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Pre-K Black Kids Getting Expelled at Alarming Rates
By: Makebra M. Anderson
NNPA National Correspondent
Originally posted 6/6/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The number of African-American women enrolling in college between 2000 and 2001 was more than double that of Black men, according to a study released by the American Council on Education.

Black men increased by 30,000. The number of Black women in college rose by 73,000 during that same period.
Many experts think the gap between Black men and women can be attributed to the way Black children are treated as young as pre-school.

According to researches at Yale University, African-American children in pre-kindergarten are twice as likely to be expelled as Hispanic and White children and more than five times as likely to be expelled as Asian children. According to most, a lack of support in the classroom is to blame.

“These three and four year olds are barely out of diapers. No one wants to think about children this young being kicked out of school, especially not their parents and teachers. All teachers in state-funded prekindergarten programs should have access to the support staff they need to effectively manage classroom behavior. When they do, expulsion rates are cut nearly in half,” said Walter Gilliam, author of the Yale University study “Prekindergartners Left Behind.”

According to the study, state expulsion rates for pre-kindergartners exceed those in K-12 classes. Gilliam found that expulsion rates are lowest in classrooms located in public schools and Head Start and highest in faith-affiliated centers, for-profit childcare and other community-based settings. In classrooms where the teacher had no access to a psychologist or psychiatrist, students were expelled twice as often.

Nationally, 10.4 percent of teachers reported expelling at least one pre-kindergartener during the past year, for an expulsion rate of 6.7 per 1,000 compared to 2.1 per 1,000 for students in K-12. The lowest rates of expulsion were reported by teachers who had an ongoing, regular relationship with a behavioral consultant. In classrooms where the teacher had no access to a behavioral consultant, students were expelled abut twice as often.

Gilliam, who is also assistant professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, believes that access to support programs would make the difference of whether a child is expelled or remains in the classroom.

“After decades of research in early education, we know that these programs can significantly improve children’s school readiness and help put them on a path toward continued educational and lifelong success,” he said.

One program that has helped young children make the adjustment to entering school is Head Start. Created in 1965, Head Start is the most successful, longest-running, national school readiness program in the United States. It provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. More than 21 million pre-school aged children have benefited from Head Start.

But for some, programs are not enough. Jawanza Kunjufu, head of Chicag-based African-American Images, which publishes and distributes books that promote self-esteem, collective values, liberation and skill development, believes there are also cultural differences that contribute to expulsion at such an early age.

“Without knowing the makeup of the staff, my first point is that teachers simply do not allow for gender differences and so the child that has the greatest energy is going to be African-American male children. They’re going to have the shortest attention span, the greatest energy and less maturation,” Kunjufu said. “The other thing to remember, especially at the pre-school level is almost 99.9 percent of the teachers are female.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Of the 3.5 million teachers, approximately 861,000 (25 percent) are men, compared to 259,000 (75 percent) women. Only 6.2 percent (approximately 217,000) are Black men.

Kunjufu, although disappointed, is not surprised that the study also found that boys were expelled at a rate more than 4.5 times that of girls.

“You have teachers who feel overwhelmed by the student/teacher ratio. In pre-school they try to keep the ratio 12-to-1 or 15-to-1, but with budgetary cuts it’s possible that you can have one teacher, 20 students and a teacher’s assistant once or twice a week,” he explains. “For a teacher, Black, White, male or female the ideal child is the one that is quiet and can sit still for long periods of time working independently on ditto sheets. If you have two boys that are fighting, pushing, hollering, screaming and demanding your attention, it’s human nature to want to rid yourself of those two boys.”

Lynson Beaulieu, with the D.C. based National Black Child Development Institute, agrees.

“It’s a very complex situation. I think we have a combination of children with very challenging behaviors and we have teachers that aren’t trained to positively manage the challenging behaviors,” she said. “Challenging behaviors could mean being aggressive, hitting other children, striking out at teachers, biting, crying, and children who have other kinds of issues like disabilities, children who are impacted by alcohol and drugs and most programs really don’t have the support services they need in order to know how to support children in those environments.”

Beaulieu believes that in order to alleviate problems in the classroom, parents and teachers must work together.

“Parents play a big role. Sometimes we have some very young parents and parents who don’t have the support of extended family and strong support systems—it can be very stressful. Sometimes our parents are very poor, so they are without resources, they are often undereducated and may not have had good relationships with school themselves,” she explains. “They feel very challenged by their child’s challenging behaviors as well.”

Beaulieu says it’s very difficult to talk to parents about their children—especially if the news is not good news. She also says that teachers have a hard time engaging parents in conversations about improvement plans for the children and the children suffer because of it. “You can’t expect the school to work on the problem without the family also working on the problem as well.”

Kunjufu, who has written several books about Black male children in the education system, also blames parents for not recognizing their child’s needs.

“How children are being socialized is also a factor. Unfortunately, in many Black homes, when someone hits you, hit them back. In school, if someone hits you, you’re supposed to tell the teacher. We have to resolve this school culture versus broadband culture,” he explains. “If your child is disciplined, he’s taught to respect all adults. Secondly, if your child is only being disciplined with a belt and schools are not allowed to use it what are schools to do? We have a dilemma.”

Discipline and cultural issues aside, Gilliam incoming director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center for Child Development and Social Policy recommends that children not be expelled without ensuring that alternative services has been accessed.

“When we fail to provide these supports, we place children and their families in a very difficult situation—where some children are bounced from one program to the next and parents may end up viewing their child as an educational failure well before kindergarten,” he says.

He adds, “We also place teachers in a very difficult situation. As a former public school teacher, I know that no teachers want to give up on a child—especially not one who only learned to talk a year or two ago. Without supports in place, these prekindergarten teachers…are forced to decide between the good of the individual child and the good of the class. And that’s not fair to these teachers either.”

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