Early education has been showing up in political speeches and making national headlines, but as a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article points out, full-day kindergarten may need attention as well.
As the Journal’s article explains, “often lost in the debate about improving early education, advocates say, is the fact that many students don’t even have access to full-day public kindergarten. Instead, the only option is half-day programs, which last from two and a half to three hours a day, compared with the typical six hours of instruction offered through full-day programs.”
Reporter Jonnelle Marte spoke with Early Education for All campaign director Amy O’Leary for more information on this critical early education policy. “Education advocates argue that some of the progress made in pre-K can be stalled if students move to a half-day program the following year. Children who go to full-day kindergarten spend 30% more time on reading and literacy and 46% more time learning math than children in half-day programs, according to Strategies for Children, which focuses on improving education in Massachusetts. Those students also tend to get more one-on-one attention from their teachers, says Amy O’Leary, the director for the Early Education for All Campaign at Strategies for Children. ‘It’s not just about doubling the time, it is about being intentional with the time,’ she says.”
That intentionality pays off in a number of ways. As we explain in a research summary fact sheet, full-day kindergarten helps close the achievement gap and provides academic and social and emotional benefits for children. Teachers and parents also prefer full-day kindergarten programs according to several studies.
However, cost can be a challenge. In Massachusetts, during the 2012-2013 school year, 73 of the 310 districts that offer full-day kindergarten charged tuition — an average of $3,240 for the school year. (Strategies for Children’s suite of fact sheets about full-day kindergarten is available here.)
Nationally, the Journal article says, “Only 11 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide publicly funded full-day kindergarten programs, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit child-advocacy organization.”
The good news, according to the Journal, is that “Access to full-day programs has been growing: In Massachusetts, for instance, the share of kindergarten students enrolled in full-day programs reached 87% last year from 29% in 2000, says O’Leary. And more than 75% of all kindergartners nationwide are enrolled in full-day programs, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.”
Unfortunately, 13 percent of children in the commonwealth are not enrolled in full-day programs, and as the Journal says, “with most states not mandating the programs, advocates worry some families could see their children’s programs cut during tough times or that some families may need to start paying for their children to be enrolled.” Here in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick proposed a $3.1 million increase for full-day kindergarten grants in his fiscal year 2015 state budget. The additional funding would encourage the transition of half-day classrooms into full-day kindergarten classrooms.
“Kindergarten provides the critical bridge between early learning settings and elementary school,” as we explain on our website. This bridge should be available to children for a full school day.