Preschool to Prison Pipeline

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The Center for American Progress recently released findings from a study on preschool suspension and expulsions. The results of this study confirmed what many had feared all along, the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of black preschool students. Simply put, black children in preschools are at higher risk of expulsion or suspension.

On average, about 250 preschool students are expelled or suspended daily. These high suspension rates are cause for alarm even more so as the numbers are higher among black students. The Center for American Progress says the practice "worsens along racial lines and raises serious questions about discrimination."

Data from the 2016 National Survey on Children's Health produced data from public and private preschools showing 50,000 students were suspended in 2016. Of those, about 17,000 were expelled.

After examining the data, Rasheed Malik, policy analyst at CAP said, "This sobering data shows a trend of preschools engaging in exclusionary discipline in greater numbers than previously thought. Educators and leaders must engage in research-backed practices that can help transform the preschool-to-prison pipeline."

Early childhood education advocates and educators put the economic benefits of preschool at or above $83 billion annually, per CAP findings. "Research shows over and over again that preschool is both cost-effective and that students are better prepared to contribute to the economy in the long run. All children deserve access to high-quality preschool- no matter where they live- and failing to make it accessible means losing significant economic benefits in the long run," said CAP policy analyst Cristina Novoa.

Early childhood education is key to laying a foundation for educational success for all kids, specifically those institutions and practices that offer high-quality programming. The long-term benefits are hampered by regressive policies that proport inequities in education, such as expulsion and suspension in preschool. Those practices lay the foundation for the school to prison pipeline, directly injecting students into a track where education is an unpleasant experience.

It's simple; our students deserve better. Yes, even our black students who are often criminalized and rarely given the benefit of the doubt. Early childhood education shortens the distance between both the word and opportunity gap. Regressive or exclusionary discipline has no place in preschool or any school at any level. Educators and early education advocates must advocate for what is best for preschool students and demand preschools examine their behavior support strategies be amended to reflect restorative justice practices. If not, too many students will enter the school to prison pipeline long before the 3rd-grade benchmark.