In 11 states and the District of Columbia, full-day kindergarten is a requirement, but in five states, the decision to offer kindergarten is left up to individual districts. A "full day" of kindergarten ranges from four to seven hours, depending on where a child lives. And in 35 states, kindergarten attendance is not mandated even if kindergarten is available.
The wide variation in kindergarten policies means that some children are not receiving strong early-learning opportunities, even as all children are being held to rigorous academic standards, says a recent report from the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
The report, written by associate policy analyst Emily Workman, says that while policymakers are currently focused on preschool because of the Obama adminstration's interest in the issue, preschool represents only one point on the early-learning continuum. "Equal emphasis must be placed on ensuring that students have access to high-quality, full-day kindergarten programs in order for this early investment to produce long-term positive results," the report states.
ECS examined six components of kindergarten: availability, length of day, student assessment, quality of instruction, standards and curriculum, and funding.
For the category of student assessment, ECS found that 25 states require these tests, and four states are in the process of creating them. The organization contends that such tests, administered early in the school year, are important because they provide information to the teachers on a child's strengths and needs, and indicate if preschool is aligned with school expectations. The federal government is considering a grant program to help states create kindergarten-entry assessments.
The report concludes by saying that state policymakers need to take a "hard look" at their state's kindergarten policies: "It is impossible to expect students in low-quality programs—whether it's due to a length of day that does not give them adequate learning time, poor teaching quality, or low standards—to develop at the same speed as their peers."