Early Childhood Expulsions and Suspensions Undermine Our Nation’s Most Promising Agent of Opportunity and Social Justice

September 2016

Walter S. Gilliam, PhD

Yale University Child Study Center
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Moriah Group


High quality early care and education programs for children birth through four-years old have been shown to produce meaningful positive impacts in the lives of young children, especially for children of low-income families dealing with the stressors and lack of enrichment opportunities that all-to-often accompany financial disadvantage (Gilliam, 2009; Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009). The primary goal of early care and education is to promote overall school readiness, especially for those most at-risk for educational challenges.

Unfortunately, there are some young children who simply do not benefit from early care and education programs—those restricted from attending because they are suspended or expelled due to challenging behaviors. Within a social justice framework, students of color would have equal access to educational opportunities, as well as equal protection from having those same opportunities later denied. Presently, African-American preschoolers are the least likely to gain access to high-quality early care and education (Barnett, Carolan, & Johns, 2013) and AfricanAmericans, especially boys, are by far the most likely to lose their access due to expulsions and serial suspensions (Gilliam, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2014, 2016). This brief presents the latest information regarding early childhood expulsions and suspensions with a special emphasis on how continuing gender and race disparities violate the civil rights of many of our youngest learners and contribute to our nation’s costly achievement gap by locking our boys and African-American children out of educational opportunities and diminishing the ability of early education to provide the social justice remedy it was designed to produce.

Source: RWJF and Moriah Group