 12, 2019, by EducationDive

Dive Brief:

  • Last year, an Illinois law went into effect requiring state-funded and licensed early-childhood education programs to make every effort to avoid expelling a child — but ensuring school and preschool center administrators are aware of the law and understand its requirements will require ongoing communication efforts and monitoring, according to a new paper from the Social-Emotional Teaching and Learning Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • Surveys and interviews with program administrators — those who work in both school- and community-based programs — show there is wide variation in leaders’ knowledge of the law, their attitudes toward removing a child, and their plans to change any practices. Providers in home-based programs were the least knowledgeable, the authors write.
  • Those interviewed also suggested a variety of ways in which a program could still justify expelling a child, the researchers found. “The ease with which [respondents] were able to generate hypothetical workarounds indicates that there will need to be careful planning for accountability systems and anticipation of concealed expulsions once the annual data collection and reporting process is finalized,” they write.

Dive Insight:

According to the paper, an estimated 250 preschoolers are expelled every day, and research shows boys and African American students are more likely than other young children to be expelled. The authors also note the use of “soft expulsion” actions, such as encouraging a parent to voluntarily remove their child or excluding a child for reasons such as missing medical records or late payments.

With legislation to limit the expulsion of young children passing in other states — such as Colorado — the paper can provide a window into the challenges of implementing such a law. The researchers, for example, found the majority of administrators — 58.8% — felt positively about their experiences with mental health consultants, experts who provide training to early educators and strategies for managing behavior in the classroom. But they also found that sometimes the consultants were brought in too late, after administrators had already decided to remove a child. Because some programs in remote areas also have less access to early-childhood mental health specialists, the authors recommend “experimenting with remote observation systems and video conferencing” to connect educators to consultants.

The Illinois law also requires educators — if they’ve already exhausted efforts to keep a child in their program — to work with parents on a plan for transition into another school or center. Again, there was variation in how long administrators thought a transition process would take, as well as the extent to which they would help parents find another program. Not surprisingly, administrators varied in their responses to whether they were asked to accept a child removed from another program. But a common factor in their decision was whether their program was better-suited to accommodate the child, such as having lower staff-to-child ratios, better trained teachers or a social-emotional curriculum.