Kindergarten for all comes of ageBills would make kindergarten compulsory
For being so young, kindergarteners have incited more than their share of quarrels in California. State lawmakers and governors argued for a decade about how old kindergarten students should be, before voting in 2010 to raise the age to five. At the same time, they created Transitional Kindergarten (TK) for those who miss the new cutoff. Gov. Brown is currently trying to repeal the TK component.
Then there’s been the ongoing debate among experts over full-day versus part-day kindergarten, and how much play time in either the short or long day ought to be given over to real academics. The 3 R’s are winning.
Now, flying in a bit under the radar are two bills that would make kindergarten attendance mandatory in California. That kindergarten isn’t already required might surprise some people, but only 16 states and Washington, D.C. require kindergarten. Like California, New York is considering a change in its law. What is required in California is that school districts offer kindergarten; it’s up to parents whether to send their children or wait until first grade to start them in school. Not surprisingly, the bills are causing people to take sides in the schoolyard.
Last week, in a party line vote, the Assembly Education Committee approved AB 2203, by Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella), which would lower the age that California kids must start school from 6 to 5. Tomorrow, the same committee is scheduled to vote on AB 1772, introduced by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo). Her bill has a slightly different take on the idea. Rather than changing the compulsory education age, AB 1772 makes kindergarten a mandatory prerequisite for enrolling in first grade.
“Ultimately, there is overwhelming evidence that indicates the earlier we start to educate our children, they’re going to be better off, they’re going to be more successful,” Assemblymember Pérez told the committee last week. “The focus of kindergarten, what students are expected to learn, has changed significantly in the last fifteen years.”
Today’s youngest students are learning to read, do simple math and even understand scientific concepts, like knowing that water can change back and forth from a liquid to a solid state. “In essence, it’s the new first grade,” San Francisco kindergarten teacher Catherine Sullivan testified at last week’s committee hearing.
Although it’s voluntary, kindergarten is very popular in California. According to the state department of education, nearly 472,000 of eligible children attended public or private kindergarten last year – somewhere between 90 to 95 percent. But elementary school teachers say those 25,000 to 50,000 children who don’t attend are at a serious disadvantage.
There’s still an emphasis in kindergarten on developing children’s socialization and behavior, and that’s especially important for Pam Makovkin’s students. She teaches first and second grade special education students at Anderson Elementary in San Jose’s Oak Grove School District. “These kids need to be taught regular school relationships, social relationships, what the expectations are at school; you have to sit, you have to listen,” said Makovkin. “If they don’t know that when they get to me they have a really difficult time.”
It’s nearly as difficult for students in regular education classes. Luke Allen has two to three students a year in his first grade class at Anderson Elementary who didn’t attend kindergarten. They’re still learning the alphabet while the rest of the class is learning to read. It’s a common topic of discussion among first grade teachers, said Allen. “Teachers are frustrated by how that leaves the students disadvantaged.”
The bills seem to have caught some education advocates off guard. The California School Boards Association just started querying its members last week. As of yesterday, the California Kindergarten Association hadn’t seen the bills. And the Association of California School Administrators will be discussing it at next week’s board meeting.
But it’s not an entirely new issue in California. As far back as 1997, a similar measure failed in the Senate Education Committee. Another bill never made it out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee in 2008. In between, former Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a bill and, in his veto message, gave opponents of AB 2203 and AB 1772 some key talking points.
“I believe parents should retain the right to choose an education program for their 5-year old children,” wrote Davis. Assemblymember Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), a member of the Education Committee, read that sentence aloud at the hearing. Those are the words of Gray Davis when he vetoed an identical bill, said Norby, “and I think they’re words that we should heed today.”
“Democrats take away parental freedom: mandatory kindergarten bill passes Democrat-controlled committee in California,” warned a headline in last Friday’s issue of the online publication, All Right Magazine (subtitled all right, all the time).
“Our parental rights and home school freedoms in California are under attack in an unprecedented way this year,” wrote the Home School Legal Defense Association in an E-lert on its website.
Assemblymember Buchanan’s bill attempts to address this concern by requiring kindergarten but leaving it up to parents to decide if they should enroll their child at age five or six. “This is because there are situations in which a child may benefit by delaying enrollment until the next school year when that child is better prepared (developmentally, socially or in other ways) for Kindergarten,” Buchanan wrote in an email. “We believe parents, often with input from teachers and other professionals, should have the ability to make that decision.”
- The Educated Guess: Kindergarten for all comes of age in CA : SCOE News Reader
- Mandatory kindergarten on the way? - City-Data Forum