Review: Implicit Bias in the Early Education Setting

Reviewer: Sarah Krantz, Esq.

Article to be Reviewed: Walter S Gilliam, Angela N. Maupin, Chin R. Reyes, Maria Accavitti, and Frederick Shic, “Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Yale Child Study Center (September 28, 2016). http://ziglercenter.yale.edu/publications/Preschool%20Implicit%20Bias%20Policy%20Brief_final_9_26_276766_5379.pdf.


A study released in September led by Yale researcher Walter Gilliam suggests that children could suffer long-term effects because of the implicit bias experienced by them as infants and toddlers. Implicit bias is described as “the attitudes and stereotypes that affect unconscious behavior and decisions.” The study was examining the school-to-prison pipeline starting in the preschool setting and tried to answer the question of why black students tend to be suspended at a much higher rate than white students.

As the researchers note, because preschool expulsions and suspensions reduce the amount of time that a child spends in case, the child ultimately has his or her access to educational opportunities undermined. Child care researchers and professionals have expressed concerns about this “push out” phenomenon, especially considering that a disproportionate number of early childhood expulsions involve boys and African-American children —with black boys receiving the highest number. According to the study, African-American preschool students are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than are Caucasian preschoolers. This is particularly concerning because Black students comprise 47% of the preschoolers who are suspended but yet only make up 19% of the students who are enrolled in preschool. Similarly, male preschoolers are three times more likely than female preschoolers to be suspended.

To find out what causes the push out phenomenon, the researchers examined 130 early childhood teachers from across the country. During the study, teachers were asked to watch a six-minute video of a black boy, a black girl, a white boy, and a white girl during playtime. The teachers were asked to hit a key every time that they observed a child misbehaving. However, the children—who were actually child actors—never actually misbehaved during the video.

Using eye-tracking technology, researchers were able to measure how much teachers focused on observing each student. Teachers were then asked which child they observed the most: 42 percent answered that they observed the black boy the most, 34 percent said the white boy, 13 percent said the white girl, and 10 percent said the black girl. The findings of the study showed that black teachers hold black students to a higher standard of behavior than do their white counterparts.

The study’s results do not explain why this discrepancy exists, but researchers suggests that African-American teachers may reflecting a belief that black children must be assessed and disciplined more harshly in order to prepare them for a society in which they will likely receive unfair treatment. Researchers also suggested that teachers when a teacher was provided with background information about the familial stressors of a child of the same race, he or she expressed increased empathy for the student and interpreted the behaviors less severely. However, if a teacher had knowledge of the familial stressors of a child of a different race, the teachers perceived the behavior as more severe. These findings suggest that teachers need support in understanding how family struggles related to childhood behaviors. The findings also suggest that teachers need more training on how their own biases can affect children within their classrooms on a daily basis and for years to come.