The school-to-prison pipeline has drawn increased attention recently, especially after Dignity in School’s successful National Week of Action. But while stories of middle and high schoolers pushed out of school through inequitable and disproportionately applied harsh discipline policies are tragic enough, there may be something even worse: the preschool-to-prison pipeline. It can be hard to imagine scenarios in which suspending or expelling a preschooler would be appropriate, but a new report from the Center for American Progress shows that even our youngest students are disciplined and pushed out at disproportionate rates.
Titled Point of Entry: The Preschool to Prison Pipeline, the report shows how Black and Latino students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. These disparities begin the process of pushing students out of school at very young ages, hurting both their opportunities to access high quality early education, and their overall educational experiences once they enter the K12 system. As the focus on the importance of early education programs increases, this report makes it obvious that schools implementing these programs need to be aware of the dangers of overly harsh disciplinary practices and to which groups of students these are most often applied. As the report says:
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.
However, some districts are already taking steps to combat these damaging disciplinary practices. In Houston, a proposal to eliminate suspensions and expulsions for pre-K through 2nd grade students will be voted on sometime later this year. If it passes, this proposal would help to prevent the youngest and most vulnerable students from being pushed out of school and into the disciplinary process so early in their educations. As usual, it would be especially important for Black students, who receive a disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions in the Houston school district. These types of proposals would help ensure that high quality early education would be available to all students, and truly able to start their educational experiences in a positive and healthy school climate.
To read more about the preschool to prison pipeline, check out the Center for American Progress’ report here.