Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Effective Policies for Promoting Early Behavioral Development

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Effective Policies for Promoting Early Behavioral Development

Article excerpt

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Before a child enters kindergarten he or she is expected to have a combination of intellectual skills, motivational qualities, and social-emotional skills. According to a National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) study, teachers rate these behavioral qualities as more important to school success than being able to read (Boyd et al. 2005). In fact, school readiness encompasses all developmental domains (social, emotional, physical, and cognitive) and is cultivated when all children have access to quality early care and learning experiences in classrooms with warm teachers and an engaging learning environment. When it comes to social-emotional skills for children, the development of secure attachments between children and caregivers/teachers is important because better social and emotional development not only benefits young children but can also provide long-term positive social, emotional, and academic success that can carry these children through their adult lives. However, in recent years, appropriate behavioral development has become a growing problem in some kindergarten classrooms.

Research has shown an increase in aggressive behaviors among American kindergarteners. These aggressive behaviors include talking back to teachers, profanity, and kicking and hitting adults. According to the NIEER, "Teachers state that about 20 percent of children entering kindergarten do not possess the necessary social and emotional skills for school readiness, and for low-income families, about 30 percent of children may lack the necessary skills" (Boyd et al. 2005). These problems are not only occurring with low-income schools but in middle-income schools as well. As reported in Time magazine, a 2003 report by the Partnership for Children, a child-advocacy group in Texas, showed that 93 percent of kindergarteners surveyed at 39 schools (child care centers and elementary schools) had emotional and behavioral problems (Wallis 2003). The group also found that half of the day care centers had experienced incidents of rage and anger. Research seems to suggest that there has been an increase in suspensions and expulsions among pre-K and kindergarten children across U.S. schools . As the most severe action a school can exercise against a student, expulsion may be defined as the complete removal of educational services without the benefit of alternative services (special education programs or alternative schools). Researchers have found that the problem of expulsion is not only a factor in kindergarten through 12th grades but has become a larger problem in prekindergarten as well (Gilliam 2005).

According to a 2005 national study, "Prekindergarteners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Systems" by Dr. Walter Gilliam of the Yale University Child Study Center, prekindergarten expulsion rates have surpassed those of K-12. The study sample involved 3,898 prekindergarten classrooms representing all of the nation's fifty-two state-funded prekindergarten systems operating across forty states. The results show that, nationally, 6.67 preschoolers were expelled per 1,000 enrolled. Gilliam finds that "Although this rate for state-subsidized prekindergarten is lower than what has been previously reported for child care programs, the prekindergarten expulsion rate is 3.2 times the rate for K-12 students" (2005). Another alarming trend shows that expulsion rates are higher among older preschoolers, African Americans, and boys; boys were more than four times as likely to be expelled than girls.

Startling results such as these lead to questions not only about student behavioral problems that lead to higher rates of expulsion, but also about how family characteristics, school administration, the classroom environment, and teacher characteristics impact these rates. Child psychologists and behavioral specialists have often noted that a number of social trends are factors in this growing problem. …

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