WASHINGTON – “All I really need to know,I learned in kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum’s aphorism,means a full day of class for an increasing number of 5 year olds.
More school districts have expanded funding or requirements for full-day kindergarten over the traditional half-day alternative,said Jessica McMaken,a researcher on early learning for the Education Commission of the States.
“The research shows that full-day kindergarten has good outcomes,” McMaken said.
ECS,a non-partisan education research organization,said 20 states in the past three years have introduced legislation to increase access and funding for full-day kindergarten.
U.S. Census figures show that 60 percent of kindergartners in 2000 were in full-day programs,more than triple the percentage in 1974.
“We just can't cover everything that's expected now,” said Kathy Naffah,a teacher for the Cherry Creek School District in suburban Denver.
Naffah,who has taught kindergarten for 20 of her 25 years in teaching,would like to see mandatory full-day kindergarten to meet increased testing standards while still giving children time to develop socially.
States must now comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act,which requires school accountability in math and reading and more parental choice if the school is not performing well.
Many of the new full-day kindergartens spend more time developing math and reading skills.
The U.S. Department of Education does not have an official stance on full- versus half-day kindergarten,said Jo Ann Webb,a department spokeswoman.
“We would look more at the quality of the program versus the amount of time that a kid spends in that classroom,” Webb said.
A 2002 study of 22,000 kindergartners by the National Center for Education Statistics confirmed that children who are given greater educational resources before entering kindergarten have significantly more success in kindergarten and first grade.
“Kids come in at different levels,” Naffah said. “It's so hard to get them ready.”
However,state budget problems have hurt full-day kindergartens in many places,said Tony Salazar,a lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association,a teacher's union.
Colorado does not require full-day kindergarten but gives grants to schools with the most at-risk children for full-day programs. However,Salazar said the number of schools receiving the grants dropped by 1,000 to 1,500 this year,and a bill that would have required full-day kindergarten was killed because of its $22.5 million cost.
Brian J. Porter,spokesman for Maryland's Montgomery County schools,said it costs $500 more per student annually to fund full-day kindergarten.
Maryland recently adopted a requirement for all schools to have full-day kindergarten by 2007,but state funding for kindergarten remains at half the level of first grade,according to the ECS.
Porter said Montgomery County has full-day programs in the 56 of 123 elementary schools with the most at-risk students.
The county is tracking the progress of 16,000 kindergartners to study the difference between the full- and half-day programs.
“The results show that our most at-risk students benefit the greatest from full-day kindergarten and that the benefit is sustained through the most recent test results through grade two,” Porter said.
New Jersey also funds kindergarten at half the level of first grade and is one of 10 states that do not require kindergarten,according to the ECS. But Richard Vespucci,spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education,said he did not know of any elementary school in the state that doesn't have kindergarten.
Vespucci said the New Jersey Supreme Court required the state to give more money to the poorer districts. He said many districts are using the money for full-day kindergarten. About 60 percent of New Jersey kindergartners are in full-day programs.
Peggy Bernardis,a 40-year-old tennis teacher and mother of four from Centennial,Colo.,said not all districts need all-day kindergarten.
“A lot depends on geographic areas,” Bernardis said. “I'm happy with how it is.”
Three of her children went to half-day kindergarten then went to afternoon day care part of the week. Bernardis,who also has a 3 year old,said she will take advantage of a full-day program if it becomes available.
Sharon Bergen,vice president of education and training for Knowledge Learning Corp.,said the company’s day care programs in 900 schools nationwide provide enough education so the half-day kindergarten students stay even with those who attend for a full day.
However,she said full-day kindergartens can lead to more day care business.
“A full working school day is not a working parent's full day,” Bergen said.
While McMaken,Salazar and Porter said they have not seen much opposition to full-day kindergarten,some parents and others say that 5 year olds are too young for such a long day.
“Everywhere they try to do this,there is some opposition,” McMaken said.
While many studies confirm students in full-day kindergarten perform better in the early grades,Salazar said,as yet there is no proof that it produces higher test scores over the long term.
The National Center for Education Statistics is tracking 22,000 students who attended kindergarten during the 1998-1999 school year in an attempt to measure long-term implications of full-day programs and other factors. Results will be released after the children finish fifth grade in 2004.