The Impact of Early Suspension and Expulsion on Long-Term Child Outcomes

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Current research exposes how the use of suspension and expulsion affects children and families and how these practices are applied disproportionately, and offers recommendations on how to discontinue these practices. The Hunt Institute recently hosted a webinar to explore and discuss why suspension and expulsion in early childhood education is not a developmentally appropriate disciplinary practice.

Nationally recognized experts Kate Zissner, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois Chicago; Shantel Meek of The Hunt Institute; Senator Christina Pacione Zayas; and inspirational speaker and author Tunette Powell defined suspension and expulsion and explained similar terms that result in the same disciplinary outcomes for young children:

  • Suspension refers to a short-term removal from the education setting—anywhere from through the end of the day to a few days out of school.
  • Expulsion involves a permanent removal from the setting and the child cannot return to school.
  • Soft expulsions, “pushouts,” are when a program encourages a family to remove the child who is not a good fit or are practices that make it so that the program is not a feasible or welcoming care arrangement for the family and leaves the family with little choice but to withdraw their child.

According to The Hunt Institute, looking across studies, 25 to 50% of all pre-K programs report suspending or expelling at least one child a year. A study titled, “A Systematic Review of Early Childhood Exclusionary Discipline,” reveals that young children are three times more likely to experience expulsion or suspension from early childhood settings than school-age children. That may be due to the mandatory nature of K – 12 education and the voluntary structure of early childhood education. Shantel E. Meek, Ph.D., executive director of the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University and Walter S. Gilliam, Ph.D., of the Yale University Child Study Center, pointed out that due to the impact of early suspension and expulsion on long term child outcomes, it’s a matter of health and education equity.

Zissner; H. Callie Silver, Ph.D., of the Stanford Center on Early Childhood; Velisha Jackson of the University of Illinois at Chicago; and The Hunt Institute shared that researchers often recommend replacing these practices with prevention efforts that focus on early identification of support needs and connecting children and families to resources and supports. However, there is little research on these practices and what the best practices are for how to address the impacts on young children and the adults involved, according to Zissner and research titled, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Preschool Suspension Expulsion: A population study.”

Zissner also explained that due to the siloed nature of early childhood education settings and funding—home-based, centers, and school-based programs—research must also explore the use and implications across all setting types.


A study titled, “Early Childhood suspension and Expulsion: A Content Analysis of State Legislation,” and Zissner revealed that there is limited research on the use of exclusionary discipline in early childhood education settings, due in part to the wide variety of early child education settings and monitoring practices across the country. To fully understand the use of these policies requires study and examination across multiple settings, including centers, for-profit, and home-based.

Walter S. Gilliam, Ph.D., of Yale University, revealed in a 2005 study titled, “Prekindergartnerers Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Systems,” that the expulsion rate for preschool children was approximately 6.7 out of 1,000 children and that 10% of preschool teachers expelled at least one preschooler—3.2% higher than in K – 12 programs. Gilliam also found that expulsion rates were lowest in school-based programs and Head Start and were highest in faith-based centers and for-profit childcare settings. Zeng and Meek found disparities in disciplinary practices by gender, age, and race, similar to those found in school-age disciplinary practices. These disparities often are compounded by race with older and larger, black, male children being more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children.

Gender differences:

  • Boys were 4.5 times more likely than girls to be suspended or expelled than girls, according to Zeng and Gilliam.
  • Boys represent 79% of suspended children but only 54% of children in care, according to Zissner.
  • Black boys represent 19% of male preschool enrollment, but 45% of preschool male suspensions. Black girls represent 20% of female preschool enrollment, but 54% of preschool female suspensions, according to The Hunt Institute and the S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Racial differences:

  • Black children account for almost 50% of suspensions, but less than 1.5 of all preschoolers, according to The Hunt Institute and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Black children are 2 times more likely to be expelled than Latinx or white children, according to Gilliam and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Black children are 19% of those enrolled in early childhood education but 47% of those suspended, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Black preschoolers were 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

According to Zeng, children with disabilities are more likely to be suspended or expelled than those without—5.4% compared to 1.2%. Children with ADD, ADHD, or other reported behavioral or conduct problems are more likely to experience suspension or expulsion.

Similar to the factors influencing disparities in discipline in elementary education, The Hunt Institute points out that implicit bias may be contributing to many of the disparities in applications of the exclusionary discipline policies. Teacher preparation, classroom structures, and improved understanding of child development and classroom management also may impact these outcomes. According to Zeng and Zissner, other factors that influence teachers’ likelihood of using suspension and expulsion include:

  • larger group sizes,
  • higher child-teacher ratios,
  • lack of support for teachers in managing challenging behaviors,
  • under-compensated teachers and staff,
  • staff stress and depression rates,
  • implicit bias, and
  • negative workplace emotions and stress.

The wide range of early childhood settings and variations in school policies, state and local regulations, and other factors impact the variability in how these policies are utilized. Many states have pursued legislation to regulate the practice of suspension and expulsion in early childhood settings to try to minimize the use of these practices.

The Hunt Institute webinar addressed the variability in use of expulsion and suspension and differential policies and regulation. Researchers are beginning to review policies and laws various states are developing to regulate these practices in early childhood education settings.

Loomis and colleagues have reviewed bills proposed in 12 states. Most focused on reducing or banning the use of expulsion in early childhood education settings. The proposed bills included:

  • focusing on behavioral supports,
  • early childhood mental health consultation,
  • support for alternative responses,
  • expanding developmentally appropriate practices, and
  • incorporating mandates related to funding and enforcement.

Impacts on Children and Families

During the Hunt Institute webinar, Pacione-Zayas pointed out the significant impact that early suspension and expulsion can have on young children’s self-perception and their perceptions of school. It can lead to feelings of not fitting in, being inherently bad, negative feelings about self and school, and acting out. These findings indicate that these disciplinary techniques may create more educational disparity and disruption for the children and families most at need for early intervention and support.

The research on these policies continues to highlight the importance of early childhood education settings in regard to supporting families with consistent care and connections to early resources, and in setting individual and family relationships with education early.

Zissner and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Early Childhood Development agreed that suspensions and expulsions create disruption to a child’s routine and can lead to challenges in keeping up academically. More exclusionary and reactive approaches to discipline are associated with more negative outcomes. When children experience expulsion and suspension at a young age, it can negatively impact their feelings about school and education. According to a study titled, “Expulsion and Suspension in Early Education as Matters of Social Justice and Health Equity,” children who have the least access to high-quality child care are most likely to be suspended or expelled from those settings, which further contributes to the disparities in preparedness for school and in access to additional resource and supports.

Zeng and colleagues examined the preschool suspension and expulsions reported by parents of more than 6,000 3- to 5-year-olds. They found that the potential for expulsion and suspension increased by 80% for every increase in the child’s adverse childhood events. Children who had experienced more adverse events—including domestic violence, mental health challenges, adult substance abuse, victims of violence, and high poverty—were more likely to be suspended or expelled than children with fewer or no adverse childhood events. According to Zeng and The Hunt Institute, these are the children most likely to demonstrate developmentally appropriate challenging behaviors, to need additional resources and supports, and to experience school disruption and not receive the supports and resources they need.

Zissner and Zeng pointed out that children who are expelled for behavioral reasons are often those who can most benefit from preschool programs and interventions. Teachers often report being unprepared to support young children with challenging behaviors like those in young children with high adverse childhood events, and many did not have any training. This, according to The Hunt Institute, is true even when the challenging behaviors are developmentally appropriate. Zissner and colleagues found that the most common reason for expulsion or suspension was children being too disruptive or too dangerous. These often were developmentally appropriate behaviors for the age. However, in crowded classrooms or when teachers are stressed or not adequately prepared, the teachers rely on suspension and expulsion instead of more supportive behavioral interventions.

Children who experience early expulsion and suspension are 10 times more likely to experience negative educational and social outcomes like dropping out, academic failure, grade retention, and negative school attitudes, according to Meek and Gilliam. According to Zeng, The Hunt Institute, and Meek and Gilliam, children with early childhood suspension and expulsion rates are more likely to:

  • encounter academic failure and grade retention,
  • hold negative school attitudes,
  • drop out of school,
  • be involved with the juvenile justice system,
  • experience expulsions and suspensions in K – 12, and
  • face future incarceration.

The impacts of suspension and expulsion affect parents and families as well as their children. These practices can increase parental stress and disrupt employment and education. For this reason, the Office of Early Childhood Development said it’s vital that early childhood education systems prevent, reduce, and eliminate the harmful practices by establishing developmentally appropriate practices and fair policies and enhancing supports for teachers and staff. This is essential because early childhood education settings are a key first connection to resources and supports necessary to help young children and families. Early childhood education settings are the gateway to referrals for additional supports and services. When children are expelled, they often lose access to supports they need to thrive. To help ensure that students stay in the classroom and families and children both receive the supports they need, teachers need supports to maintain order in classrooms, according to the article, “Empty Seats at Circle Time: Taking on Preschool Suspension and Expulsion.” Meek and Gilliam pointed out that early expulsions and suspensions lead to larger gaps in access to resources and contributes to the widening gaps in later achievement and well-being.


There are several ways communities and organizations can support child development and decrease the use of suspension and expulsion in early childhood education settings.

Pacione-Zayas said that in Illinois it was key to build policies that addressed not only restricting the use of suspension and expulsion, but also to providing recommendations and resources that support programs and teachers. Key recommendations include:

  • eliminating expulsion and suspension from early learning settings and addressing disparities in discipline practices;
  • comprehensive outreach prevention and response efforts to holistically support families and young children as well as teachers;
  • cross system collaboration, family support, and teacher support to connect teachers, early education, families, and additional needed supports, including mental health, behavioral health, and housing;
  • increased training for teachers on working with young students with adverse childhood experiences and increased understanding of adverse childhood experiences and behavioral challenges;
  • increased education and training for teachers and staff on developmentally appropriate behavior and positive classroom management tools;
  • additional research to inform policy and funding decisions across the range of early childhood education settings;
  • expanded use of positive behavioral intervention systems and approaches;
  • developing data systems to help support decision making by teachers, administrators, and policymakers;
  • addressing implicit bias and establishing fair and appropriate policies without bias;
  • investing in training and professional development for teachers and staff;
  • developing specialized supports for administrators and educators to address classroom management, resources, and supports in implementing positive behavioral interventions;
  • strengthening family partnerships and family engagement in classrooms and school systems;
  • implementing universal developmental and behavioral screening;
  • partnering with families, teachers, and the advocacy community to create integrated supportive systems; and
  • providing resources and supports to teachers and parents for addressing challenging behaviors without exclusionary practices.

The Hunt Institute expert panel discussed the challenges that early childhood education teachers face and the importance of providing better compensation, training, and supports for teachers to help support them in building healthier classrooms for children, families, and themselves.

Key factors include:

  • minimizing classroom sizes;
  • increasing compensation;
  • providing better training and education on key topics like adverse childhood experiences;
  • positive behavioral management; and
  • increasing use of additional resources for both classrooms and homes.

Fully engaging families and finding ways to build relationships between teachers, schools, and parents are vital components to addressing in particular the disparities in outcomes. These factors also call for a consistent data system and statewide data systems that allow for better assessing interventions, programs, and resources to develop better policy recommendations.

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

Reg Griffin
DECAL Communications Director

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Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is responsible for meeting the child care and early education needs of Georgia’s children and their families. It administers the nationally recognized Georgia’s Pre-K Program, licenses child care centers and home-based child care, administers Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) program, federal nutrition programs, and manages Quality Rated, Georgia’s community powered child care rating system.

The department also houses the Head Start State Collaboration Office, distributes federal funding to enhance the quality and availability of child care, and collaborates with Georgia child care resource and referral agencies and organizations throughout the state to enhance early care and education.