United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

February 5, 2016

Why We’re Not Surprised 600 Children Were Suspended From Pre-K and Kindergarten

WBUR 2015 08Aug UW backpacks-69_for webreported this week that over 600 children were suspended from Pre-K and Kindergarten in the 2014-2015 school year.  We are not surprised by the figure; in fact we’ve been watching this issue since 2005, when Yale researcher Walter Gilliam came out with a report ranking Massachusetts 9th in the nation for preschool expulsions.  Teachers note in WBUR’s report that in many cases, pre-K suspension can be avoided through classroom management. But we believe more can be done before the children even enter their classrooms, which can have a positive effect on ensuring all students have the opportunity for educational success.

WBUR’s analysis of suspension rates among young students underscores the importance of providing high quality early childhood programming and services that support and engage families in their child’s development. United Way’s analysis of strategies that best ensure young children’s social and emotional development is on track — which can ultimately prevent behavior from escalating to that boiling point — includes:

  • Making high quality early education and care more accessible to low-income children. Last year, United Way helped ensure 10,074 children were in high-quality early childhood programming.
  • Requiring all funded programs to screen children and refer them to further assessment or intervention as needed. Last year, United Way funded 44 community-based organizations who screened over 10,100 children for developmental delays and referred 1,920 children for services.
  • Ensuring that families and children have access to mental health services and consultation. Last year , United Way supported 15 community-based organizations that provided individualized mental health services to 2,750 children under age 5.
  • Ensuring early childhood educators are trained to understand and support the important role that relationships play in the social and emotional development of infants and young children.  In 2006, in response to the Gilliam study, United Way created the Connected Beginnings Training Institute, now part of Wheelock College’s ASPIRE program.   Connected Beginnings provides, coordinates, and evaluates professional development efforts aimed at enhancing the social and emotional well-being of young children.

Advocates in WBUR’s report note that the number of suspensions for 2014-2015 is a significant drop from the year before, citing changes in school discipline laws that require principals to notify superintendents in writing before a suspension can take place.  With intentional screening for all children and appropriate services when needed, Massachusetts can continue to make progress to help all young children thrive.