A New Mexico program that is proving successful with incoming kindergartners is being expanded to the primary grades in the hope that it will help narrow the achievement gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers.
Kindergarten-Plus, an idea originally promoted by the late American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman in 2002, gives children from low-income families 40 additional days of instructional time beyond the regular school year—half of it in the summer before kindergarten and the rest of it after.
Renamed K-3 Plus, the new version, which will start next fall, will instead provide 25 instructional days in addition to the regular school year to children entering kindergarten through 3rd grade. Schools that were participating in the existing program will have priority when applying for the new money.
The state approved the program on a three-year pilot basis in four school districts, beginning in the 2003-04 school year. During those three years, more than 750 children at 15 school sites received services. In 2006, the legislature opened the program to more districts, added three more years to the pilot program, and increased funding to $1 million for the current school year.
The latest expansion will boost spending on the program to $7.5 million through fiscal 2008, including more than $330,000 for transportation costs.
“What has really jelled for state policymakers is that the results of K-Plus have been so positive,” said Rep. Mimi Stewart, the state lawmaker who sponsored the legislation and a resource teacher in the 92,000-student Albuquerque public school system. “When you take these kids from high poverty and give them extra school, they excel.”
Ms. Stewart, a Democrat, added that the money will be enough to cover about 60 percent of the roughly 160 schools that qualify for the program under criteria requiring that 85 percent or more of their students be eligible for subsidized school lunches.
A preliminary evaluation of the K-Plus program, released by the state’s Office of Education Accountability in 2005, showed improvements in children’s ability to name letters and identify and pronounce word sounds. Also as a result of the program, that evaluation found, fewer children were classified as having “delayed skills” during their kindergarten year.
Teachers working in the program also comment on the benefits young children receive during the summer weeks when they have the school building to themselves. Instead of working on establishing routines and getting to know one another during the early weeks of the school year, those matters are already handled during the K-Plus weeks. (“Ahead of Their Class,” Aug. 31, 2005.)
As the program enters its new phase, Ms. Stewart said, she wants the major focus of the additional days to be “making sure these kids are learning to read.”
Veronica Garcia, New Mexico’s secretary of education, said that only continuing evaluation of the program will show whether it is as successful with four grade levels as it has been with one. She said that just as the original program emphasized the transition into kindergarten, the expanded program for students in grades 1-3 would focus on “transitioning them to the next grade and to the next level of expectations.”
Targeting additional days of instruction to specific groups of students is becoming a more widely used approach. Other states have tried similar strategies, which sometimes resemble summer school activities. For example, Connecticut requires school districts to offer a summer reading program to kindergartners who are identified by their teachers as needing additional reading and “reading readiness” instruction.
And Washington state’s Learning Assistance remediation program includes adding instructional time to the school year as an option to help those who score below grade level on state tests.
Kathy Christie, a vice president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said state lawmakers are seeing that adding school days to address particular achievement gaps might also be cost-efficient.
“I think people are realizing more and more that when you add days for all kids, it gets very expensive,” she said. “So then you have to back up and do it just for those who are neediest.”
A recent chart compiled by the ECS estimates the cost of adding days to the school year, which runs about 180 days in most states. In New Mexico, for example, adding just one day for all students would cost $15.6 million—more than double the amount the state will spend in two years for 25 days of K-3 Plus.
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week as N.M. Expands Kindergarten-Plus Program to More Grades