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Bill Would Make Kindergarten Mandatory in Mississippi

A measure currently before the Mississippi legislature aims to make it the 16th state to require that children attend kindergarten. Most states simply require that kindergarten be offered. (Alaska, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are the only ones that do not.)

The Mississippi measure under consideration (called the KIDS Act, for "Kindergarten Increases Diplomas") would lower the mandatory age for school attendance to 5 years from 6, according to a story by Regina Zilbermints in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald.  Mississippi recently added a $3 million pilot state preschool program, so making kindergarten mandatory would be another step toward improving its early-childhood infrastructure. 

Nationally, as my colleague, Christina Samuels reported this fall, the time spent in what is usually the first year of public school and the quality of the program offered varies widely from state to state and district to district.

Despite the varying quality, kindergarten teachers nationally have reported that the grade has become more academic, and correspondingly more important, in the past two decades. Christina explains:

Kindergarten first started in the United States in the 1800s as a place for children to develop fine-motor and social skills while beginning to learn the basics of schooling.

Over time, however, the grade has become more academically rigorous, according to University of Virginia researchers Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem.

From 1998 to 2006, kindergarten teachers reported devoting 25 percent more time to teaching early literacy, increasing it to 7 hours per week, the researchers found.

In 1998, a little less than a third of teachers said that kindergartners should leave the grade knowing how to read. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 65 percent.

"Kindergarten is a magical time in children's lives. It's key," Mississippi Association of Educators president Joyce Helmick told the Herald. "It's important to life-long learning and academic achievement."

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