Suspending little kids can do more harm than good

Suspending little kids from school may set them up for repeat behavior problems—and more suspensions—later on.

When schools suspend kindergartners and first-graders, some find it a challenge to turn things around in their academic life, a new study shows.

Further, these young suspended students—especially boys—are likely to be suspended again later in elementary school, says Zibei Chen, a research fellow at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Schools often use suspensions to discipline students, but how effective suspension can be in addressing future behavior problems and the impact on academic progress is unclear. When a solution isn’t found, students may be tempted to drop out.

“Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years,” Chen says.

Among the findings:

  • Boys teachers rated as aggressive, defiant, and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls teachers rated as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study reports.

The findings show that black students experience disproportionate suspensions, but these incidents are not always straightforward, says lead author Mi-Youn Yang, an assistant professor of social work at Louisiana State University.

Sometimes, teachers who report these behavioral issues may hold implicit racial biases and not issue the same penalties to white students, she says.

To conduct the study, which appears in Children and Youth Services Review, the researchers used data from an initiative of the Social Research and Evaluation Center at the LSU College of Human Sciences and Education.

Source: University of Michigan

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