Tuesday, April 13, 2004

More time to learn and play


Kindergarten: Districts going to all-day; Earlier push for academics adds pressure, subtracts naps

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Higher state standards and proficiency tests have pushed first-grade curriculum down into kindergarten, where more rigorous academics have all but eliminated show and tell, play time and naps.

[img]
Children in Barb Holman's kindergarten class at Monroe Elementary are (L-R) Heaven McCoon, 6, Jade Kunz, 5, and Kirsten Savage, 5.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
As a result, two more Greater Cincinnati school districts, New Richmond and Goshen, are offering all-day kindergarten this fall. They're part of a growing number that are doing so to meet increasing academic demands on young students, while trying to revive the fun of kindergarten.

"We've raised the bar at the kindergarten level as a state and expect these children to achieve that level, and we ask them to do it in 21/2 hours," said New Richmond Superintendent Chuck Moore. "That's simply not enough time. The teachers are telling us that."

Once a staple of urban school districts, all-day kindergarten is spreading to the suburbs and small rural districts. Nationally, 60 percent of all kindergarten students in the United States attend full-day programs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Greater Cincinnati districts such as Cincinnati, Newport and Kenton County have had all-day kindergarten programs for years. Sycamore Community Schools started a pilot all-day, tuition-based program this school year and renewed it for next year.

This fall, Goshen is converting its entire kindergarten program to all day, while New Richmond parents can choose between all-day and half-day options. And the two Clermont County districts aren't charging parents tuition for the all-day program - even though the state funds only half-day kindergarten.

"We are most excited about this decision and move toward focusing on early literacy for children," said Charlene Thomas, superintendent of the 2,600-student Goshen district. "We believe this move will have a positive future impact on district test scores."

Goshen has tried a pilot all-day kindergarten class for two years, monitoring results from that experience to determine whether to convert all classes to all-day. Results have shown that students who participated in all-day kindergarten have better test scores.

The impetus: standards

Students coming into Goshen kindergarten are often behind other typical students throughout the state. Tests show they lag behind in reading and math. All-day kindergarten is seen as part of the solution.

"We're going to get the kids when they come in rather than always playing catch-up," Thomas said. "You'll see more and more districts doing this. The impetus is because of the standards. We simply have to get to the kids earlier. We have to move the curriculum and still make it fun, certainly, because that's what it should be."

It's a big commitment in this belt-tightening era. The district needed $150,000 to $200,000 for the program, which included hiring three more teachers. The superintendent and treasurer developed a plan to cut corners in areas that don't directly affect the Local Report Card.

New Richmond, a district of 2,700 students, is reviving the all-day program, which was offered for a couple of years in the late 1990s, Moore said. Since then, parents have continued to ask for all-day kindergarten, and teachers asked building principals to present the idea to the superintendent.

"People love the idea," he said. "Several years ago when we did this, so many people wanted the all day that we almost had to create a waiting list. Now, we feel we can accommodate all of the people who want it, because we have classroom space and will still have low pupil/teacher ratio."

No additional staff will be needed, Moore said, because some teachers are returning from a year's leave of absence and reassignments will be made.

Research shows that children in all-day kindergarten are well prepared for school physically, academically and emotionally, Moore said.

All-day students score better

On Feb. 24, the Educational Policy Analysis Archives released a study, "The Effects of Kindergarten Program Types and Class Size on Early Academic Performance." A survey of 22,000 children nationwide showed students who attended all-day kindergarten in 1998-99 outscored their peers in math, reading and general knowledge.

Barbara Holman, a kindergarten teacher at Monroe Elementary in New Richmond, is an all-day advocate. She taught kindergarten years ago in Kentucky and returned to a kindergarten classroom this year.

"With two hours and 45 minutes, we really don't get a chance to go out on the playground. Those kinds of things are important to learn, too - socialization and playing with your friends. We don't have time to play."

Years ago, kids learned to read in first grade. Now, they're reading before the end of kindergarten.

"After teaching in a kindergarten this year, I was amazed to see the kind of curriculum the children are needing to master these days," Holman said. "I thought I was being very advanced when I taught them the sounds of the letters. Now, my children would be reading you books and reading them quite well, as a matter of fact."

Kindergarten is more academically rigorous because of proficiency tests, she said. "We're trying to prepare them for it as best we can, and you can't wait until third grade to start that.

"If there's a child that needs intervention or they've come to school unprepared, none of us have the time we would like to go back and intervene as much as we would like to or help them catch up. ... I feel like I'm very rushed all the time."

Crissy Stiles of New Richmond has a 6-year-old daughter in the half-day program at Monroe Elementary and a 4-year-old daughter who will start kindergarten in the 2005-06 school year. She'll enroll her in the all-day program.

"I volunteer on Thursdays to help out the kindergarten teachers. ... Now, because it's half-day and how much they have to learn, they don't get show and tell, and they didn't get time to play. It's kind of like being in college. It's lecture, lecture, lecture. They don't get to be a regular kindergartner. With all-day kindergarten, they'll get extra time."

The tuition problem

Meanwhile, as these school districts are adding kindergarten, some Finneytown parents are upset because their district is eliminating its all-day program this fall.

For years, the Finneytown Local School District offered an all-day, tuition-based option. The cost this year is $165.

"A lot of kids who are really high-risk kids and are in need couldn't afford the money to do it," said Superintendent Sam Martin. "It just struck me as not being fair."

This fall, the district is contracting with Medallion School Partnerships for a kindergarten enrichment program. Parents of children attending the half-day program can sign up for the Medallion program to fill the other half of the day. The cost is $55 a week, and needy families can apply for financial assistance.

"They think a half-day program is adequate for children when everybody else seems to be going to a full-day program," said Chuck Pollington, a Finneytown parent whose son will start kindergarten this fall. "We're looking at other options, and so are a lot of other people."

Kindergarten facts

•  98 percent of American students attend at least a half-day of kindergarten before first grade.

•  The typical kindergartner in the United States is 5½ years old at the beginning of the school year.

•  60 percent of all U.S. kindergartners attend full-day programs.

•  In the 2003-04 school year, nine states have legislation requiring districts to offer full-day kindergarten: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. Maryland legislation specifies that districts must offer a full-day kindergarten program by the 2007-08 school year.

•  About 16 percent of all kindergartners are enrolled in private schools.

•  65 percent of children in private kindergartens are enrolled in full-day programs.

•  59 percent of children who attend public school kindergarten are enrolled in full-day programs.

•  Children from low-income families are more likely than those from middle- and high-income families to be enrolled in full-day programs.

•  Nearly half of all entering kindergartners come from families with one or more risk factors. Two-thirds of children in large cities are at risk.

Sources: Education Commission of the States;National Center for Education Statistics; U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement; Pianta and Cox, Transitions to Kindergarten; U. S. Census Bureau.

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E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com




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