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Building a framework for comprehensive preschool suspension and expulsion legislation: A qualitative analysis

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

Integrative Statement

Background: Exclusionary discipline, encompassing suspension and expulsion, is problematic because it is ineffective, racially biased, and predicts a host of negative outcomes (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2016), including mental health difficulties, decreased school performance, and delayed developmental milestones (Meek & Gilliam, 2016; Noltemeyer, Wade, & Mcloughlin, 2015). A growing number of states have proposed or passed legislation limiting or eliminating the use of exclusionary discipline in preschool. However, it is not yet clear what components are essential for comprehensive legislation addressing preschool exclusionary discipline. This qualitative study reviews proposed and passed preschool exclusionary discipline legislation to answer the following questions:
1) What rationales are being presented as the impetus for preschool exclusionary discipline legislation?
2) How are suspension and expulsion defined?
3) What common steps/actions are proposed to limit and replace exclusionary discipline and is funding allocated?
4) In what ways does legislation articulate a plan for implementation and enforcement?
Methods: A systematic search was developed to identify states that have proposed or passed legislation related to preschool exclusionary discipline using key terms in the National Conference of State Legislatures Early Care and Education Bill Tracking Database. To guide a qualitative analysis, this team adapted an existing policy framework developed to evaluate state policies regarding inclusive education (Roach, Salisbury, & McGregor 2002). The adapted framework includes five domains: Motivation/Rationale, Accountability and Assessment, Personnel Development, Governance, and Financing. A total of 28 bills were double coded using values and in-vivo coding (Saldana, 2014). Any coding discrepancies were discussed amongst all authors and resolved by consensus. Themes were sought across all bills as well as within subgroups of bills defined by political status (e.g., passed vs. failed, majority party).
Results: Several key themes emerged. The motivation for the legislation was often described as preventing juvenile justice involvement and/or improving developmental and educational outcomes. Moral or emotional rationales for the cessation of preschool exclusionary discipline were less frequently employed. A consistent theme was the inclusion of caveats for allowable expulsions. Continuing professional development for teachers was mandated in some, while evidence-based programs for expulsion prevention were rarely specifically mentioned. Parental rights and involvement were consistently mentioned but few bills had plans to integrate their voices. Mandates regarding implementation were consistently lacking, despite some themes regarding oversight and data reporting.
Implications: The current study began to develop a shared understanding of the components of comprehensive preschool suspension and expulsion legislation. Based on guidance from an existing framework for educational legislation, much of the current legislation around preschool exclusionary discipline is lacking, particularly with regard to definitions, implementation, and disciplinary alternatives. In addition, this analysis indicated the importance of political context in legislative framing and success. To enhance equity in early childhood education and potential impact of legislation, comprehensive legislation should include an emphasis on defining exclusionary discipline, developing and articulating evidence-based practices and related supports to replace harsh discipline, and clarification on how programs will be held accountable for their disciplinary practices.

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