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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Investing in Full-Day Kindergarten

Published:  June 16, 2010
Issues:  
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Among those who work with young children, the importance of kindergarten may seem like a no-brainer. But in fact, kindergarten has been neglected in state and federal policy for years and often suffers from unstable funding. A new policy brief from the Foundation for Child Development shines a spotlight on these problems and makes the case for moving full-day kindergarten “from the margins to the middle of the education reform debate.”

The brief, PreK-3rd: Putting Full-Day Kindergarten in the Middle, asserts that it is time to meet the societal and educational needs by making full-day kindergarten (FDK) standard practice just as secondary schools and higher education institutions evolved to meet the nation’s changing demographic and economic demands.
While many states have made significant investments in the early years, these have predominantly been in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs (until the economic downtown, that is). Kristie Kauerz, author of the report and a senior intervention manager of pre-K-3rd education at Harvard University, found limited investments in kindergarten—even in the 32 states that fund full-day kindergarten equivalent to 1st grade when it is offered by districts.
Among her findings:
  • Six states (Alaska, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania) do not require districts to provide half-day or full-day kindergarten and children are not required to attend a kindergarten program.
  • Sixteen states require children to attend half-day kindergarten.
  • Ten states require districts to offer full-day kindergarten.
  • Two states, Louisiana and West Virginia, require children to attend full-day kindergarten.
  • Three states (Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina) require districts to offer both half-day and full-day kindergarten options, but do not require children to attend.
Considering the variation of state kindergarten requirements, it is clear that children across the nation enter the first grade with differing degrees of knowledge and ability. In the FCD report, Kauerz refers to full-day kindergarten as “the pedagogical bridge between pre-K and the early elementary grades.” She reports that full-day kindergarten allows ample time for teachers to build on what children have learned in pre-kindergarten and provides more time for play and experiential learning, which research suggests boosts cognitive development as well as physical and social-emotional development. Students are subsequently better prepared to progress to the first grade and up through the grades.
“It’s not about just getting one year right,” Kauerz told Early Ed Watch, “Learning is a continuum and intentional policy decisions and investments must be made every step of the way.”
Kauerz is calling attention to kindergarten because right now there is a major gap in investment. She says kindergarten is being marginalized when it should instead play a central role in policy discussions about how to improve education systems and student learning.
State investments in kindergarten are mixed, but the benefits are not. Kauerz referred to studies that have found higher academic achievement levels in math and reading by children who attended full-day kindergarten when compared with children who did not. According to the report, “these gains in both math and reading achievement made by children in FDK close the achievement gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students by nearly one-third in reading and by one-fourth in math.”
In addition, Kauerz states that research suggests full-day kindergarten is particularly advantageous for children who are English Language Learners.
She also reports that beyond the long-term academic and developmental benefits, not insignificantly, more than 65 percent of kindergarteners attend full-day programs, illustrating parental preference for full-day kindergarten.
For the most part, states have not yet made a serious commitment to guarantee full-day kindergarten for all who want it, which makes it all the easier to make cutbacks in times of fiscal crisis, like now. Kauerz reported that Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas have announced plans to reduce or eliminate funding for full-day kindergarten. When states leave these decisions to districts there are few options if they elect to continue offering full-day kindergarten: launch a local campaign to raise taxes, charge tuition to parents, or use other categorical or grant-based funds to provide full-day kindergarten for targeted children. None of these options are desirable, and furthermore as Kauerz points they raise several questions about education inequities, especially when it comes to accessibility for all.
Kauerz puts forth several important recommendations for moving full-day kindergarten from the margins to the middle of the pre-K - 3rd grade movement and establishing it as a key component of the educational system often called the “P-20” pipeline:
  • States should enact policies requiring school districts to offer full-day kindergarten – and provide adequate funding to districts.
  • Policymakers at every level should include full-day kindergarten as an explicit and primary component in all formal, comprehensive pre-K -12 and P-20 education reform initiatives.
  • The federal government should encourage school districts to use a portion of their federal Title I funds to support full-day kindergarten.
  • State and federal policymakers should require school districts to collect and report data specific to full-day kindergarten.
 
We agree that a full-day kindergarten experience is an essential component of the pre-K – 3rd continuum—which builds the foundation for lifelong learning and success, making it an important connecting piece of the full cradle to career pipeline. And we’ll be watching closely to see whether or not state and federal policymakers make investments and craft policies that align with this shift in thinking.
Read the full report for more on making full-day kindergarten central in education reform debates, for Kauerz’s discussion of what matters in full-day kindergarten programs, and for more policy recommendations.

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