NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 23, 2005

Out-of-line preschoolers are increasingly facing expulsion. Experts attribute the rise to several factors, including developmental problems, too few teachers, higher expectations and lower tolerance.

In a recent report by the Yale University Child Study Center, researchers found

  • Each year, about 5,000 children are asked to leave state-financed preschools, which include some private institutions, a rate three times higher than public school students in kindergarten through grade 12.
  • Nearly 7 preschoolers in every 1,000 are expelled, and some for-profit schools eject children at nearly twice the rate of public preschools.
  • In the study's pilot project, which broadly encompassed licensed child care centers in Massachusetts, 27 in every 1,000 children were expelled.

Walter Gilliam, the report's author, says this is an issue that cuts across demographic settings and considers it the educational equivalent of capital punishment.

Other experts say preschools have too few teachers and are stretched too thin, which can result in children with relatively minor developmental problems being dismissed as unmanageable. According to the National Education Association, the number of students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent over the past 10 years.

Most preschools, especially ones with high tuitions, adopt zero-tolerance policies to reassure parents who do not want their children exposed to disruptive behavior, leaving little leeway to work with kids who need extra attention. However, parents and teachers agree it is crucial to distinguish between typical toddler behavior (the occasional bite or push) and extraordinary displays of anger, a distinction made with greatest precision at schools with mental health experts waiting to help.

Source: Marco R. della Cava, "Out-of-Line Preschoolers Increasingly Face Expulsion," USA Today, September 21, 2005; and Walter S. Gilliam, "Prekindergarteners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Systems," Yale University Child Study Center, May 2005.

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