Thursday, January 03, 2008

Full Day Kindergarten

The educational benefits of full day Kindergarten are generally recognized and seldom challenged.

A substantial body of research indicates that graduates of full day programs enter the crucial first and second grades with more advanced understanding in both language and mathematics and are prepared to capitalize on a rigorous and more fast-paced curriculum. These early gains have been shown to continue into the third grade in some of the most recent research.

For communities trying to address the achievement gap issue, FDK offers more benefits. The research also shows that at risk students enrolled in FDK programs substantially close the gap in educational achievement. This is true for all three segments of this group – language, socioeconomic and racial based.

A program that both raises the level of performance of all, while addressing the needs of those at risk is one we should pay attention to.

Thus, the actions by the Milton School Committee to introduce FDK in Milton is a very positive step. Paradoxically, it could have a negative impact if we’re not careful about its structure and implementation.

The current estimates of the cost of the program is around $400,000. I’m not sure whether that includes the savings to be enjoyed from a likely substantial reduction in the half-day program, which legally we would have to maintain. Funding this out of the current inadequate budget is simply not tenable. The likelihood of receiving additional money for it in this year’s budget, given the state of our finances, is nil. So the School Committee has decided to introduce the program on a fee basis.

Statewide fee-based programs run from $400 per child to over $4,000, with the average around $2600. The sad fact is that many people are not able to afford something like $2600, or possibly more. The Committee is looking at a sliding scale for fees in recognition of this. I hope they arrive at something considerably less than the average for those most in need. It is this very group from which a substantially large proportion of at risk students come. And so the paradox. A FDK program that financially excludes at risk students will turn an opportunity to close the achievement gap into an exercise that increases it, as those able to afford it make increased strides in educational preparation.

First and foremost this type of outcome would be a tragedy for the individual student. It would also create an educational problem down the road for the schools, as additional scarce resources would need to be pinpointed for remediation. This is not likely to be a one or two year proposition. Although we may not be hearing much about it yet, the near term budgetary news is not going to be good. We need to be thinking about how we can keep this from becoming a two-tiered educational system over an extended period of time.

This issue is on the School Committee’s agenda for next Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 7:00 pm.

For research on FDK:

http://cehd.umn.edu/CAREI/Reports/Kindergarten/

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KIVA-ORG

Can you remember the time, just over a decade ago, when critics were pooh-poohing the internet as a phenomenon that really had no practical purpose. Businesses didn’t think they should invest too much into it. Advertisers and agencies couldn’t imagine how they would make money with it. Retailers refused to believe that consumers would ever trust online payment systems enough to conduct commerce with it. The basic freedom of one to one contact seemed like some kind of futurist’s chicken dinner circuit subject matter.

Today, people in the developed world have seen their lives changed by the digital revolution. Corporate America has diverted billions of dollars of marketing expenditures to the world wide web. Information, of varying degrees of quality, are available at the click of a mouse. And commerce is flourishing. We buy books, prescription drugs, clothes, wine, jewelry, and just about anything else you can think of through our web browsers without leaving the house.

Now, thanks to two Stanford graduates, the same technologies are being put to use as a powerful tool for international social involvement.

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It works like this. Kiva.org has partners in developing countries to identify and vet individuals who have a business idea and need money to realize their dream. The loan requests are usually between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars. Information about the business and owner are displayed on Kiva.org’s website. Using the same kind of online payment systems designed for commerce, individuals from around the world invest in this much needed capital formation. They go to the site, select from number of investment opportunities, and participate by loaning as little as $25. When fully subscribed the loans are made. Periodic reports of the progress of the business are posted online, and the loans are repaid in 10 months to a year.

At that point you return your small amount to your bank account, or invest it in something else. This organization has really begun to take off. In the past week over 13,000 lenders joined Kiva. $800,000 was loaned to almost 1200 businesses. The organization is very upfront about risk, and you can read the extensive information on each loan and region. But for as little as $25 you can help entrepreneurs who have no other resource build their economies one small business at a time. It puts an entirely new, post digital world twist on Tip O’Neill’s aphorism: “All politics is local.”

Check out http://www.kiva.org/

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The 1909 Wing

Check out this YouTube video on the demolition of the old wing of the former High School- to Steely Dan’s _My Old School_. Turn up your speakers!

http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=FMmFc46Dkf4

11 Comments:

Anonymous Ada Rosmarin said...

Phil,
Thanks for writing about full-day kindergarten! You are right that the research clearly demonstrates the positive benefits that FDK has for all children.

You’ve cited compelling research. There are other factors that should also be considered in moving toward FDK. We have more than just the very compelling research you cited to motivate this move. The Department of Education should soon announce a state grant for Milton that would bring nearly a quarter million dollars to our town for FDK each year. Our four open brand-new schools have ample classrooms that were specifically designed for FDK. The Governor has made early education and FDK a top priority. We have three highly successful pilot FDK classrooms at Tucker School that already demonstrate the power of a full-day developmentally appropriate kindergarten that meets the individual needs of all five year olds.

The state grant that will support this initiative comes with beneficial requirements. Class size must not exceed 20, and each class must have a teacher and an aide. All classrooms must achieve accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children - a gold standard for high quality early education programs. As you see, the grants are as much about quality as they are about lengthening the kindergarten day.

Because the grants are not sufficient to cover the entire cost of the second half of the kindergarten day, the state does allow districts to charge fees. While this option is not optimal, it does make it possible for communities, like ours, that are struggling with town finances to move ahead with FDK. The state does have requirements for communities that opt to charge fees for FDK. They require that a sliding fee scale be used, to ensure that children from families most in need have access to the program. Under consideration by the Milton School Committee at this time is a sliding fee scale that would enable children from families most in need to attend FDK for free. From there, a sliding fee scale will slowly build, based on family income, to the point at which families would be required to pay a full fee.

You are absolutely right. We want to make this program accessible to all of Milton’s children. Our challenge is to work together to reach out to all families to inform them about the benefits of this opportunity. We should make it possible for all Milton’s children to have the FDK advantage that children in over 70% of the communities in the Commonwealth have had for years.

Finally, please check out the website of the Massachusetts-based campaign, Early Education for All, of whose Board I am proud to be a member. Their website, www.earlyeducationforall.org has the latest information on full-day kindergarten in Massachusetts and the research that documents its benefits.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Ada,

Thanks for the additional information and for the great news on the State Grant.

Also thank you for all you've done to make this program a reality in Milton.

Phil

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should be noted that a large number of families already pay $2,800 per year for a full day type program for Kindergarteners’ through the Milton Community Schools KEDS program. In many years the KEDS program is oversubscribed. While a fee based program is not ideal there is a proven demand for such a program in Milton with a $2,800 cost.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

There absolutely is.

However, on a sliding scale, some may have to pay more than the average unless we have other means of financing the program, otherwise we will not be providing access to those who cannot afford it.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in a different Massachusetts town which has had an FDK program in place for several years. My wife happens to be a Kindergarten teacher as well. While the cited studies may be able to discern some differentiation in the 1st and 2nd grade academic performance of full- and half-day Kindergarten students, the prevailing view of most teachers in my town is that the differences attributable to the individual teacher a student had in Kindergarten is far more significant than any difference attributable to the hours per day the student spent in Kindergarten. I would be interested in finding research that attempts to compare the relative benefits (per taxpayer dollar) of increasing teacher quality versus increasing contact hours.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I find this very difficult to believe.

In the first place communities who go from half day to full day programs do not replace all their kindergarten teachers. The key variable in the extensive research is time on task.

When you double the amount of time children are spending on acquiring basic skills, combined with a broadened curriculum aligned with educational standards you get children who make significant progress.

Not "discernible" differences, but statistically significant differences.

Everyone wishes that the simple identification of a cadre of "super" teachers could reduce learning time by half without sacrificing achievement. But I'm afraid there is no substitute for work.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am worried about the cost of this program. Even with the sliding scale in place, a moderate-income household would have to come up with between 2 and 3,000 out of their household budget. I don't know about others, but that would be budget buster for my family. I recognize the advantage of FDK, but it seems another situation where the wealthy can easily absorb the cost, the lower-income earners will get this for free, and middle class folks are stuck with another public school fee. To add insult to injury, if I can't afford this (even with help), my child might not be able to attend kindergarten in our local elementary school. That being said, I think the program should be implemented, I just don't think we should assume everyone will be happy about it.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Dear Anonymous,

I live in Beverly. Beverly charges $4000 for full day kindergarten. The free kindergarten is 2 hrs 45 min. - less than most preschool days. I have two children one year apart. We are a working family that is unable to come up with that kind of money and the competition for aid leaves our chances at slim to none. Anonymous, you are correct. It all boils down to class. If you are upper class, your kids have what they need. If you are lower class your kids will likely qualify for free and reduced lunch and tution waivers, if you are lower middle class and do all you can to keep your kids above the poverty line...your kids get the shaft. In a time when school budgets are being crushed by outrageous sped mandates, you can expect your school department to raise FDK fees to the state maximum of $4000 within a few years. Why? Becasue the money has to come from somewhere and the law says they can charge you.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Hi Kim,

Unlike the Beverly plan, the cost of FDK in Milton is computed on a sliding scale based on gross income.

Only those families who make more than the state median income pay $3000. Anyone making half or less than the state median pays nothing.

You can see the complete breakdown here:

https://www.edline.net/files/b10a78dfc05d5f763745a49013852ec4/FDK_Fee_Schedule.pdf

Yes, fees may very well go up in the future. That really shouldn't surprise anyone. If you can figure a way to stop costs from rising please let us know.

Perhaps you can suggest to the Beverly school committee that they look at the Milton sliding fee scale?

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beverly uses a sliding scale as well. Any community that gets state grants from FDK used the same scale. It is on the DOE website. Look at your sped budget, then compare it to what your city brings in for FDK tution. Just making the point that the balance has shifted in SPED's favor, with no sliding scale for parents to contribute. Why is there no sliding scale for parents whose children require a one on one nurse to accompany them all day at school? That one nurses salary could send 25 kids to FDK for a year.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Beverly,

Actually that's not the case. The Milton sliding scale is not the same as the state minimum for grant receiving communities.

Since our tuition does not exceed $3000, we are only required to provide free FDK to families with income less than 25% of SMI. We extend free tuition all the way up to 50% of SMI.

Furthermore, our desire to adopt a sliding scale had nothing to do with a state mandate. We would have done it anyway.

I don't understand your point about SPED. If you disagree with SPED laws, find. But that's an entirely different subject.

9:53 AM  

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