Commentary: You think more kindergarten is better? Think again

By Tad Segal

AT&T is currently running a cute television ad campaign featuring the slogan “More Is Better”.  You’ve probably seen the spots:  A deadpan actor in a suit crouches next to a group of what looks to be kindergarteners and asks them “Who thinks more is better than less?”  Hands go up.  Hilarity ensues.

The ads work for AT&T for two reasons:  The kids are genuinely funny and hey, everyone knows that more is better than less, right?   Well kids, when it comes to the very serious question about whether to adopt all-day kindergarten in Barrington, more is definitely not better than less.

Of course this isn’t a TV commercial and it’s not frivolous or funny.  Parents with the best of intentions have launched a successful petition and have been vocal in calling on elected leaders to move Barrington to mandatory full-day kindergarten (FDK).  They cite impressive sounding statistics from academic studies that they say prove the significant educational and social benefits from FDK that will prepare our kids for future academic success.

And they argue that we need to have FDK in order to handle the intense rigors that are soon to be imposed on our kindergarten students from the Common Core curriculum being adopted by Rhode Island (more on that below).

Let’s take the success argument first.  It turns out that a remarkable number of studies looking at this issue show that academic performance of those students who attended FDK versus HDK are only significant at the end of that year of Kindergarten.  The differences between full and half-day achievements start to erode immediately in first grade and are gone completely by third grade.

A carefully worded petition currently being circulated online, urges Barrington parents to support FDK, because if we do, our kids will “…have higher academic achievement in later grades” and “Longitudinal data also demonstrates [sic] that children in full-day classes show greater reading and mathematics achievement gains than those in half-day classes.”  It cites the Children’s Defense Fund as its source, but not a specific study. (You can get the full petition here:http://www.change.org/petitions/support-full-day-kindergarten-in-barrington-ri).

What the petition does cite is the “longitudinal data” (a fancy pants term for studying something over a period of time) sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a research body within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.  In the case of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS-K), the study follows a group of 22,782 children who attended some 1,277 schools with kindergarten programs across the U.S. during the 1998-1999 school year.  This sample is the largest and most comprehensive data set available to researchers.  It is both nationally representative and can be parsed by a variety of data points, such as various risk factors.  It’s also the basis for a large variety of academic scholarship, studies and analyses.

One of those studies (often cited by other scholars in related academic research) analyzed the ECLS-K data extensively and found that by third grade, academic performance in reading by kids who attended FDK is actually worse than that of their half-day counterparts and math scores showed no differences between the two groups.

“The reading score growth per month is .04 points lower (effect size =.10) for children who attended full-day kindergarten compared to those who attended half-day kindergarten after taking into account the other factors in the model. No difference was detected for the growth of mathematics scores. These findings suggest that children who attended public school full-day kindergarten classes did not maintain their advantage over the three years after kindergarten.”

“Do The Greater Academic Gains Made by Full-Day Kindergarten Children Persist Through Third Grade?” Walston, West, Rathbun (2005).http://hopkintonschools.org/hms/principal/attachments/Academic_Gains_FDK.pdf

Similarly, an earlier report from NCES in August 2004 said this:  “In earlier ECLS-K reports, findings also indicated that public school children who attended fullday (vs. half-day) kindergarten programs had higher overall achievement at the end of kindergarten in reading and mathematics, after controlling for other characteristics, and were more likely to demonstrate advanced reading skills at the end of the kindergarten year (Walston and West 2004; Denton, West, and Walston 2003). When overall kindergarten achievement was compared for full-day and halfday children from both public and private schools, however, differences in reading and mathematics achievement were not detected (West, Denton, and Reaney 2001). Findings from this report also indicate no substantive differences in reading, science, and mathematics achievement at the end of third grade related to the type of kindergarten program children had attended.”

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/2004007.pdf

A literature review contained in a study by Danielle C. Kreassig titled “The Better Half? An Analysis of Full-day and Half-day Kindergarten” says:  “Recent trends have targeted achievement performance over a period of time longer than the kindergarten year.  The positive results for full-day kindergarten, however, have not indicated long-term academic difference (Cannon et al., 2005; DeCicca, 2005; Martinez & Snider, 2001; Plucker & Zapf, 2005; Wolgemuth, Cobb, Winokur, Leech, & Ellerby 2006).

Kreassig goes on to discuss the ECLS-K longitudinal data and says this:  “Using the rich ECLS-K longitudinal data set collected by the NCES, Cannon et al. (2005) analyzed the data for approximately 22,000 children…” and found that all-day K students had “…significantly greater test scores in both math and reading at the end of kindergarten.”… “By the end of first grade, however, math scores for full-day students were significant only at the 10% level whereas reading scores no longer generated a significant difference.  By the end of the third grade, there was no significant difference in either reading or math for full-day kindergarteners.”

http://bit.ly/10bS8wH (*shortened link used due to extreme length of URL)

One alarming finding also from Kreassig’s literature review came from a small, but important study of kindergarteners in a southeastern Pennsylvania rural school district, Stubits (2005), which showed no significant difference in absenteeism between FDK and HDK students.  But when it came to discipline problems FDK students “were referred for social problems with greater frequency (73.9%) than the half-day students (26.1%).  In a similar pattern, 45% of full-day and 7% of half-day kindergarten students received discipline referrals.”

Now back to the issue of curriculum.  We’re hearing the argument that because Rhode Island has adopted the Common Core curriculum, we have to have full-day kindergarten in Barrington in order to provide enough instructional time to meet the new mandates. It’s simply jaw dropping that we would adopt a mandate like the Common Core without a serious plan to fully support it and pay for it.

What other requirements in addition to moving to FDK are hidden in the Common Core curriculum?  Has the RI Commissioner of Education provided this information to the Town or are we left to find out one shoe drop at a time?

The rush to implement FDK in Barrington looks very similar to the rush to get the Common Core curriculum into place as quickly as possible in RI and in the 46 other states that adopted it seemingly overnight.  It’s a remarkable feat that a select group of large corporations, working with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (represented by Gov. Chafee and RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist) have been able to drive through a radical overhaul of our state’s educational curriculum in a remarkably short period of time.  It appears that little or no thought was given to the unfunded mandates or to the other challenges we’d face at the local level in terms of implementing Common Core. We should just simply follow the next lemming in line and cough up whatever budget is required, right?  And we should just teach whatever we’re being told to teach, even if the curriculum isn’t based in sound educational science of what works for kids, right?

Fortunately, the Common Core curriculum is receiving some much-needed scrutiny.  Just this past week, the state of Indiana (one of the original adopters of the Common Core curriculum) had the wisdom to enact a one-year moratorium on the implementation of it, precisely for reasons like this.  They simply had no idea what they were facing in terms of costs or educational results.  Article here: http://stateimpact.npr.org/indiana/2013/05/13/daily-journal-educators-slam-brakes-on-common-core-rollout/

What I’ve found from a very quick but deep emersion in this area is that Barrington is smack in the middle of a full-blown national debate over the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards.   Before folks get too riled up, I don’t come to this with any ideological preconceived notions.  I want what is best for our children so that they can get the most out of school and succeed.  If that means adopting Common Core and funding it – great, sign me up.  But I’m also not about to stand by and blindly defer our educational independence to a select group of wealthy corporations who have apparently been able to hijack the country’s educational system as their personal HR departments so they can fill the jobs they tell us we’ll want to have in the future.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Rhode Islanders have always had a streak of independence that was at times a burr under the saddle of the institutional interests in our country.  When it comes to something so remarkably important as the curriculum that drives what happens in our classrooms 6+ hours per day during every school day of the year, a little independent scrutiny seems well justified.  Superintendent Messore seems to still have this independent streak in him when he rightly called for a delay in FDK for a year.
And the good folks of Indiana have just fired a shot that will soon be heard around the states.   I suggest it’s in the best interests of our students and families to find our inner Hoosier and hit pause on the implementation of FDK – and in so doing begin to thoroughly investigate the origins and implications of Common Core.

We owe it to our kids and our friends and neighbors to have an open and honest debate based on all the available data, information and facts.  I urge you to review this information, do your own research and thinking and come prepared for a lively discussion this Wednesday.

So who thinks more is better than less?  When it comes to FDK and the Common Core curriculum:  Less is more.  Way more.

Tad Segal

Barrington

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3 Comments

  1. Kathleen Crain said:

    I find it disturbing that the author of this letter chooses to ignore the plethora of salient, recent research conducted by well-known educators and specialists regarding the benefits of full day kindergarten, and instead chooses to rely on the dissertation of a graduate student for his claims. In addition, the dissertation actually discusses implementing developmentally appropriate practices in the kindergarten classroom (i.e. the need for appropriate social and developmental activities) rather than simply picking whether full-day or half-day is the better choice. With the implementation of the Common Core (which is a state-wide mandate, not Barrington specific), how will we implement the social and developmental activities/curriculum that the author of this dissertation speaks so highly of in a 3 hour day?

  2. Tad Segal said:

    Dear Ms. Crain:

    Thank you for your comment – I appreciate your willingness to engage on this important issue. However, I’m afraid your response misses the fact that I provided references to a large number of studies in peer-reviewed publications from experts who have studied the fact that there just isn’t any lasting benefit of All Day K that can be found consistently after 3rd grade.

    I believe you’re referring to Danielle C. Kreassig, whose literature review I cited as just one of my references because it contains a large number of citations for published studies on the topic of whether or not there are lasting benefits from FDK over HDK. (Her underlying dissertation, while no doubt a fascinating read, is irrelevant to this conversation.)

    I included citations, references and links to published academic sources in order to have an informed and thoughtful debate on the topic. So I would encourage you to share the sources that you’ve found. I think we would all be better informed for it.

    I do agree that Common Core is the crux of the problem and we need to question these standards. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for setting high standards in education for our children! But the Common Core standards were developed by large corporations and the academics they selected/hired, then passed on to the National Governors Association and Chief State Schools Officers (read administrators) for dissemination to the states, who in their desperate hunger for the accompanying funds, gobbled them up. These facts are not in dispute by any credible source I could find.

    The curricula created to accommodate these standards is radically new and untested. A variety of experts have criticized this process and the underlying science (or lack there of) behind it. They’ve said this amounts to a shot in the dark – could work. Might not. Who knows really? That’s because it’s never been tried and there is scant science behind it showing it will work. This article is a good reference: http://www.kdp.org/publications/pdf/record/winter11/RW11_Tienken.pdf

    Our kids most definitely deserve better than this. I urge Barrington parents to do the calm and rational thing and vote no on all day kindergarten. The Superintendent agrees we need more time to figure things out – let’s give him that. And meanwhile, let’s really take a close, hard look at Common Core, the curriculum supporting it and the testing that will make it so incredibly onerous. Indiana just voted to suspend Common Core implementation statewide for one year – a prudent move.

    If you won’t listen to the science, at least listen to the Hoosiers!

    Sincerely,

    Tad Segal

  3. Kathy Crain said:

    Mr. Segal,
    As the former President of the Providence School Board, and a former member of the RI Association of School Committees as well as the National School Board Association, I can assure you that I not only listen to the science but have read far more studies and research relating to the benefits of All Day Kindergarten than I ever imagined possible. Full Day Kindergarten works. And not just for “disadvantaged” students, as your earlier letter suggests. I did not address your points about the Common Core because it is a state mandated curriculum which can not be addressed at the Town Meeting. Your issues with the curriculum will have to be taken up with the Federal Government, the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Board of Regents, the Commissioner of Education and the 44 other states who seem to disagree with you. Of course, you have Indiana, Texas and Alaska on your side. In the meantime, our students here in Barrington will be required to learn Common Core and our teachers will be required to teach it. If we attempt to do it in a three hour day, it will be rushed, stressful and devoid of the playfulness and socialization that is Kindergarten. Our 5 year old children will come home with homework to make up for what couldn’t be taught in a 3 hour day. And yes, our children will pay the price.

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