Kindergarten could change in California if two new bills pass

Photo: Andrew Reed/EdSource

Kindergarten students in Robin Bryant’s class learn to add and subtract.

Two newly introduced bills could have a significant impact on California’s early childhood education landscape if they eventually become law.

State Senator Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, defends a bill to make kindergarten compulsory while Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced legislation that would require school districts to provide full-time kindergarten. Although both proposals have already been advanced, if these two laws are passed, they would fundamentally redefine and expand key aspects of the kindergarten experience.

These proposals could be a sign of the times, some say, reflecting increased attention to the importance of early childhood education. After being overshadowed for years by other concerns, early childhood issues may finally be getting the attention they deserve.

From President Joe Biden’s vision of universal early childhood education to California’s pending expansion of transitional kindergartensay the experts, there is an emerging consensus, backed by extensive researchthat quality early education can help develop the skills children need become lifelong learners.

I am optimistic that our society as a whole is beginning to see the importance of early childhood education,” said Gennie Gorback, president of the California Kindergarten Associationnm “We know that early childhood education increases positive outcomes for children later in life.”

Making kindergarten mandatory will help close the state’s achievement gap, advocates say, because some children who skip kindergarten struggle to catch up to their peers. Children from low-income families are entering school with fewer academic skills than their more advantaged classmates, a problem accentuated by the pandemic.

Mandating kindergarten benefits the children of our state,” said Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge, an early childhood education advocacy organization. “Through this mandate, California affirms that kindergarten matters. It sets an expectation for parents and students and prepares students for academic success. »

The vast skills gap that students bring with them when they enter school is one of the key factors that struck Rubio during her 17 years as a public school teacher and principal. Some children come to school already knowing how to read, while others have hardly read at all. This gap widens over time, Rubio realized.

“I’ve witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who don’t get an early fundamental education,” said Rubio, who introduced the bill. “Voluntary participation in kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school. The pandemic has exacerbated this reality.

Kindergarten is not compulsory in California and most other states, according to the States Education Commission, a research group that follows education policy. Children must be enrolled in school by age 6, but it’s estimated that only 5-7% of students don’t enroll in kindergarten, according to the California Kindergarten Association, in an average year .

The pandemic, of course, is an entirely different matter, and many parents have kept children of all ages out of school for fear of Covid transmission. Even now, outbreaks of the virus sometimes lead parents to choose safety over schooling.

Senate Bill 70which would require all students to complete a year of kindergarten before entering first grade to ensure children are prepared for elementary school, is now heading to the State Assembly after being passed in the Senate in a bipartisan vote.

It should be noted that a similar mandatory kindergarten bill passed the Legislature in 2014, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it, citing the importance of parental choice.

“I would prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children,” he said.

However, making kindergarten compulsory may be a way of signaling its importance, some say.

“If a grade isn’t required, it’s considered discretionary and attendance is higher,” said Beth Graue, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s difficult to build a cohesive program if the experiences include children missing a grade level.”

A central problem may be that kindergarten itself has changed over the years. Although many parents fondly remember the playful days of finger painting and napping, research suggests children now devote a smaller percentage of their day to activities such as art, music and drama than before. Kindergarten is now essential to prepare children for the first grade, teachers say, which is more academically rigorous than it once was.

Another potential change in state kindergarten policy would be to require districts to offer a full-day program. Proponents of the bill say more instruction time helps prepare students for first grade. Currently, some districts only offer part-time kindergarten.

“Full-day kindergarten gives students the time they need to engage in meaningful learning and play,” McCarty said. “This can lead to better school readiness, higher self-confidence, and higher student achievement compared to part-time programs.”

Under Assembly Bill 1973, school districts would be required to offer full-day kindergarten programs to all students, beginning in the 2025-2026 school year. Schools could offer part-time kindergarten in addition to the full-day program.

“We see study after study reporting better outcomes for children who participate in a full-day program compared to their peers who participate in part-day,” said Gorback. “We know that full-day programs are beneficial for our English learners and our children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We also know that full-day programs have more time to fit the game into their schedule, which we consider extremely important.

The concept of full-day kindergarten has also been discussed before, notably in 2019 when Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 197.

However, part-time kindergarten is preferred by some families, especially those who believe that a shorter school day is more appropriate for the development of young children. This is one reason why districts serving middle-class and affluent communities tend to offer part-time kindergartens, Studies show, while poorer districts often offer full-day programs.

Nearly three-quarters of elementary schools in the state already offer full-day kindergarten, according to the Berkeley Early Childhood Think Tank. Since childcare costs are often prohibitive, only wealthy families can afford to hire nannies, for example, or arrange for a parent to stay at home. That’s why some experts say the expansion of full-day kindergarten programs is unlikely to have a big impact on low-income families.

“The Governor and state legislators continue to trumpet the vital importance of closing disparities in early learning. But expanding K’s full day would likely defeat that virtuous goal,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley. “Extending the full K day would have regressive effects, primarily benefiting economically more affluent communities.”

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