During her initial visit to the Payson Elementary School (PES) in January, what Brenda Case saw in the kindergarten classes drives her to tears today.
“I saw the district creating the haves and have nots,” she said.
Case saw the half-day, non-tuition-paying PES kindergarten classes filled with up to 26 children and one teacher. In the half-day tuition paying classes she saw 18 students, a teacher and a teacher’s aide.
“I wondered, how do you sleep at night with this discrepancy? Either have all kindergarten classes half day or make them all full day,” she said to Payson Unified School District (PUSD) administrators and school board.
In response, the school board has rushed to embrace all-day kindergarten.
The board sold the former Frontier Elementary School site and voted to apply all funds from the sale to adding more classrooms at PES.
The elementary school site needs more rooms to accommodate the additional space needed to hold all-day kindergarten classes.
By the time Frontier sold, Todd Poore, the director of facilities had polled the PES kindergarten teachers to find out what they believed they needed to pull off all-day kindergarten for every kindergartner.
“Our staff tells us we need two dedicated classrooms in order to have all-day kindergarten,” he said in the April 16 school board meeting when it accepted the offer for the Frontier Elementary School site from the Payson Community Christian School.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock has repeatedly stated that studies report all-day kindergarten improves student achievement.
And in an education world now driven by student test scores and academic achievement that determines budgets and teacher salaries, embracing every advantage helps.
But do the studies support using scarce education dollars on all-day kindergarten?
The messages are mixed.
Both the U.S. Department of Education (http://www.vision2020research.com/files/42292073.pdf) and the Rand Corporation (http://www.aecf.org/upload/publicationfiles/ec3624j67.pdf) did extensive and long-term studies on half-day and full-day kindergarten.
Both studies used data collected by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The Rand study expanded on the study done eight years before by the U.S. Department of Education to see if all-day kindergarten benefits extend into the fifth grade.
Both studies used data collected from 21,260 kindergarten students who entered school in 1998-99. The NCES also interviewed their parents, teachers and school administrators to find out what home and class life looked like.
Each group was questioned five times, in the spring and fall of the kindergarten year, first grade, third grade and fifth grade.
An analysis by the U.S. Department of Education based on the fall and spring kindergarten data documented an improvement in test scores in both reading and math.
“The findings from multi-level regression analyses indicate that children in full-day kindergarten classes make greater gains in both reading and mathematics compared to those in half-day classes,” with race, income, class size, instructional time and presence of an aide taken into account. “These findings support prior research that attributes full-day kindergarten to greater academic progress,” concluded the National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.
The study did not focus on the non-academic benefits of all-day kindergarten.
The National Education Goals Panel defined five areas of non-academic areas including things like motor skills, social and emotional development, curiosity, persistence, language development, cognition and general knowledge.
A slew of short-term studies have found gains social, intellectual and emotional development in all-day kindergarten programs. Supporters believe these skills prepare a child to succeed in first grade and beyond.
Of note, a 2004 national Mason-Dixon Poll, found about 50 percent of kindergarten teachers did not believe kindergartners were ready for school when they entered.
The Rand study, in comparison, found that on a purely academic level the benefits were at best short lived and at worst, actually hurt math skills.
“… children who were enrolled in a full-day program at kindergarten showed poorer mathematics performance than did children enrolled in a part day program. This finding raises the possibility that earlier studies may have failed to find relationships between full-day kindergarten and outcomes because they omitted important information relating to non-academic dimensions of readiness,” Rand report, School Readiness, Full-Day Kindergarten and Student Achievement.
As stated above, the Rand study also looked at the non-academic skills students had gained or lost because of all-day or half-day kindergarten, unlike the U.S. Department of Education study.
The Rand researchers recognized that a student’s focus, interpersonal skills, motor skills and an interest in learning all impact achievement.
Surprisingly, the Rand study concluded: “Attendance in a full-day kindergarten program was negatively associated with the development of non-academic school readiness skills. Children who participated in a full-day kindergarten program demonstrated poorer dispositions toward learning, lower self-control, and poorer interpersonal skills than children in part-day programs.”
The Rand report concluded the children of parents who could afford to expose them to extracurricular activities proved more school ready and had advantages throughout their school career.