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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Making Kindergarten Mandatory

By Peter DeWitt — April 27, 2012 3 min read
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Kindergarten has long been the place where children go to strengthen their social and emotional growth. Through interactions with peers, students learn how to get along with others and how to make mistakes and move forward. Over the years, before play dates made their way into the mainstream, kindergarten was the venue to level the playing field between those children who had numerous social interactions in their early years and those who had none at all.

Most educators can agree that kindergarten is extremely important. After all, how many of you have heard the phrase, “Anything I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten?” However, many states across the country have not made kindergarten mandatory. That is now changing as we enter our present time of increased mandates, Common Core State Standards, and increased accountability.

In a recent article in School Book, which is published by the New York Times, Yasmeen Khan wrote a blog entitled In Albany, a Bill for Mandatory Kindergarten. She stated that New York City council members are pushing legislation to make kindergarten mandatory in New York City. This could be a big step forward for early intervention advocates, if kindergarten programs are done correctly in New York City and other places that want to push to make it mandatory. It cannot be just another grade to push inappropriate levels of accountability.

Khan wrote, “The legislation calls for children who are 5 years old on or before Dec. 1 to attend kindergarten, and the city’s Education Department would be compelled to ensure that these students have a spot in a class in their district. Parents, however, can opt not to enroll their 5-year-old, and students who are homeschooled or enrolled in private schools would be exempt from the requirement.”

Pushdown of Curriculum
Although students have to be enrolled in school by the age of six, school districts, by law, do not have to offer kindergarten. In addition, those schools that do offer kindergarten offer either a half day or full day program. There is a great deal of research supporting the use of kindergarten in the public school system, so it seems odd that it has never been mandated.

Every year as school districts tighten their belts, many suggest cutting kindergarten because it is a “big ticket” item that would save districts money. However, it would be very difficult for those districts to provide a strong academic program without kindergarten in place.

As important as kindergarten is, many educators are worried that curriculum is being pushed too much and too soon. Kindergarten has changed drastically over the past decade from a place to build social and emotional skills to a grade level where students are expected to know their alphabet and learn to read. Not all students, families and schools are created equally, so some of the push down to kindergarten is inappropriate.

The Reason for Kindergarten
“On average, professional parents spoke over 2,000 words per hour to their children, working class parents spoke about 1,300, and welfare mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50% greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of welfare children” (Rothstein, 2004, p. 28).

All children need to learn how to get along with others...even a few adults could learn that valuable lesson. Kindergarten is one of the first places that children learn how to share and work with peers. A great kindergarten teacher involves students in free play and hands-on learning at an age appropriate level. These are lessons that will help build a strong foundation as they move from grade to grade.

In addition, educators understand the value of early interventions. Having children surrounded by curriculum and an enriching literacy environment offers children a great start into their academic life. Although students enter the grade at various academic levels, kindergarten is a place that offers great benefits to students. It would be nice to see it get the mandatory respect it deserves.

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Rothstein, R. (2004). Class and Schools. In R. Rothestein, Class and Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.