Kindergarten might be the new 1st grade but it may still be too easy.
A forthcoming study in the peer-reviewed American Educational Research Journal finds that students make bigger gains in reading and mathematics when they learn more advanced content such as adding numbers and matching letters to sounds. Yet kindergarten teachers spend nearly twice as much time on basics such as letter recognition and counting out loud. The majority of kindergartners already know how to do these things when they start school, the study says.
“If you teach kids what they already know, they’re not going to learn as much,” said Amy Claessens, the lead author and an assistant professor in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. “I would go even further and say more time on basic [content] is actually harmful to kids, particularly in mathematics. In reading, it is neutral, but math is negative.”
The findings are based upon a nationally representative sample of more than 15,000 students who started kindergarten in 1998-99, before kindergarten teachers are widely believed to have started ramping up their academic content. On average, the study found, teachers taught basic reading skills 18 days a month and advanced literacy 11 days per month. In contrast, they spent 10 days a month on basic math and six days on more advanced math. The study calculates that adding four more days a month of advanced instruction leads to modest but measurable improvements in student achievement.
A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 2014 edition of Education Week as Study Asks: Is Kindergarten Too Easy?