Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline

SOURCE: AP/Ted S. Warren

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SOURCE: AP/Ted S. Warren

SOURCE: AP/Ted S. Warren

A new study on early childhood education finds that African American preschoolers are suspended at higher rates than their white classmates. African American children make up 42% of preschool suspensions but only 18% of enrolled children.

“At the same time that many states and communities across the country are committing to expanding high-quality early learning opportunities, alarming statistics suggest that early childhood learning environments are a point of entry to the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly for African American children. Preschoolers—children ages 3 to 5—are especially vulnerable to punitive and non-developmentally appropriate disciplinary measures. A national study by Walter S. Gilliam found that preschoolers are expelled at a weighted rate of more than three times that of K-12 students. Furthermore, while African American children make up only 18 percent of preschool enrollment, they account for 42 percent of preschool suspensions. Comparatively, non-Hispanic white preschoolers make up 43 percent of enrollment but 28 percent of preschool suspensions.

The practice of suspending and expelling children—particularly those younger than age 5—from early childhood settings can have profound consequences. These punitive measures come at a time when children are supposed to be forming the foundation of positive relationships with peers, teachers, and the school institution. Instead, they are experiencing school as a place where they are not welcome or supported, which serves as a troubling indicator of what is to come. Research shows that when young students are suspended or expelled from school, they are several times more likely to experience disciplinary action later in their academic career; drop out or fail out of high school; report feeling disconnected from school; and be incarcerated later in life.”

The study makes the following recommendations:


  • Prohibiting suspensions and expulsions across early childhood settings
  • Improving teacher preparation and education with an eye toward cultural responsiveness and racial equity
  • Expanding access to in-school behavioral and emotional support services, including early childhood mental health consultation, or ECMHC
  • Increasing funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, or MIECHV
  • Supporting a diverse teacher workforce and pipeline
  • Promoting meaningful family engagement strategies

Check out the full report at:


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