Remember kindergarten? The bright sunny classroom full of toys with a piano in the corner, naptime on little mats, the cute furry classroom mascot, and memorizing the Gettysburg’s address for the school’s President’s Day picnic. Oh, wait. That was a movie, (Kindergarten Cop). But, I didn’t attend kindergarten, so it’s all I’ve got. My husband didn’t attend kindergarten either. We did not fail first grade or any subsequent grade. We had no adjustment problems on entering first grade. We did not suffer academically or socially in any way from skipping kindergarten.
In the 1960s kindergarten was not considered an essential part of the school experience. Most states did not require kindergarten and in many areas public kindergarten was not available.
Do you know that most states still do not require kindergarten?
Only fifteen states and the District of Columbia have compulsory kindergarten attendance requirements. Massachusetts, the state that pioneered compulsory education by requiring parents to teach children to read, does not require children to attend kindergarten. Yet, most people don’t question kindergarten attendance. Kindergarten is taught at the local elementary school and everyone goes. Most state school standards include kindergarten standards even when kindergarten is optional.
Despite the fact that schooling prior to first grade is optional across the nation, school districts and states are moving to normalize and legislate increasing amounts of formal early childhood education. The simplest change is to move from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten. Two states already mandate full-day kindergarten and most states offer it. In 1977, 72.5% of children were enrolled in half-day kindergarten, with 27.5% in full-day kindergarten3. In 2013 those numbers were reversed with 22.9% in half-day programs and 77.1% in full-day programs.
Why are more states implementing full-day kindergartens?
Educators claim that full-time kindergarten is necessary for the academic success of the students. In today’s world academic measures are the brass ring of educators, politician, and parents. Students in full-day kindergartens score better at the end of the year on achievement tests than do half-day students. This is the expected, reasonable outcome of more time in the classroom. However, the test disparity is usually modest and short lived. As soon as the beginning of the next school year, the advantage disappears. By third grade half-day and full-day kindergarten score at the same level. Kindergarten achievement becomes irrelevant. Students who may have missed something in kindergarten have had time to catch-up and academic advancement is dependent on the current learning environment.
Further, time spent in a classroom does not equate to time receiving instruction. While the full-day kindergartener is in the classroom nearly twice as long, he only receives about 30% more instruction in math and reading. This amounts to about 15 minutes per day per subject. One study found that in the western United States there was no difference between scores of full-day students and half-day students. It is important to remember that the effect of any instructional time is dependent on the quality of the instruction. More time with a poorly designed curriculum or an ineffective teacher will not increase learning.
Why do parents support full-day kindergarten?
Most parents accept the claim of educators that full-day kindergarten is educationally advantageous. However, when discussing the advantages of full-day kindergarten, convenience is always mentioned. “Several demographic and sociocultural factors explain the growing implementation of full?day kindergarten. First, the number of working mothers with children under six years old is growing; …To serve the child?care and scheduling needs of these parents, many schools offer full?day kindergarten programs.” (Emphasis added.) A mother who has been waiting for her child to begin school in order to return to work can get started a year earlier. A mother who is already working gets an extra three hours per day of state sponsored child care.
The conversation about full-day kindergarten centers on academic achievement, but statistics do not support the exclamatory claims that are made. It is claimed that the superior academic achievement can close the “education gap” of disadvantaged students, but this claim fails on two accounts. If the full-day kindergarten is just more time in a poor educational environment, no benefit is derived. If all children attend an adequate program, but some start at an advantage, the gap is maintained but everyone is functioning at a higher level.
Full-day kindergarten is an expensive project. It requires more teachers for longer periods, more classrooms, and more supplies. “A recent analysis by Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center found that a shift to universal, free full-day kindergarten would require an increase in the state foundation budget of $77.5 million, with $29.3 million coming from Chapter 70 state aid and the remainder being the local education contribution.” Currently in Massachusetts public schools charge tuition for full-day kindergarten.
Is the local school district or the state considering mandating full-day kindergarten?
There are some questions that should be asked:
• Why is full-day kindergarten being implemented?
• Because it’s the latest educational trend? To provide free child care? To encourage mothers to leave their homes for the workplace? To increase test scores? To improve the educational statistics? To serve children and strengthen families?
• What are the objectives of the full-day kindergarten? What is the reasoning for these objectives? How will these objectives be met in the full-day kindergarten program?
• Is it developmentally appropriate or desirable to have increasingly younger children sitting at classroom desks?
• In what way is half-day kindergarten failing to meet the objectives?
• Is a full-day kindergarten the only way to meet these objectives?
• Better curriculum? Better home-school learning partnership?
• How will full-day kindergarten be paid for? Where will the resources come from?
• Has a cost-benefit analysis been performed?
• Will half-day kindergarten continue to be an option?
Should your child go to full-day kindergarten? Most of the questions above can be used by families to decide between half-day and full-day kindergarten programs. Why would you choose full-day? What can full-day accomplish the half-day can’t? Is there another way to provide the benefits of full-day kindergarten?
One of the benefits of a full-day kindergarten is that there is time to do more than teach to the test. Full-day kindergartens are more likely to spend time with science, art, and history. Since those subjects are not tested student-directed learning can be utilized. This would be tempting for me as a mom until I remembered I am my child’s teacher, too. A public library or internet search can provide my child and me with a multitude of learning activities to do together.
In the National Education Association’s instructions full-day kindergarten advocacy, is this testimonial: “Rhianna Wilson was worried that her son, Timothy, would be overwhelmed in an all-day program. He wasn’t. ‘He just learns more quickly,’ she said. ‘The other day he announced that he wanted to be a paleontologist.’” Was this the first time her son had learned about paleontology? Before they attended kindergarten two of my children wanted to be paleontologists, one wanted to be a geologist, and one an astronaut.
Beckie Mann and her husband will soon celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of six children and have one grandson. Beckie will graduate in December with a degree in marriage and family studies from BYU-Idaho.