Kindergarten options put parents in a tough spot

By the time this column is printed, my husband and I will have made a big decision.

Should we choose half-day or full-day kindergarten for our daughter next year? The kindergarten roundup has begun, and I’m still deliberating.

I used to teach kindergarten, so you’d think this decision would be easy for me. I should have some special insight that allows me to see the ideal answer. But I don’t.

I taught kindergarten in California, which is (not surprisingly) really different. Half-day kindergarten was considered a full-time job. It meant four hours a day of teaching and a lot more.

In the afternoon I ran committees, assessed English Language Learners and sat in on special education meetings called IEPs.

When I was a third- and fourth-grade educator, I benefited from all of the extra support kindergarten teachers provided.

Here in Edmonds, half-day kindergarten is just two hours and 40 minutes long. Half-day kindergarten educators teach two classes to receive full pay.

At our neighborhood school in Edmonds, we have the choice between sending my daughter to half-day kindergarten for free or paying $3,600 for full-day kindergarten.

In Everett that cost is $3,186. In Marysville, it’s $2,600. In the Sultan School District, full-day kindergarten is free.

Normally I’m a solid voice for more choice in public schools, but right now I’m just confused.

So I decided to study the research. What do the hundreds of studies out there say about the potential benefits of full-day versus half-day kindergarten? Is it worth the money?

The conclusions I found were quite sobering. Yes, full-day kindergarten does make a measurable difference. Full-day kindergarten has been proven to help children from a multitude of backgrounds, including academically advantaged and disadvantaged homes.

The Children’s Defense Fund says: “Full-day kindergarten boosts children’s cognitive learning, creative problem-solving and social competence.” They’ve got the data to back up that declaration.

These next observations are my own thoughts and not based on Ph.D.-level research at all. But what I’ve found here in Washington is that the full-day versus half-day choice can cause divisions in school communities.

The two kindergarten classes become groups of haves and have-nots. Some people can afford the hefty tuition and some people can’t. Other people are left wondering whether paying for extra kindergarten is really the best use of their money.

I’m left wondering, too. I really believe in half-day kindergarten when it’s four hours a day. But less than three hours seems way too short. It takes 10 minutes just to escort 5-year-olds to the restroom. Add recess into the equation, and you’re left with very little instructional time.

Thankfully, by 2017-2018, state-funded full-day kindergarten will be a voluntary option across all of Washington state.

But for those of us with 4- and 5-year-olds right now, that really doesn’t help much.

Jennifer Bardsley blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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