Early Childhood

Poor, Non-White Most Affected by Changes to Kindergarten, Study Asserts

By Julie Blair — January 31, 2014 2 min read
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Poor and minority children are more likely to feel the impact of evolving kindergarten curricula than their peers from other groups, according to a national, evidence-based study showing that America’s first formal year of school now is on par academically with 1st grades of 16 years ago.

And that impact may or may not be a positive one, University of Virginia researchers wrote in the landmark paper “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability,” which was published Jan. 27.

The working paper—not yet peer reviewed—was written by Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem for EdPolicyWorks, housed within the university in Charlottesville. It looked at the changes in the kindergarten classroom from 1998 to 2006 using two nationally representative databases.

“In less than a decade we’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” said Bassok, assistant professor at the Curry School of Education, in a statement. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms, in a way that just wasn’t the case” before the late 1990s.

Playtime has been replaced with curricula that focuses on literacy, the study notes.

In 1998, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers said that most children should learn to read while in kindergarten, the report states. But by 2006, 65 percent of teachers agreed with the statement.

Thus classroom time spent on literacy rose by 25 percent, from roughly 5.5 to seven hours per week, the researchers found.

What got squeezed out? All other academic subjects, in addition to music, art and playtime—the arena where children learn to socialize and use their imagination. In fact, researchers found that kindergarteners in 2006 spent as much time on reading and language arts as they did on math, science, social studies, music and art combined.

The impact has been felt most by minorities and the poor, researchers wrote, because low-income and non-white students are the most likely to find high stakes associated with binding accountability policies.

And here’s where things get really sticky: According to one study, low-income children hear 30 million fewer words by their fourth birthday than their peers who come from middle- and upper-income families.

So will more literacy curricula help them catch up? Or, in contrast, are these the very children who need the cancelled socialization provided by free play most?

What do you think, readers? What do you know to be true if you’re teaching or doing research?

To read our further coverage of the kindergarten study, click here.

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