Kindergarten is now well entrenched as a component of precollege education in the United States.
“Since 1977, the percentage of [U.S.] kindergartners enrolled in full-day (in contrast to half-day) programs has nearly tripled, increasing from 28 to 77 percent between 1977 and 2013” (Child Trends Data Bank, n.d.).
Starting this Fall, 2015, my home state Oregon is providing free public school all-day kindergarten. This new system replaces a hodgepodge of half-day and all-day programs scattered throughout the state. Quoting from an article in the local newspaper (Dietz, 9/6/2015):
Educators hope the push will mean almost all Oregon students will read well by the third grade — laying the groundwork to erase the state’s embarrassing, worst-in-the-nation high school drop out rate.
The Oregon Legislature cleared the way for full-day kindergarten earlier this year, when it changed the school funding formula to allocate full weight for each kindergartner, instead of the half measure of funding it has given since the late 1990s. With only half funding, school districts typically provided kindergarten for only half a day.
The state’s target is to raise the number of third-graders who can read at grade level to nearly 100 percent. In the 2012-13 school year, 34 percent of Oregon third-graders missed the mark.
The Daily Kindergarten Schedule
The article quoted above included the following daily kindergarten schedule for Lane County, Oregon—the county in which I grew up and in which I still live.
8:40 a.m.: Entry task such as dot-to-dot or identifying beginning and ending word sounds
8:45 a.m.: Reading in one group
9:30 a.m.: Recess in one group
9:45 a.m.: Math in one group
10:15 a.m.: Reading in multiple groups
10:55 a.m.: Lunch
11:30 a.m.: Music, library or writing
12:10 p.m.: Physical education twice weekly; yet-to-be-determined lesson on alternate days
12:30 p.m.: Math activities in two- or three-student groups
1 p.m.: Reading in multiple groups
1:30 p.m.: Recess
1:45 p.m.: Writing, music or library
2:15 p.m.: Social skills activities, such as taking turns, sharing, and teamwork
2:50 p.m.: Dismissal
Notice the emphasis on reading and math. The schedule suggests to me that its designers think that reading and math are by far the most important things that five-year-old children can be learning. So, let me raise a few points about the curriculum that bother me. You can decide for yourself whether this is an appropriately designed curriculum.
- For the most part, the curriculum is broken into short pieces. This is consistent with research that suggests five-year-old children have an attention span of about six minutes. However, notice that there is no specific mention of instruction designed to increase attention span. The University of Oregon has been a world leader in research on attention. So, I expected to find a particular emphasis on this area.
- The schedule provides for two 15-minute recess periods. That is consistent with “play” being one of the most important aspects of childhood. However, it is not clear that the schedule places an emphasis on rigorous exercise. This is particularly important to the growing and rapidly changing brains of children. This topic is discussed in my (free) book, Brain Science for Educators and Parents (Moursund, 2015).
- Where are science and involvement with nature in this curriculum?
- Where is computer technology in this curriculum? A substantial number of five-year-olds have talked on a phone and played computer games. Is this prior and ongoing use of computer technology being ignored?
Many five-year-old children have used a digital camera. Via some instruction from a teacher, most kindergarten students can gain considerable skill in taking “better” pictures. And, think about some of the science involved in digital photography!
A computer keyboard allows combining writing and reading in a manner suitable to the youngest beginning readers.
- Children of this age and younger are whizzes at learning a second or third language. Where does the curriculum take advantage of bilingual and bicultural students in the class?
- I am troubled by what I consider to be an over-emphasis on the formal teaching of math and reading, and the relatively little emphasis on such important topics and activities as music and art.
What Does the Research Say?
I read and interpret statements such the newspaper article quoted above with an open but questioning mind. Does the information seem credible and valid to me?
I wonder what the research says about the likely outcomes of this full-day kindergarten plan? For example, the quoted section says:
The state’s target is to raise the number of third-graders who can read at grade level to nearly 100 percent.
That is a worthy goal, but is there good research that would make me believe that the combination of full-day kindergarten and the schedule given above will accomplish the state’s goal? I have spent quite a bit of time browsing the Web for possible answers to this question. Several articles are cited and discussed below.
The following quote provides useful information (Child Trends Data Base, n.d.):
Full-day kindergarten allows teachers more time to promote formal and informal learning, reduces the number of transitions in a child’s day, and allows children to get used to a schedule similar to that which they will have in first grade. In the short-term, children attending full-day kindergarten programs tend to do better in school than do children attending half-day kindergarten programs, and show stronger academic gains in kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten programs may be especially beneficial for children from low-income families, especially if class size remains small. However, a study using nationally representative data found little evidence that full-day programs are particularly beneficial for poor as opposed to non-poor children.
Research is inconclusive on longer-term impacts. A nationally representative study, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort, found that academic gains of full-day programs had largely disappeared by the end of first grade. However, another study found that children in full-day kindergarten programs scored higher on standardized math and reading tests through the second grade. Additionally, some research finds that children in full-day programs have more behavior problems than do children in half-day programs, with differences especially large when comparing half-day programs that met in the afternoon with full-day programs. A recent meta-analysis found that kindergarteners in full-day programs were more likely to have good attendance, self-confidence, and the ability to work and play with others, but less likely to have a positive attitude towards school. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Project Head Start began fifty years ago, in 1965. Head Start and Early Head Start programs support the comprehensive development of children ages birth to age five. Head Start services include early learning, health, and family well-being. How effective is this federal government funded program? The research suggests that the impact from Head Start participation largely disappears by the end of the third grade.
Quoting from a study by the U.S. Department of Health & Human services (5/19/2014):
The Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) has shown that having access to Head Start improves children’s preschool experiences and school readiness in certain areas, though few of those advantages persisting through third grade (Puma et al., 2012). Scholars and practitioners alike have wondered whether impacts might be larger or more persistent for children who participate in high quality Head Start as opposed to lower quality Head Start. In response, this report examines the vital policy question: To what extent does variation in the quality of children’s Head Start experiences affect children’s development? The HSIS experimental evaluation, which involved a nationally representative sample and included rich data at baseline, about programs and across several years of follow-up, provides an ideal source for analyzing the answer to this question.
We find little evidence that quality matters to impacts of Head Start using the available quality measures from the study across two age cohorts, three quality dimensions, five outcomes, and several years. The one exception is that for 3-year-old program entrants low exposure quality, defined as less exposure to academic activities during Head Start participation, produces better behavioral impacts in the short-run than more exposure to academic activities. Even so, there is no indication that either high quality Head Start or low quality Head Start in any dimension leads to program impacts lasting into third grade. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Chris Berdik’s article, Is Common Core Killing Kindergarten? (Berdik, 6/14/2015) begins with a story about a kindergarten teacher with 20 years of classroom experience resigning her job because of the increased emphasis on testing. Quoting from the article:
But Sluyter’s [the kindergarten teacher] complaints touched a national nerve. Her letter went viral, prompting scores of sympathetic comments by other frustrated teachers and parents. Sluyter’s letter was fresh evidence for groups of early-childhood educators who oppose the kindergarten expectations for math and English Language Arts, or ELA, set by the new Common Core, the academic benchmarks for K-12 that most states have adopted to replace the historic patchwork of standards.
The thrust of the opposition is that many of the standards are too high and not developmentally appropriate for kindergartners. Opponents say teaching some academic skills too early can be counterproductive. They cite research suggesting that reading and math advantages in kindergarten are fleeting. Furthermore, they say, the pressure to meet academic standards will lead to lecture and work sheet style teaching, foster rote memorization, and snuff out the inquiry and play-based instruction that can instill a love of learning. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Lauren Camera's January 7, 2016 article in U.S. News, available at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016/01/07/kindergarten-today-looks-like-first-grade-a-decade-ago, is titled Welcome to First Grade Kindergarten. Quoting from this article:
Kindergarten is the new first grade.
That's the big finding from researchers at the University of Virginia who compared kindergarten and first-grade classrooms between 1998 and 2010, and found that over the 12-year period, kindergarten classes have become startlingly like first grade.
"We were fairly floored by how consistent the results were across everything in the data," says Daphna Bassok, study co-author and assistant professor of education at U.Va. "We saw very large changes, and the magnitude was large, too, in how teachers spend their time and how the classroom is structured and what kids are experiencing."
What About Pre-Kindergarten?
If kindergarten is good for all children, what about pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds? While browsing the Web, I came across an article about Pre-K programs (Camera, 9/17/2015). Quoting from this article:
As Congress mulls ways to stave off a government shutdown with the close of the fiscal year looming, a bipartisan duo in the Senate is urging appropriators to reinstate funding for a federal preschool program that would otherwise mean a loss of services for more than 100,000 children.
"There is a tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning throughout the country," Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Robert Casey, D-Pa., wrote in a letter sent to Senate colleagues Thursday. "Currently, fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program, and many states do not have the resources to provide such opportunities to the children most at-need for these programs."
A growing body of research shows a significant return on investment from preschool services, with some studies showing a return on investment of as much as $16 per every dollar spent on preschool through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition and special education. [Bold added for emphasis.]
I found this news item interesting for two reasons. First, the proposed bill will help 100,000 children. But, that is only about 2.5% of four-year-olds in the country. Second, the last paragraph is a financial argument to support the proposed spending. The article does not talk about improving the quality of life of the students and how the program can (might?) help them to grow into responsible, productive adults.
For some additional information about prekindergarten, see:
Nevarez, Griselda (10/13/2015). Granrs increasing preschool access may lose funding, says Administration. NBC Newss. Retrieved 10/14/2015 from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/obama-officials-preschool-grants-may-lose-funding-n443041. Quoting from the article:
The government funding bill under consideration by Congress for fiscal year 2016 would cut funding for the Preschool Development Grant program, which is in its second year of existence.
"We should be at a point now where we are doubling down on this investment, not rolling it back," said Roberto Rodriguez, deputy assistant to President Obama for education. He recently participated in a conference call with early education stakeholders.
Rodriguez said the proposed 2016 fiscal year budget essentially "zeroes out" funding for the grant program at a time when early education is seen as "one of the smartest investments we can make." The program puts a strong focus on quality preschool programs that fulfill certain criteria including instruction, and ratio of students to teachers.
P.S. Added 10/8/2015: Kindergarten in Finland
I highly recommend the following article:
Walker, Tim (10/1/2015). The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland. The Atlantic. Retrieved 10/8/2015 from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/the-joyful-illiterate-kindergartners-of-finland/408325/.
Quoting from the article;
But Finland—a Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, where I’ve lived and taught fifth and sixth graders over the last two years—appears to be on the other end of the kindergarten spectrum. Before moving to Helsinki, I had heard that most Finnish children start compulsory, government-paid kindergarten—or what Finns call “preschool”—at age 6. And not only that, but I learned through my Finnish mother-in-law—a preschool teacher—that Finland’s kindergartners spend a sizable chunk of each day playing, not filling out worksheets.
Finnish schools have received substantial media attention for years now—largely because of the consistently strong performance of its 15-year-olds on international tests like the PISA. But I haven’t seen much coverage on Finland’s youngest students.
The philosophy of kindergarten in Finland is one of learning through playing. This is captured in the following two quoted paragraphs:
When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary “The Power of Play” supports her findings: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.
Osei Ntiamoah’s colleagues all seemed to share her enthusiasm for play-based learning, as did the school’s director, Maarit Reinikka: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. Reinikka, who directs several preschools in Kuopio, assured me that kindergartners throughout Finland—like the ones at Niirala Preschool—are rarely sitting down to complete traditional paper-and-pencil exercises.
What You Can Do
Education is a grass roots, local, regional, state, national, and global issue. We are all lifelong learners and lifelong teachers (of ourselves and others). Think about your daily involvement in helping children and other people to get a good education. Are you satisfied by the contributions you are making to this important endeavor?
Are you a critical thinker and careful analyst when you read or hear about our current informal and formal educational systems? If not, take steps to become better informed, question what you read and hear, and regularly share with others what you are learning.
If you have children who are in our PreK-12 educational system, routinely talk to them about what they are learning. They should be making progress every day. Involve yourself through everyday conversations with your children, and help guide them in directions that you feel are particularly important.
References and Resources
Berdik, C. (6/14/2015). Is the Common Core killing kindergarten? The Boston Globe. Retrieved 9/19/2015 from https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2015/06/13/common-core-killing-kindergarten/lydG3pnscVEnTEoELUZWdP/story.html.
Camera, L. (9/17/2015). Senators push to maintain Pre-K grant program. U.S. News. Retrieved 9/18/2015 from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/09/17/bipartisan-push-to-keep-federal-preschool-program.
Child Trends Data Bank (n.d.). Full-day kindergarten. Retrieved 9/18/2015 from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=full-day-kindergarten. Quoting from their website:
Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that provides valuable information and insights on the well-being of children and youth. For more than 35 years, policymakers, funders, educators and service providers in the U.S. and around the world have relied on our data and analyses to improve policies and programs serving children and youth. Our team of experts brings together a range of educational, work, policy and cultural experiences to provide cutting-edge research on issues affecting children from birth to early adulthood. Our work is supported by foundations; federal, state and local government agencies; and by nonprofit organizations.
Dietz, D. (9/6/2015). Lane County teachers prepare for new all-day kindergarten. The Register Guard. Retrieved 9/8/2015 from http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/33435764-75/lane-county-teachers-prepare-for-new-all-day-kindergarten.html.csp.
Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. HTML: http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science. Microsoft Word: http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/270-brain-science-for-educators-and-parents.html. PDF: http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/271-brain-science-for-educators-and-parents.html.
Moursund, D. (9/11/2015). Science knowledge quiz. IAE Blog. Retrieved 9/19/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/science-knowledge-quiz.html.
Moursund, D. (9/26/2015). Reinventing our educational system. IAE Blog. Retrieved 9/19/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/reinventing-our-educational-system.html.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (5/19/2014). The role of program quality in determining Head Start's impact on child development: Third grade follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study. Retrieved 9/19/2015 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/the-role-of-program-quality-in-determining-head-starts-impact-on-child-development-third-grade-follow-up-to-the-head-start.