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Black preschoolers more likely to face suspension

Public preschool

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools - even as tiny preschoolers.

The racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, were highlighted in a report released Friday by the Education Department's civil rights arm.

The suspensions - and disparities - begin at the earliest grades.

Black children represent about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but they make up almost half of the preschoolers who are suspended more than once, the report said. Six percent of the nation's districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a "school-to-prison" pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal's office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that's three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.

The data doesn't explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended.

"It is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

"This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities."

Nationally, 1 million children were served in public preschool programs, with about 60 percent of districts offering preschool during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the data. The data show nearly 5,000 preschoolers were suspended once. At least 2,500 were suspended more than once.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said the findings are disturbing because the suspended preschoolers aren't likely presenting a danger, such as a teenager bringing a gun to school.

"Almost none of these kids are kids that wouldn't be better off with some support from educators," Losen said. "Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared."

Losen said it's appropriate to discipline a 4-year-old, but a more appropriate response might be moving them to a different educational setting with additional services.

"Most preschool kids want to be in school," Losen said. "Kids just don't understand why they can't go to school."

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a think tank that specializes in social issues affecting minority communities, said the findings didn't surprise her.

"I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent," she said. "But we do know that schools are using zero tolerance policies for our youngest also, that while we think our children need a head start, schools are kicking them out instead."

Kimbrelle Lewis, principal of Raleigh-Bartlett Meadows Elementary School in Memphis, said she's never suspended a child in her school's preschool program and would only consider it in an "extreme circumstance." She said her district provides behavior specialists and other services to children with discipline problems so strategies can be worked out with teachers and parents if preschoolers need additional support.

If there are racial disparities among preschoolers disciplined, "I do think it's something to look at. I think it's a conversation to have," said Lewis, who served on a committee with the National Association of Elementary School Principals looking at issues affecting younger school children.

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association teachers' union, said in a statement that the findings show that "too many children don't have equitable access to experienced and fully licensed teachers."

"The inequities detailed in this report have been caused, at least in part, by policies that disregard the professionalism of teaching and create a revolving door of under-prepared and under-supported novices who leave before they've reached the levels of mastery required to truly make a difference," Van Roekel said.


Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter: http://twitter.com/khefling

Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jessejholland

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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dgosbee March 21 2014 at 4:20 PM

The school to prison pipeline starts earlier than pre-school, it starts at home. Parents need to start teaching maners and disipline before sending their kids into society.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
ohioh111b111y March 22 2014 at 12:27 AM

Its time for black parents to step up and do a little more disciplining at home. Your children need you. They WANT you. They misbehave simply to get your attention. Don't let the system teach your children how valued they are. I know its hard. But kids are important enough to put down the phones and don't go to the clubs. Kids are pretty fun and you get back out of them EXACTLY WHAT YOU PUT INTO THEM. : )

Flag Reply +7 rate up
David March 21 2014 at 1:11 PM

After reading previous comments I have to wonder: Do any of the people in positions of authority LISTEN? Are they really interested in the welfare of the children, or just "Blame Whitey?"

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Major Rogers March 21 2014 at 12:58 PM

"The data doesn't explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended."......
Hmmm. Maybe because they were out of control.
Watch the parents on Maury or one of those other trash shows and you'll understand.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
harlen March 21 2014 at 12:54 PM

I do not believe the word "parent" or "parents" is used once in the article. Wonder why?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
peteh6570 March 21 2014 at 12:50 PM

"The data doesn't explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended."

Of course it doesn't, because if we address why the poverty pimps will screaming racism into every microphone and television camera they can find.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
crarob March 21 2014 at 12:50 PM

School problems begin at home with lack of parenting and discipline. Single parenting rarely works, especially when the "parent" is extremely young and lacks any sort of help. Put that together with a culture that considers doing well in school as "acting white" and you have a set up for a life of frustration and failure.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
markadelman1 March 21 2014 at 12:48 PM

now he is making policies that are discriminatory but no one will question them for fear of being labeled a racist.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
lenny87brown March 21 2014 at 12:46 PM

Here we go again. Trying to unravel a mystery so the blame can be spread around to an institution instead of where it really lies.

The family. African-American families represent a disproportionate breakdown in two parent families. Where Black male father multiple children with multiple women and don't father much less financially support their children, guess what results?

The solution? Fund gigantic studies. Amass truckloads of data. Besmirch teachers and administrations for providing thug and gang mentality behaviors in the classroom.

Anything but place the responsibility for where this problem actually is.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
lenny87brown lenny87brown March 21 2014 at 12:47 PM

should be "administrations for preventing" not providing. . . wow.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
brentdlots lenny87brown March 21 2014 at 1:55 PM

Right, lenny, anyone knows that opportunity in this country is equal for everyone regardless of race or sex. No need to study the problem or try to come up with any solution. All we have to do is whip those "Black Males" into shape, right? What a simple view of the world you have.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
sushiferret March 21 2014 at 12:43 PM

So we are going to focus on the race in regards to suspension numbers...but not focus on if they were justified suspensions and perhaps taking a look at where the breakdown in dicipline is happening IN THE HOME.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
crarob sushiferret March 21 2014 at 12:51 PM

It is the victim culture. It is never the fault of the group it is the fault of the larger society. It is lefty bull.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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