Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Racial Gap in Discipline Found in Preschool, US Data Show

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Racial Gap in Discipline Found in Preschool, US Data Show

Article excerpt

The school suspension gap starts young. In public preschools, black children make up 48 percent of students suspended more than once, but only 18 percent of total enrollment. By comparison, white students make up 26 percent of multiple suspensions but 43 percent of enrollment, new federal data reveals.

For the first time, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights included preschool discipline in its annual data collection, which it released Friday morning with data from all public school districts in 2011-12. Out of about 1 million public school preschoolers, nearly 5,000 were suspended once that year, and more than 2,500 were suspended more than once.

The data add a new layer to the growing concern among civil rights advocates about inequities in school discipline. And it comes at a time when President Obama has been pushing to expand access to early childhood education and promoting ways to help boys of color succeed. Of the preschoolers suspended multiple times, 82 percent are boys, even though boys are only 54 of total enrollment, the data show.

"This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool," said Attorney General Eric Holder, who joined US Education Secretary Arne Duncan in announcing the new statistics.

"Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed," Mr. Holder said in a statement. "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."

The Department of Education has offered guidance to schools to encourage the use of positive discipline rather than suspensions and expulsions, and to be alert to racial disparities that can violate civil rights laws. Researchers and education organizations have also been at work to find better ways to help distressed children - and their teachers - manage behavior in the classroom.

Troubling behaviors in preschool - everything from hitting to throwing toys to being inattentive - often stem from adverse experiences, even trauma, research has shown. Children often don't know how to identify and cope with emotions when they've been separated from a parent or faced abuse, homelessness, or violence in their neighborhoods, for instance.

One strategy that's seen glimmers of success in helping preschool students and staff respond to such "toxic stress" is the Head Start Trauma Smart program, created by the Crittenton Children's Center, a psychiatric facility in Kansas City, Mo.

Rather than reacting to a behavior, everyone at a preschool - from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria workers - can learn to "reach past that behavior to identify the various feelings that could be behind the action," says Janine Hron, Crittenton's CEO. …

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