There is a big problem in our educational system, and it is persistent. Black children are being kicked out of school more than White children on a regular basis and in large numbers, according to a white paper co-authored by the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), titled, “The Point of Entry: The Preschool-To-Prison Pipeline.”
In March 2014, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights reported that Black students in kindergarten through 12th grade are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students. On average, five percent of White students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of Black students.
That’s not the only alarming piece of research. When child care administrators regularly expel and suspend Black children, they position these children at the point of entry of the preschool-to-prison-pipeline. In other words, children who are forced out of school even at the young ages of three through six-years, are at risk for going into the juvenile justice system when older and then onto prison later in life.
Teacher Bias and Low Expectations Are Part of the Problem
“Teacher bias” bears responsibility in this dynamic, according to the white paper. “An African American student who exhibits disruptive behavior, even if it is the same behavior exhibited by the White peers, might be perceived as more disruptive because of teacher bias” (2015).
This bias runs deep and isn’t easily changed. The UpJohn Institute also authored a working paper titled, “Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations,” which surveyed 16,000 U.S. teachers both Black and non-Black. They were asked to predict the future educational outcomes of their students. For example, “Will he graduate college?” The White teachers were 30 percent less likely than Black teachers to say a Black student would someday earn a college degree. Are non-Black teachers’ expectations too low or are Black teachers being too optimistic? Either way, we know that teachers who are positive and have high expectations for their students actually help them to achieve in school and attain higher educational goals.
In 1968, two researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, demonstrated through their research titled, “The Pygmalion Effect,” that teacher expectations definitely influence student performance. According to Rosenthal and Jacobson, “Positive expectations influence performance positively and negative expectations influence performance negatively.” This research is still valid today. As a teacher, “you have enormous power over the lives of your students. In fact, you can make the children in your classroom into successful students or you can make those same children into failures,” said public school teacher, Julia Thompson in an article she authored titled, “The Self-fulfilling Prophecy & Your Students: I Knew You Could Do It!”
The Long Term Effects of Kicking Children Out of School
“The startling data on disproportionate suspension and expulsion that begins in preschool is that it extends through high school…,” said Cemeré James, the NBCDI Vice President of Policy.
She goes on to say, “This trend of harsher punishment and exclusionary discipline extends to arrest and referrals to law enforcement…the racial bias that begins with suspension in preschool follows Black children throughout their education catapulting many of our children into juvenile justice systems later in life and possibly the criminal justice system as adults.”
Parents Are Advocates for Their Child
What can parents do about this? Be empowered, be an advocate and bring the issue to administration if you feel your child is being unfairly targeted. Black parents should especially be careful when selecting a preschool program for their child. “…Parents and caregivers should feel empowered to inquire about preschool disciplinary procedures as well as curriculum and teacher training to ensure the needs of their child will be met appropriately if enrolled,” said Georgia Thompson, Vice President of NBCDI Affiliate Network and Training Institute.
Janice Celeste, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Successful Black Parenting magazine. She has a degree in early childhood education, has taught high school and was a professor at Hofstra University. She was also the executive director of a local YMCA, is the author of the book, Pride and Joy by Simon & Schuster, and is a journalist and former news reporter.