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Overconfident or Unprepared? Teachers’ perceptions of new early childhood expulsion legislation

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Nationwide, 17,000 preschoolers are expelled or suspended each year (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2016). Further, reports show significant gender and racial disparities in who is expelled, with boys of color, disproportionally affected. In an effort to quell both the high rates and the biased use of discipline in early childhood, Illinois recently passed IL Public Act 100-0105; legislation aimed at ending the practice of expelling children from early childhood programs. Although this legislation is progressive and fundamental to ensuring children’s consistency in early schooling, there may be unintended consequences if teachers are not offered supports or strategies to retain all children. Expulsion is not a child behavior but is a result of an adult decision. Often the decision to expel a child is associated with a teacher’s perceived inability to cope with a child and manage the child’s behavior. Therefore, there may be negative child, teacher and classroom-level consequences of inadequate support under the new legislation. It is critical to assess teachers’ perceptions of the new law while identifying ways to support teachers in order to protect at-risk children. As a result, this study served to explore how preschool teachers view the law and what challenges they anticipate in following its mandate.

We present findings from an online survey of Chicago early childhood teachers (N=422). Survey questions focused on teachers’ background and training, knowledge of the law, and requests to have children removed from their classrooms prior to legislative enactment.

In contrast to our hypotheses, teachers who had requested the removal of at least one child were significantly more familiar with the legislation, indicated greater understanding of and confidence in complying with the legislation, and also indicated that the law would have a greater impact on their classroom management practices as compared to teachers who had not requested a removal. Qualitative analyses, already underway, will further explore open-ended items to identify the sources of requesters’ confidence, familiarity, and understanding of the legislation as well as ways to support teacher compliance with the legislation.

Prior research has underscored both the importance of teachers’ perceptions of self-efficacy in managing child behavior in the classroom (e.g., Martin, Bosk & Bailey, 2018) as well as how challenging it can be for a teacher to change their classroom practices without substantial support and/or investment (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Our findings suggest that there is a substantial subsample of teachers at risk of being overconfident in their ability to adapt to the new legislation. This overconfidence may make them susceptible to even greater declines in self-efficacy, a known precursor to burnout and turnover (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). Findings from the mixed-methods study will aid policymakers and advocates in anticipating the types of resources needed to support teachers at this time of transition.

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