Monday, December 18, 2006

Full Day Kindergarten

Just over 2 years ago, in the Fall of 2004, the Superintendent presented to the School Committee an administration analysis of student achievement in Milton. Using data from MCAS and other tests, the Superintendent notified the committee than an achievement gap existed among Milton schoolchildren. Milton’s African American students were enjoying rates of academic achievement at statistically significant levels below those of white students.

A few months later in January of 2005 Tucker parents came before the School Committee during a number of meetings to voice concerns about a perceived lack of urgency in developing and communicating an action plan to address this issue. The Superintendent emphasized the importance of the time consuming task of analyzing data to identify problem areas. Member Beirne Lovely suggested the committee had not done a good job of informing the community of efforts being undertaken.

Here we are two years later. Do we have a comprehensive plan for closing the gap? What are its elements? What is the projected cost of individual initiatives? What is the planned schedule for introducing them and how will they be financed? Do we have benchmarks for measuring success?

Full-day kindergarten benefits children academically.
• Children who attend full-day kindergarten learn more in reading and math over the kindergarten year than those in half-day programs.
• Full-day kindergarteners exhibit more independent learning, classroom involvement, productivity in work with peers and reflectiveness than half-day kindergarteners.
• Children in full-day kindergarten classrooms spend more time in self-initiated activities and teacher directed individual work and less time in large group instruction.

Strategies for Children, Boston Massachusetts


As someone who follows these issues fairly closely, the fact that I don’t know the answer to these questions suggests that no systematic effort to inform residents of any plan has occurred.

This isn’t to suggest that nothing has been done in two years. Far from it.

---------------The Committee adopted as one of its “Strategic Planning Goals” the narrowing of achievement gaps and raising all student expectations by 2007
---------------Data analysis is ongoing to understand the educational issues at the school, grade, classroom and individual student levels
---------------Class size, especially at the K-2 level, has been reduced
---------------Math coaches have been introduced for targeted help
---------------The SPED program is undergoing an ongoing overhaul

These are important efforts that will produce results. However, the importance of a comprehensive plan with some of the elements I suggested can be seen with the recent discussion about Full Day Kindergarten. The Administration's modest request for funding a pilot program at Tucker to pave the way for full scale introduction in 2008 was cut from the FY 2008 budget request because the total budget increase was judged to be too high. The request was treated as almost a surprise. It was described as an important thing to have at some indeterminate point in the future when the money for it might appear.

This is no way to plan. The Full Day Kindergarten program should have been a key component all along of any strategy for closing the achievement gap. We built our new schools with the space for the program. We should have had in place a strategy for implementing it.


Full-day kindergarten helps close the achievement gap.
• At-risk students who received full-day kindergarten through Montgomery County, Maryland’s Kindergarten Initiative made significantly greater progress in language proficiency than comparable children in half-day kindergarten.
• A study of 17,600 Philadelphia children found that full-day kindergarten helps children from low income families perform better and saves the school district millions of dollars through significantly reduced grade retention in first, second and third grade.
• Research from Lowell Elementary School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the average entering kindergartener was already 22 months below grade level, showed that children in the school’s half-day kindergarten made an average gain of 5.4 months during a 9 month period, while children in the fullday classes made a 16 month gain on average.
• Research from the Minneapolis Public Schools showed that minority children in full-day kindergarten gained literacy skills faster than peers in half-day classes. School officials credit full-day kindergarten with helping to close the achievement gap between poorer and more affluent children.


We can’t simply sit back and hope that some future override will provide funding for it.. We just had the largest override in our history in nominal terms, but Full Day Kindergarten wasn’t even discussed. And this, some 18 months after the achievement gap issue surfaced and received so much publicity.

We have no idea when the next override vote will occur, let alone the next successful override. As we just recently had confirmed, our overrides almost always are struggles to maintain level service and are fraught with the political problems caused by the legislatures mistake in placing the authority to call overrides in the hands of as few as two elected officials.

It is simply not acceptable to be passive on this program’s introduction. The research clearly indicates that Full Day Kindergarten is highly successful at significantly reducing disparities in academic readiness as children enter the crucial two years of Grades 1 and 2. It is not a panacea. Long term maintenance of gains are still being studied. But there is no simple fix to the achievement gap. Like most difficult challenges it requires multiple initiatives-- by the schools, by students and by parents—each of them necessary to achieving success.

The School Committee needs to take the lead on this issue, in keeping with one of its Strategic Planning Goals. Planning for it should be formalized with a school sub-committee and perhaps a parent group. Ways of phasing in the program and consideration of re-prioritizing the budget need to be considered. We can’t wait what might be years before additional money is available. The full cost of this program represents just over 1% of the school’s budget. Creative effort commensurate with its importance to closing the achievement gap needs to happen.


Summary: The Needham Public School system conducted an evaluation from October 2004 to May 2005 comparing children in half-day kindergarten programs to children in full-day kindergarten programs. The sample included ten Needham students and ten METCO students. The METCO program supports children from Boston to attend suburban public schools. This evaluation compares the social, emotional, and cognitive gains made in half-day and full-day kindergarten using teacher observations, parent ques tionnaires, and mathematics and literacy tests.
· Full-day kindergarten students showed an increased engagement in activities and a greater sense of stability and community.
· Children attending full-day kindergarten improved more than the half-day kindergarteners in literacy skills – such as sound and fluency.
· Full-day kindergarten children demonstrated greater improvement in math skills than the children in half-day kindergarten.
· Full-day METCO children showed the greatest growth in both literacy and math assessments.
· Teachers of children in full-day kindergarten programs gained a greater familiarity with their students and had better collaboration with families compared to teachers of half-day programs.