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Education Reporter

Preschools Expel Students for Anti-Social Behaviors
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A recent study found a surprisingly high rate of expulsions from American preschools, three times the rate for older grades. The study reported 6.7 expulsions per 1,000 preschoolers, while in kindergarten through grade 12, only 2.1 students per 1,000 are expelled each year.

Schools expel preschoolers for anti-social behaviors such as biting, kicking, and tantrums. Anecdotally, many teachers reported that these behaviors are on the rise. This study did not compare preschoolers' behaviors or expulsions now to what they were in the past.

Boys were four times more likely to be expelled than girls. Expulsions were more common in private schools than in public ones, and also varied by state. Kentucky preschools expelled zero students per 1,000. New Mexico had the highest rate, with 21 expulsions per 1,000 preschoolers.

Study author Walter Gilliam said that there is no consensus on why so many preschoolers are expelled. "A lot of people blame parents. A lot of people blame the schools or an education system that pushed programs to preschool that are not developmentally appropriate. Now the stakes are higher in preschool."

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has reviewed numerous studies of bad behavior among preschoolers. Their review blames poverty, poor prenatal care, including mothers' drug use, and "negative parenting practices, such as harsh discipline and maternal insensitivity."

NIEER co-director Ellen Frede added that she thinks teachers' classroom management also plays an important role. "The teacher needs support — not always a mental health consultant but good old-fashioned behavior management."

Researcher and developmental psychologist Karen Hill Scott weighed in with her own diagnosis of the cause of these behavior problems. "There is an inadequate emphasis on self-regulation and self-control," she told ABC News. Parents also confuse "indulgence with love," according to Scott.

Some focused their criticism on the expulsion rate itself rather than the behaviors, claiming that it is counter-productive to punish children. "The fact is, three, four, five, six, even seven, and older age children simply are not ready to make choices in regards to how their behavior affects others," said child development specialist Aviva Pflock. "Rather than getting in trouble for the poor behavior, they need to be taught about appropriate ways to behave."

Although Pflock's attitude is common among child development professors and many preschool teachers, it fails to explain why or how the majority of children as young as three are ready to make good choices, by rejecting antisocial behaviors almost all of the time. These are often the children on the receiving end of more troubled preschoolers' hitting and biting episodes; and it is often to protect them that preschools ask aggressive children to leave. (ABC News, 1-24-08)

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