I recently read an article from the Education Commission of the States entitled Inequalities at the Starting Line: State Kindergarten Policies by Emily Workman. Basically the author talks about the differences among kindergarten policies in the 50 different states. In studying the policies it was found that there are significant differences that exist for our kids. The unequal set of opportunities across our states perpetuates the lingering achievement gaps we are facing. This report presents findings on six key components of a kindergarten system: availability, length of day, student assessment, quality of instruction, standards and curriculum, and funding.
I recently shared a post about two-thirds of students not being ready for kindergarten . So, imagine two-thirds of entering kindergarteners who are not ready academically, socially, emotionally or all three entering one of the kindergarten classes that is lacking time, quality of instruction, funding, etc. No wonder we are struggling to close the gaps. On the other hand, I have seen first-hand what high quality pre-school combined with a quality kindergarten experience can do for a child's educational start and future.
Should students be required to attend kindergarten? There are only 15 states and D.C. that require kindergarten attendance while 35 do not require attendance - where does your state fall? What about the time spent in kindergarten? Eleven states plus D.C. require districts to offer full-day kindergarten while 34 states require districts to offer half-day kindergarten. Five states do not require districts to offer kindergarten, leaving the decision to the local school districts. What is offered in your local district?
Does any of this matter? Early literacy and mathematics skill-building and social/emotional competencies are critical for later proficiency and school success. Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman has done extensive work that supports this need. We must begin to think of early childhood education as an investment rather than an expense.
As you read the report you will find thought provoking questions that must be addressed. What is the amount of time a student spends in kindergarten? Does your state or district have an entry assessment to help teachers meet the individual needs of new students? Only twenty-five states plus D.C. currently require the administration of a kindergarten entry assessment. Is your state one of those?
Does the quality of instruction in kindergarten matter? What is the ratio of teachers to students? Are teachers trained to be with this level of student? Are high quality standards that are developmentally appropriate in place? Lastly, is your state funding kindergarten at an adequate level? Are the funding formulas strong incentives or disincentives to offer high quality full day programs?
As advocates in our local communities it is so important that we raise these issues for the benefit of our kids' futures. Early childhood only happens once and we must take every opportunity to ensure that it does not pass without fully taking advantage of the windows of opportunity that exist. Building that strong foundation with high quality pre-school and kindergarten is one of the most important and critical issues for which we must advocate.
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