Early Childhood

As Preschool Ascends, Is Kindergarten Being Left Behind?

By Christina A. Samuels — September 18, 2014 2 min read
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Expanding high-quality preschool is the closest thing to a universal crowd pleaser for politicians. Polls show most voters are in favor of it, though that support varies depending on which political party respondents identify with.

But what about kindergarten? Does the focus on preschool mean that we are already providing a consistent, high-quality option for the first “official” year of school?

In a story I wrote for this week’s issue, I showed that we have not. Most states require their districts to offer at least a half-day kindergarten program, but they don’t require parents to actually enroll their children in it. Many districts have gone ahead and offered a full-day program, but that means that the district is on the hook for paying for those additional hours, costs that are often passed along to the parent.

In the meantime, full-day kindergarten is becoming more popular, with about 76 percent of kindergartners enrolled in full-day programs in 2012, compared to just 27 percent back in 1977. (For more statistics on kindergarten, check out this excellent analysis by Child Trends, a research organization in Bethesda, Md.)

And even a full-day can vary, with some being as short as 2 hours. Once children arrive, put away their coats and work out their wiggles, how much time is left for developing the pre-literacy skills they need to be prepared for 1st grade?

In addition to getting promises from politicians about preschool, voters might also want to take a close look at their state’s kindergarten policies (courtesy of the Education Commission of the States in Denver.) It may be worthwhile to press lawmakers on this point.

Hawaii Parents Scrambling After Kindergarten Age Change

In other kindergarten news, the Honolulu Civil Beat, a website covering public affairs in the state, has a thorough piece exploring what happens when a district (the entire state is one school district) changes the cutoff for kindergarten enrollment, but the promised alternatives for parents don’t materialize.

Back in 2012, the state legislature voted to change the kindergarten enrollment age to July 31 instead of Dec. 31. That law went into effect this year, meaning that about 6,000 children who were born after July 31 were unable to start kindergarten (which is mandatory in Hawaii, one of the few states where that is true.)

The plan was for the Hawaii to expand programs to at least be able to accommodate these “late-born” children who come from low-income families. As the article explains, however, those programs have not gotten off the ground for a variety of reasons, leaving many parents hustling to make alternate, expensive, arrangements for their children.

“There was no contingency plan for the group most affected,” Wayne Watkins, a preschool educator, told the news website.

The article also talks about how preschools have had to adjust their offerings for children who are now too young for kindergarten, but too old for Hawaii’s traditional preschool age. It’s a good explainer for a complicated issue.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.