Rethinking Approaches to Discipline in Schools and Early Childhood Programs

Jan. 29, 2021

Our discipline system is broken. The research is clear that exclusionary discipline practices like suspension and expulsion are both ineffective and developmentally inappropriate for pre-K and early grade students, and yet multiple data sources suggest that they are commonplace. Some estimates find that as many as 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled each day. The US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection has exposed serious inequities in exclusionary discipline practices, with certain subgroups, particularly Black children, boys, and children with disabilities, disproportionately targeted. In recent years there has been momentum around ending the use of suspension and expulsion in pre-K and the early grades. In fact, seventeen states now have a provision in statute or regulation limiting these discipline practices in pre-K and the early grades.

But solving this problem takes more than banning these practices. Schools need to be equipped with better training, resources, and knowledge to effectively handle challenging behaviors and best serve students. New America has been examining various issues around exclusionary school discipline policies in the early years and later grades, including what supports are being put in place for educators and schools to replace exclusionary practices. See below for our body of work on the important issue of school discipline. For our work on issues around ensuring equitable early care and education systems more broadly, visit our Equity in Early Childhood Education page.