April 3, 2019
- As more states seek to reduce suspensions and expulsions of young children, a new study finds the way preschool teachers perceive their relationships with parents is a factor in whether they ask for a child to be removed from their classrooms. Specifically, teachers who felt parents weren’t helping to address behavior issues were also more likely to say they had limited communication with them, the study found.
- Published in the American Educational Research Journal and conducted by Courtney Zulauf and Katherine Zinsser of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the study also shows that those who requested that a child be removed were also more likely to report that their centers did not provide support toward interacting with parents and promoting cooperation.
- The results are based on a small sample in Chicago and don’t include parents’ perceptions. But the findings suggest that disciplinary practices in which a child is removed from school can be reduced through encouraging early and ongoing interactions with parents, as well as through professional development that “promotes empathy toward parents and gives teachers skills for working with parents facing different challenges,” the authors write.
Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii are among the states currently considering bills that would limit the suspension and expulsion of young children, either in preschool or in the early elementary grades. But lawmakers might not be considering the role of parent-teacher relationships in reducing the instances in which teachers feel they have no other choice but to request a child be removed — which can often lead to an expulsion from a preschool program.
Research on expulsions among young children reveals boys and African-American students are at much higher risk of being kicked out of a program, which means that when they enter K-12 schools, teachers may already be expecting behavior problems. “Disproportionately expelling and suspending children of color sabotages the investment potential of early education and makes no sense for sound policy or national investment strategies,” Yale University professor Walter Gilliam, who began conducting research on preschool expulsion in 2005, wrote in a 2014 article.
But requiring schools to provide alternatives to suspension and expulsion without giving teachers ways to work in partnership with parents regarding a child’s behavior could make teachers feel even more frustrated. In their study, Zulauf and Zinsser wrote that teachers sometimes felt a sense of hopelessness regarding a particular child’s behavior, which can increase the chances that they will ask for a child to be removed. Gilliam has also published research showing the benefits of providing teachers in early-childhood programs access to mental health consultants.
When leaders in the Dallas Independent School District began investigating why they weren’t seeing many suspensions in the elementary grades — in anticipation of a 2017 state law that was going to limit such punishments for low-level infractions — they learned communication with families was a common reason, said Gail-David Dupree, the executive director of the district's school discipline office. “We had some principals who would go to a student’s house” and talk with parents about how to prevent behavior problems, he said.
The growing trend toward districts conducting home-visiting programs as a way to build positive connections with families, rather than in response to absenteeism or other issues, could also be a way for school and preschool program leaders to support the types of “strong, collaborative and respectful relationships” with families that Zulauf and Zinsser describe.