School & District Management

The Problem With ‘Half-Day’ and ‘Full-Day’ Labels in Early Education

By Madeline Will — August 07, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


By guest blogger Madeline Will

It’s time to retire the “full-day” and “half-day” labels for kindergarten and prekindergarten programs, a recent policy paper argues.

The policy brief, which was published on Wednesday by the New America Foundation, argues instead that governments and organizations using public money for education should be required to report the number of hours per week and per year that children have the opportunity to be in pre-K or kindergarten.

Right now, it’s just about impossible to gather exact data on the amount of time young children are in school, wrote the paper’s author Alexander Holt. Getting that data would expose disparities and inequities in early-childhood education, he wrote.

“It is easy to see the unfairness inherent in a system that provides some children access to, say, 30 hours of public pre-K and kindergarten per week and leaves other children with opportunities for 10 hours or fewer per week—or no such opportunities at all, as is often the case with pre-K,” Holt wrote, adding that use of the “half-day” and “full-day” labels obscures the issue.

In fact, the use of "half-day" can have the effect of leading policymakers to consider a "half-day" a valid policy choice... The focus instead should be on whether children are only offered chances at a "low-quantity program" or "low-quantity" learning experience. Using hours will provide a neutral and clearly defined way for comparisons to be made." Image

Currently, there is no clearly-defined standard for what constitutes a half-day or a full-day of kindergarten or pre-K—there’s not even a standard for how many days a week half-day programs meet. Holt writes that a half-day program could be 10 or 15 hours a week, and a full-day program could be anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week.

The data presented in the report (see graphic to the right) gives some idea of how varied kindergarten programs are from state to state. But even that doesn’t account for the nuances of time, or for the differences between districts.

[UPDATE: It’s worth noting that some states on the map might have changed their policies since the data was collected. Minnesota, for example, will publicly fund full-day kindergarten beginning this school year, according to a spokesman for the state’s department of education. The report doesn’t actually say when the kindergarten data was collected.]

Research so far is inconclusive regarding the amount of time in class needed to yield the best results for learning, according to Holt. He added: “Time in a classroom does not guarantee opportunities to learn, but it is a necessary doorway to that opportunity.”

Being able to track the number of hours students are enrolled in kindergarten and pre-K programs would let policymakers identify where disparities in opportunities between different areas and demographics are occurring, the report says.

Full-day kindergarten and pre-K have long been a goal of some politicians (including President Barack Obama) and policymakers. But are they missing the bigger picture? Let us know in the comments what you think about the value (or lack thereof) of half-day and full-day labels in early education.

Graphic: from the New America Foundation policy paper, “Making the Hours Count”

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educators' Support for COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Is Rising Dramatically
Nearly 60 percent of educators say students who are old enough to receive COVID vaccines should be required to get them to attend school.

4 min read
Mariah Vaughn, a 15-year-old Highland Park student, prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the vaccine clinic at Topeka High School on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
Mariah Vaughn, 15, a student at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at her school in August.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week