Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Funny. Our little Maddy, age 5, read aloud the word “construction” on a sign last August, a few days before she started kindergarten. We didn’t prompt her or anything; she just blurted it out. The other day, she asked me how to spell “stethoscope.” She is a happy, singing, joking, well-adjusted kindergartner who reads on about the second-grade level.

And imagine this: she “only” goes to kindergarten in the afternoons.

Now, it’s true that she’s growing up in a college-educated, highly literate home, with a mom for whom language education is a passion and a calling. But get this: I don’t spend any extra time with her in particular, drill her on the phonograms or anything like that.

I’m just being a mom – spending time with her, interacting with her, talking with her, asking her questions, and yes, every night at bedtime we read a book – but that’s all it took to bring her to a high level of literacy at such a young age.

Having talked to hundreds of parents and educators about what’s best for kindergarten, half-day or full-day, I can say without equivocation that the No. 1 thing that’s “best” about all-day k in their minds has nothing to do with building children’s literacy and numeracy. The No. 1 “draw” is that it saves parents money on child care.

And the main reason schools are falling all over themselves to add it to their offerings is out of peer pressure. It’s an expensive “loss leader” to bring in more market share and capture more enrollment, even though it’s clear that kids who have been in structured, out-of-home care since they were itty bitty do worse in school than their home-reared peers. Not only that, but they have significantly more anger and behavior issues than those whose parents resisted the temptation to neglect their proper development by putting them in so many hours a week of out-of-home care.

A public school that offers all-day kindergarten is enabling parental neglect the same way a spouse who keeps buying alcohol is enabling an alcoholic.

Doesn’t that make you mad, having your tax dollars used that way?

Since she’s our fourth child, and we’ve now had two who went to all-day kindergarten, and two who went half-days, I can say without hesitation: half-day is much better.

Why? Mainly because the child has more time for imagination, creative play, and pressure-free learning. And significantly, the child’s language model for most of the day is an adult – an adult who loves him or her. Once you get to organized preschool or kindergarten, your language models are mostly your classmates. Because of the wave of “child-centered education” in preschools and primary schools today, interaction with the teacher is minimized, and interaction with one’s age peers in maximized.

That’s why kids today can’t read, write or think as well today, even if they’ve been in full-time preschool and full-day kindergarten. They’re not hearing adult vocabulary words or sentence structure. They’re hearing baby talk and babble, for the most part. Monkey see, monkey do. Duhhhhh.

That’s why it’s so sad that public policymakers who should know better, such as State Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, are all for doubling the amount of time kids spend in kindergarten, even though readily-available evidence shows that it’s bad for them, both academically and attitude-wise.

Raikes gushed recently in the Lincoln Journal that “nobody” was opposing all-day kindergarten for Nebraska’s public schools any more, so that must make it a great idea whose time has come.

Omaha State Sen. Gwen Howard has made LB 228 her priority bill, saying, “I think this is something that everyone is excited about.” Yeah, well, reword that as “everyone who doesn’t know the facts.” The bill would allow districts to ignore the lid that’s supposed to be on operational spending to make arrangements to double the amount of time kids spend in kindergarten each day, at an estimated start-up cost of $28.7 million statewide.

Sigh. Every year that all-day k has come up for the last 10 years, activists – I guess that makes us the “nobodies” that Raikes mentioned -- have brought up those inconvenient little things called “facts” to show what a bad public policy move all-day kindergarten really is.

Like so many other costly changes being made in K-12 education, proponents of all-day kindergarten proclaim that “research” shows that it makes kids smarter. But they never quote studies, since those studies don’t exist. They just quote people’s opinions – the kind of people who think all-day k is “exciting” -- and that’s not what the “research” really says.

Consider this excerpt from Monday’s story on all-day k from the Arizona-based think tank,

“By far the most comprehensive study of children’s educational growth is the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. This study tracks 22,782 students in 1,277 schools who entered kindergarten in 1998. The 2004 report found an effect from all-day K, but not the one advocates were expecting. Students who had attended full-day kindergarten actually scored slightly worse in reading, writing and science.”

The article links to that big, federally-funded study as well as other bona fide evidence that all-day kindergarten is a dumb, expensive, counter-productive idea.

Once again, the question comes up: if “nobody” activists like me can find the contradictory evidence so easily, how come the public-policy big shots can’t? Dumb question: they don’t want to find it out.

Is the push for what they now call “full” day kindergarten just one more example of how our state legislature, State Board of Education, State Education Department, and school district employees have just become Howdy Doody’s for the unions and educrats, their puppets and mouthpieces to get more money, power and jobs into the public schools, no matter what the impact is on kids?

Is that why they’ve suddenly changed the term “all-day kindergarten” to “full-day kindergarten”? So the public will think that anything LESS than “full-day” is closer to EMPTY?

Or is it because “full-day kindergarten” is actually “full-EMPLOYMENT kindergarten”?

I really wish our lawmakers would have some milk and graham crackers, get out their mats, and lay down quietly and think this one through. And they can take a FULL DAY OF THINKING . . . if that’ll help them get it right.

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