NU study finds preschool discipline patterns show teacher racism affecting long term success


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

A new study headed by SESP professor Terri Sabol uncovered data on how implicit racial bias is present as early as preschool education.

Nick Francis, Assistant Photo Editor

A Northwestern study found preschool teachers react more negatively toward Black students’ actions than to those of their white peers, which is why Black preschoolers are three times more likely to be expelled than their non-Black counterparts. 

The researchers, who followed more than 400 preschoolers in Chicago, found educators were more inclined to describe Black students’ behaviors as “problematic” than other students. Teacher bias impedes Black students’ success long-term, the report said.

Head Start, the nation’s largest public preschool program, recently stopped expelling children for behavioral reasons. According to a University news release, that measure “only addresses the final endpoint (e.g., suspensions or expulsions),” but fails to acknowledge other identity-related nuances limiting the chance for long-term success.

Instead of documenting racist treatment, researchers focused on identifying the mechanisms driving racism in preschooling. According to the study, this approach will pave the way toward policy reform by identifying how disciplinary practice forms along racial lines.

“This requires examining old assumptions and asking different questions,” NU psychology professor Leoandra Onnie Rogers, the study’s co-author, said in the release. “One thing we are especially concerned about and paying attention to is the micro or subtle ways that racial biases show up in preschool classrooms and what preschool children learn about race — about (themselves) as a result.”  

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