Early Childhood

Study: Full-Day Kindergarten Boosts Reading Achievement

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 11, 2003 4 min read
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A new examination of data from a federally financed, long-term study offers more evidence that full-day kindergarten and rich literacy experiences in the home give children a leg up on reading.

“The Condition of Education 2003" is available from the National Center for Educational Statistics. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The “special analysis” of the literacy experiences and reading achievement of more than 17,000 children—included in “The Condition of Education 2003,” released late last month by the National Center for Education Statistics—found that early exposure to books and literacy lessons can boost reading achievement for most students.

Each year, by congressional mandate, the NCES, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, issues a hefty report providing a wide range of information on education in the United States.

This year’s report says most children tend to master basic reading by the time they leave 1st grade. Nearly all, for example, know letters and letter sounds, and can recognize some words.

But children who attended full-day kindergarten had the ability to demonstrate greater reading knowledge and skill than their peers in half-day programs did, according to the findings. And the children who were exposed to literacy activities at home—such as being read to and sung to, and having access to children’s books and audio resources—were more likely to do well in kindergarten and 1st grade than their peers who didn’t have such exposure.

The NCES reading analysis was conducted using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which began following the children in the kindergarten class of 1998-99. The data from the first year of the study were initially released in 2000, but NCES officials decided to reanalyze the findings to help draw connections between students’ home and classroom experiences and their early reading achievement, according to John Wirt, an editor of the federal report.

That cohort of children will enter 5th grade next school year. More information from their experiences from kindergarten through 3rd grade is expected to be released later this year.

As with many achievement measures, non-Hispanic white children scored higher than their black and Hispanic peers on reading measures. In addition, children whose mothers had higher levels of education demonstrated greater reading skills than those whose mothers had less education. But those children who had books at home and were exposed to literacy experiences before entering school had an advantage over others, regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic status.

The analysis supports the findings of smaller studies done over the past 20 years, according to Lesley Mandel Morrow, a professor of education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and the president of the International Reading Association.

“This gives us some more data that proves to us that what happens to kids [when they’re] young is critical in their success later on,” said Ms. Morrow, who has conducted smaller studies of full- day kindergarten and family factors that assist in early reading development.

“But I would argue that it happens younger than this,” she said. “We need to start in preschool. ... By kindergarten, it’s almost too late.”

School Spending Up

Beyond the reading analysis, the report provided a host of other information.

It projects that public elementary and secondary school enrollment—estimated at 47.6 million in 2002—will reach 47.9 million in 2005, and drop slightly to 47.7 million by 2012. The report predicts that the largest growth will be in the West.

The report reveals improvements in the education level of parents of school-age children over the past 20 years. At the same time, the parents of black and Hispanic children continue to have less education than their white counterparts.

Among the other findings:

  • The percentages of black and white children living in poverty in 2001 were smaller than the 1975 percentage, with black children experiencing a bigger decline.
  • The percentage of 5- to 24-year-olds who spoke a language other than English at home more than doubled from 1979 to 1999.
  • The percentage of high school graduates who had completed advanced academic levels of English and foreign-language study doubled between 1982 and 2000.

The Department of Education highlighted the report’s findings on education spending, meanwhile, in a press release last week headlined: “America’s Annual Progress Report on Education Reveals Higher Levels of Public Funding.” The Bush administration has been consistently criticized by leading congressional Democrats for not supporting what they deem sufficient funding levels for education.

The report says that total expenditures per elementary and secondary student, adjusted for inflation, increased from $6,700 during the 1991-92 school year to $8,100 in 1999-2000. The largest increases occurred in rural areas and in the central cities of midsize metropolitan areas.

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