Contexts of Discipline: Understanding How Social-Emotional Supports Impact Preschool Suspension and Expulsion Practices
Katherine Zinsser

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Illinois at Chicago

Primary Discipline

Early Childhood Education
More than 8,000 public preschoolers were suspended or expelled in 2014 and a disproportionate number of these young learners were boys and African American children. The rates of expulsion and suspension have been estimated to be up to four times higher in private center-based preschool programs. Known interventions to reduce the overall rate of, and racial and gender disparities in, preschool suspensions and expulsions are costly and scarce. The present study will provide a richer understanding of the contextual and intrapersonal factors contributing to the use of preschool discipline, and explore the impact of universal social-emotional supports on disciplinary practices. This investigation will employ a mixed-method approach, combining surveys with selective in-depth interviews to address two research goals: to understand the prevalence of, and associations between discipline and social-emotional supports in private preschool centers across diverse Chicago neighborhoods; and to understand the associations between centers’ rates of severe discipline and teachers’ experience with, and beliefs about social-emotional learning. Teachers and administrators working in private centers in 10 diverse Chicago ZIP Codes will be surveyed and follow-up interviews will provide rich detail of teachers’ experiences with, and decision making around suspension and expulsion. Findings will expand our understanding of the social-emotional and disciplinary experiences of children served by the private childcare industry and will enable future interventions to be tailored to the needs of specific types of communities.
About Katherine Zinsser
Kate Zinsser is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also consults with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois Institute for Government and Public Affairs (IGPA). Kate strives to support the social-emotional well-being and development of young children and their caregivers by conducting applied research that can benefit practice and policy. As the director of the Social-Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab at UIC, Kate and her research team are studying a wide range of topics including: developing research-based tools to foster social and emotional teaching practices including child assessments, classroom observation, and professional learning strategies; exploring the ways that high-quality teachers are able to positively affect children’s social and emotional learning; and examining how organizational and ecological characteristics of educational settings – such as state education policies, quality rating improvement systems, workplace climate, and administrator practices – affect social and emotional teaching. Kate earned her Ph.D. in applied developmental psychology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and her B.A. from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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