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Most States Still Don't Require Full-Day Kindergarten, Report Finds

early-years-chairs.jpgAs more early-childhood education advocates call for universal pre-K, it's interesting to note that less than third of all states even require full-day kindergarten.

That's one of the findings in a 50-state comparison guide to policies surrounding kindergarten through 3rd grade by the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group of researchers who track policies related to education.

The newly updated report, which was released last month, finds that that only 15 states and the District of Columbia require full-day kindergarten.

Commenting on the report, Karen Schulman, the child care and early learning research director for the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group based in Washington, noted that in many states and school districts, education policies don't reflect the reality of both parents working in many families.

"Education policies also do not reflect that many children already attend a full-day preschool or full-day child-care program before they reach kindergarten, and that half-day kindergarten—rather than being a way to ease children into the school experience, as it was when kindergarten was typically children's first experience in a setting outside the home—is actually a step backwards in some ways, including in the amount of time available for learning," Schulman wrote in an email.

Required Class Time

The ECS guide also lists how much class time is required for students in kindergarten and found striking differences throughout the country.

"Whether it's half-day or full-day, the amount of instructional time varies greatly," said Louisa Diffey, a policy researcher at Education Commission of the States and the report's author. "It doesn't seem to be quite consistent or to really align across states. We don't see necessarily a common trend for hours or instructional times."

 For example, in New Jersey 2.5 hours of attendance per day is considered full-day kindergarten, while in New Mexico students must attend 5.5 hours to meet the full-day kindergarten designation. New Mexico doesn't require students to attend full-day programs and New Jersey only requires it for certain districts.

 Bruce Atchison, who oversees ECS' reports concerning early learning, says he expects states to take a closer look at kindergarten in the future as more policymakers realize the good things happening in the preschool world should extend into kindergarten.

"You can have the highest quality pre-K program, and if that child goes into a low-quality kindergarten, there's the potential that they're going to lose some ground," said Atchison.

The ECS report also includes several other data points such as information on the compulsory school age around the country, where waivers for kindergarten entrance are permitted, and what, if any, policies are in place regarding retention of students in 3rd grade.

Photo by Getty

Related story:

 for the latest news on policies, practices, and trends in early childhood education. 

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