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The Epidemic of Expulsion for Early Childhood Education

For nearly 10 years, Dr. Zinsser and the SETL Lab have been investigating the causes, consequences, and solutions to our nation's preschool expulsion crisis. She's summarized much of this work in No Longer Welcome (August 2022). Learn more about the past and current studies of expulsion below

Transforming Early Childhood Discipline Policy through Collaborative Research and Evaluation

Nationwide, 17,000 three- and four-year-old children are expelled or suspended from preschool each year (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). In response, advocates and researchers have called on policy-makers to implement policies and legislation to prevent our youngest learners from entering the 'preschool-to-prison pipeline' before they have even begun formal schooling. This ongoing longitudinal evaluation of the implementation of our nation's most progressive legislative efforts today is directed by Dr. Kate Zinsser at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The research team consists of academic researchers, advocates, and policy-makers and the project has been funded by the UIC Office of Social Science Research and the Society for Community Research & Action (SCRA, a division of the American Psychological Association). To date, we have produced reports, presentations, and a peer-reviewed manuscript detailing findings from this multi-method, longitudinal study of the implementation of one state's approach to curtailing early childhood expulsion, Illinois Public Act 100-0105. Original survey and interview data were collected for this study from early childhood program administrators throughout the state. Our findings have already been used to enhance practice, policy, and dissemination efforts, while also documenting barriers and a need for more data. By sharing how our multidisciplinary coalition collaborated to collect, interpret, disseminate, and translate findings from this study, we hope to inform the development of collaborative partnerships in the study of similar policies in other jurisdictions.

Study of Families' Opportunities and Choices after Children's Early Exclusion (FOCCEE)

Each day, approximately 250 children are expelled from U.S. preschools and child care programs. Expelled children, who are disproportionately children of color, are denied the opportunity to acquire the pre-academic and social-emotional skills they'll need for successful school entry. In 2018, Illinois passed expansive and progressive legislation (IL PA 100-0105) barring the use of expulsion in nearly all types of early childhood education settings, but evaluations of the law's implementation show variability in its impact.  To better understand whether and how the legislation is influencing children's experiences in Illinois, this two-year, mixed-method study seeks to elevate the voices of parents whose children have been excluded from child care following the law's implementation. Most prior research into expulsion has relied on reports by child care teachers and administrators, and little is known about how family units experience the disruption in care caused by expulsion. Specifically, we will ascertain whether stipulations in the law were complied with across demographic and programmatic variables. In addition, we will capture rich data on families' processes of identifying new care, and the relative accessibility, affordability, and quality of new care as compared to the excluding program. Data collection or retrospective events will span the sharp decrease in available child care slots due to the COVID-19 closures and distancing requirements, enabling this study to possibly identify novel exclusionary practices and experience previously unseen in early childcare and education. Findings from this study will provide critical information to policymakers, programs, and family advocates about the multiple ways families navigate exclusions and transitions. 


Co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Sarai Coba- Rodriguez in Human Development and Learning in the Department of Educational Psychology and Dr. Kate Zinsser in Community & Prevention Research in the Department of Psychology.


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An Examination of the Parent-Teacher Relationship as Universal Prevention against Early Childhood Expulsion

PI: Courtney Zulauf-McCurdy, PhD

As of January 2018, all publicly funded and licensed early childcare programs and childcare centers in Illinois became legally prohibited from expelling a child (IL Public Act 100-0105). Although this legislation is progressive and fundamental to ensuring children’s consistency in early schooling, there may be unintended consequences if teachers are not offered supports or strategies to retain all children. Expulsion is not a child behavior but is a result of an adult decision. Often the decision to expel a child is associated with a teacher’s perceived inability to cope with a child and manage the child’s behavior. Therefore, there may be negative teacher and classroom-level consequences of inadequate support under the new legislation. Local agencies and state officials are currently drafting policies for implementation and guidelines to accompany the new law, but this process is not quick, and meanwhile, teachers are left with little guidance. The present study seeks to identify and highlight a pre-existing and underutilized resource know to reduce teacher distress and increase the retention of children who display challenging behavior: the relationship formed between parents and teachers. The parent-teacher relationship has been shown to benefit children’s early learning experiences (Cox, 2005; Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Epstein, 2001), but its role in enabling a teacher to retain a child in his/her classroom has not been thoroughly examined. The primary goal of my dissertation study is to explore the potential protective qualities of the parent-teacher relationship for a child previously at-risk for expulsion so that this knowledge can be disseminated rapidly, ultimately benefiting both children's early learning experiences and teachers' workplace well-being and adherence with the new legislation. Specifically using a mixed-method design, I plan to assess the role of the parent-teacher relationship in reducing the risk of expulsion and to identify and describe characteristics of protective parent-teacher relationships. I have designed a study that will survey and interview parents and teachers of both children who have previously been expelled and those who have not, as well as those more and less likely to face significant disciplinary actions in the future (e.g., suspensions) regardless of expulsion history.

Contexts of Discipline: Understanding How Social-Emotional Supports Impact Preschool Suspension and Expulsion Practices

More than 8,000 public preschoolers were suspended or expelled in 2014 and a disproportionate number of these young learners were boys and African American children. The rates of expulsion and suspension have been estimated to be up to four times higher in private center-based preschool programs. Known interventions to reduce the overall rate of, and racial and gender disparities in, preschool suspensions and expulsions are costly and scarce. The present study will provide a richer understanding of the contextual and intrapersonal factors contributing to the use of preschool discipline, and explore the impact of universal social-emotional supports on disciplinary practices. With funding from the National Academy of Education and the Spencer Foundation, this investigation will employ a mixed-method approach, combining surveys with selective in-depth interviews to address two research goals: to understand the prevalence of, and associations between, discipline and social-emotional supports in private preschool centers across diverse Chicago neighborhoods; and to understand the associations between centers’ rates of severe discipline and teachers’ experience with, and beliefs about social-emotional learning.

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