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California's Transitional Kindergarten Program Gets Encouraging Report Card

California's public school-based program for some 4-year-olds (those turning 5 in September, October, or December) boasts quality instruction, highly educated teachers, and more art, music and social-emotional support than kindergarten. 

However, the average teacher-to-student ratio is 1 to 17, students spent a third of their time in whole-group instruction, on average, and two-thirds of their time listening to direct instruction.

The new findings come from a June report on transitional kindergarten,  by the American Institutes for Research, or AIR, a think tank. This is AIR's fifth report of findings from their ongoing study of transitional kindergarten.

Overall, proponents of transitional kindergarten, which AIR previously found offered students a five-month learning boost ahead of kindergarten entry, said the most recent report was encouraging.

"We know that TK works for our youngest learners, but there is an opportunity to further improve quality to ensure the best outcomes as more kids access TK," said Assembly Member Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, in a statement released by the advocacy group Early Edge California. 

Here are some findings I found to especially interesting about the California program, which was launched in 2012:

  • One hundred percent of transitional kindergarten teachers in California hold a bachelor's degree. Fifty percent also reported holding a master's degree. (This represents far higher educational achievement among teachers than is average for those teaching this age group.)
  • The vast majority (96 percent) of teachers had taught kindergarten, and a quarter had taught preschool before becoming transitional kindergarten teachers.
  • Classrooms with just transitional kindergartners (and not regular kindergartners) spent 39 percent of instructional time on literacy and math and devoted the rest of their time to social and emotional learning, music, art and social studies. In combination classes, 67 percent of instructional time was devoted to literacy and math.
  • Sixty percent of students' instruction in transitional kindergarten was considered "didactic." To quote AIR: "Didactic teaching strategies include a teacher modeling or demonstrating the correct way to do an activity, providing instructions, imparting information, or asking students closed-ended questions.

The report closes with a recommendation that districts offer teachers more support in developing open-ended questioning techniques and following their students lead in determining how and what to teach.

Read the full report.

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