Intro to PGR and Highlight on Preschool Discipline

The Policy & Government Relations (PGR) Department is a four-person team, with each of us working from different states. Together, we tackle education policy issues both within our respective states and on the federal level. For example, Mark Reilly, Vice President of Policy & Government Relations, has been working with the Massachusetts State House on a $300,000 budget amendment. On the federal level, Brittany Walsh, Director of Policy and Government Relations, played a pivotal role in the development of the American Rescue Plan Act. On the West Coast, in California, Demnlus Johnson III, California Policy and Government Relations Manager, is working to gain Jumpstart entry into the ECE Budget Coalition and tracking bills related to early care and learning. Lastly, New York City-based FAO Schwarz Fellow Meredith Jones collaborates with another early childhood education coalition in Massachusetts called Common Start. Jones has also been working with members of the New York City City Council to gain support for citywide literacy initiatives.

Corner view of Boston City Hall, Boston, MA. Mark McLaughlin

There are a number of other policy issues and early childhood education (ECE) related projects each member of the team works on. One in particular happens to be the rare occasion we’re all working on the same policy issue: exclusionary discipline.  Exclusionary discipline encompasses punishments that remove the student from the classroom, such as isolation, suspension, and expulsion. In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education released a joint statement with recommendations for reducing suspensions and expulsions in preschools after data showed these forms of discipline occurring frequently in preschool settings, with both short- and long-term negative impacts on children’s learning and development. According to a 2005 study, not only were preschoolers expelled at a higher rate than children in grades K-12, but Black students, particularly Black boys, faced higher expulsion rates than other students.

Since then, study after study has demonstrated the short and long-term negative effects of exclusionary discipline. First, according to the Institute for Child Success, removal from the classroom limits preschool children’s exposure to critical developmental opportunities, access to intervention services, and can be a highly stressful experience. Longer term, children who are suspended or expelled in preschool are more likely to be suspended or expelled in high school, to drop out of high school, to face academic failure, and to be incarcerated. Finally, these negative consequences disproportionately affect boys of color, particularly Black boys, and places them within the school-to-prison pipeline before they even enter the K-12 system. Research has demonstrated how teachers’ biases contribute to this disproportionate impact–a 2015 study found that teachers were significantly more likely to label Black students as “troublemakers” (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015).

Royal Oak, United States, Element5 Digital

The good news is that alternatives to suspension, expulsion, and isolation exist, and many states have moved towards banning these forms of discipline in addition to implementing professional development to support teachers and reduce bias. For example, New York City prohibits suspension and expulsion in its Pre-K for All and EarlyLearn programs, and California is taking steps towards a similar ban while developing a system of mental health consultants. Chicago has emphasized the use of restorative practices and social emotional learning and greatly reduced its number of out-of-school suspensions. These alternatives also positively impact young children: for example, not only does social-emotional learning reduce behavioral challenges, it also can lead to improved academic and social outcomes for low-income children and children with disabilities.

Jumpstart is committed to increasing equity in early education, and exclusionary discipline disproportionately affects young Black boys. You can help advocate for discipline reforms, such as limiting exclusionary discipline or increasing preschool mental health services, to make preschool more equitable for all children. At the local level, you can reach out to your city and/or county school board and ask how they are addressing harsh discipline. In addition, you can ask your representatives to the state legislature to help with the issue, especially if they’re on the education committee. Lastly, your federal senators and representatives can be called on to champion the cause. The Take Action training link below can aid in whichever level of government you feel comfortable petitioning. We look forward to having you join the fight to end exclusionary discipline!

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Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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