Study Finds Higher Expulsion Rates for Pre-Kindergarteners
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
When the issue of school expulsions comes up, most of us automatically think about preteens or adolescents; at best, children who have all their permanent teeth, tie their own shoes and have long ago left sippy cups behind. Well, here's a surprise from researchers at Yale University's Child Study Center. It turns out that preschoolers are three times as likely to be expelled--that is, sent home and told not to come back again--than children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Those findings are based on a national study of expulsion rates. Walter Gilliam is the lead researcher, and he joins us now.
Dr. Gilliam, what does this study tell us about today's children and the preschools that they attend?
Dr. WALTER GILLIAM (Child Study Center, Yale University): Well, what it tells us is that a lot of these children who go to these state-funded, pre-kindergarden programs may not necessarily be able to have the behaviors that many teachers might expect them to have in these programs. And as a result, many of them are asked to leave, told to go home and never come back to the program.
NORRIS: Does that mean we're perhaps sending kids to school before they're ready?
Dr. GILLIAM: Well, you know, when you think about it, these preschool programs are school-readiness programs. The reason that they're here in the first place is to help kids become more ready for school. They ought not start these programs ready. If they were ready, they wouldn't need the program. Rather, the real issue here is: How do we help these children who come to these programs become ready for school?
NORRIS: And how do we do that? Is this a case where the schools are simply overwhelmed, unable to deal with these boisterous preschoolers?
Dr. GILLIAM: Well, that might account for part of it. One of the positive findings that we found in the study was that teachers who had access to a behavioral consultant on a regular basis, who could come into the classroom and provide some support in terms of how to handle children with severe behavior problems and how to deal with classroom behavior management issues, were expelling children at literally half the rate. So access to these support services cuts expulsion rates nearly in half.
NORRIS: But, Dr. Gilliam, you could argue that if someone needs a behavioral consultant to help them figure out how to deal with three-, four- and five-year-olds, that maybe they need to pursue a new line of work?
Dr. GILLIAM: You're saying that the teacher needs that kind of support?
NORRIS: If the teacher needs that kind of support, if their job is to deal with three- and four-year-olds, with preschoolers, and they need a consultant to help them figure out how to do that, maybe this is not the best line of work for them.
Dr. GILLIAM: Well, actually, I disagree. As a former public school teacher myself, I know that teaching is a very, very difficult job. You can't possibly know everything that there is to know, and even if you did, you'd still need some support from time to time. The reality remains for our preschool programs, many of our teachers are--may not have the level of education and training necessary to be able to work with very young children, especially those with behavior problems. Many of them are paid the same as what we pay--or less than what we pay people who watch our cars in a parking lot. So we place many of these teachers in a very difficult situation when we hire them into these programs.
NORRIS: The findings are surprising and somewhat counterintuitive. But is this phenomenon been well known in the world of day care?
Dr. GILLIAM: I think it's certainly well known among many people who work with children with behavior problems in these classrooms, and certainly well known among a lot of preschool teachers who work with these--but then when you talk to people who aren't as familiar with young children in preschool settings, it certainly seems a surprise to them any child is expelled from a preschool program.
NORRIS: What do we do about this?
Dr. GILLIAM: Well, I think what we need to do is, first, learn a little bit more about who's making these decisions and how these decisions are made, learn a little bit more about what kinds of behavior problems we're talking about, but, more than anything else, try to think about what kinds of solutions can we draw upon. Maybe teacher training, maybe more behavioral supports in the classroom so that children who have behavior problems can be supported in the classroom. Michigan, for example, has a statewide expulsion prevention program for child care. Connecticut has recently started a similar program here, too, and I'm involved in an evaluation of that program to try and see whether or not it's actually effective.
NORRIS: Dr. Gilliam, thanks for talking to us.
Dr. GILLIAM: Thank you so much, Michele.
NORRIS: Walter Gilliam was the lead researcher on a study that looked at expulsion rates for preschoolers. That study was conducted by the Yale University's Child Study Center. And to learn more about it, you can go to our Web site, npr.org.
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