How can we expect to solve crime and poverty when we’re expelling preschoolers?

Across the nation, more than 5,000 pre-kindergarten students are expelled each year (as many as 6,500 in 2013-14), predisposing them to a number of risks including school failure, teen pregnancy, unemployment and violence. In Illinois, nearly three preschoolers are expelled for every 1,000 enrolled — a rate three times higher than that for K-12 students. For already at-risk children, being expelled from preschool can put them one step closer to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Hispanic and African-American boys make up nearly half of all preschool boys and yet represent two-thirds of preschool boys suspended. African-American girls represent only 20 percent of female preschoolers but account for more than 50 percent of female preschoolers who receive out-of-school suspensions.

When we expel 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds, we are setting them up for a life where they are much more likely to be ill-prepared for elementary school and among those most at risk for school failure. Children who don’t attend quality early learning programs are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be arrested for violent crimes (70 percent more likely in Chicago), more likely to become teen parents and less likely to be employed than peers who attended preschool.

While difficult home and community environments certainly play roles in behavioral challenges at school, we must also look inside the classroom at the implicit bias that exists in order to fully address the problem. Early childhood teachers may misinterpret challenging behaviors that are a natural part of a child’s development and hand down unfair punishment. Research has shown that even when students aren’t displaying challenging behaviors, teachers often assume minority students are acting inappropriately and are more likely to take disciplinary action against them.