Monday, December 29, 2003

Get 'em while they're young...

Parents, Schools Are Learning to Like Full-Day Kindergarten is an article by Cara Mia DiMassa of the L.A. Times. Again, we're being exposed to the concept that the earlier a child attends school, the better. Not only that, but now we're asked to send them to school for a full-day as opposed to only half-day. The reasons posited for such an approach are always beneficial... better for the at-risk child, better for social development, better for the stressed mom, better for the working mom, better for the school districts... why would anyone oppose such a policy? "When Maria Covarrubias talks about the benefits of full-day kindergarten, she speaks from experience. Three of her children attended half-day programs at Daniel Webster Elementary School in Pasadena. Now, her youngest, Matthew, is enrolled in a pilot full-day kindergarten class there. Gone are the harried lunch hours used for shuttling children from school to an afternoon baby-sitter. Matthew spends 6 1/2 hours in class each day, and his mother, an administrative assistant at a Monrovia CPA firm, marvels at not being a midday chauffeur and not spending $100 a week on child care. "I really enjoy it," she said. But more important, she has watched her son blossom academically, an unexpected result of the longer program, she said. "He goes a little further than I think the girls did," Covarrubias said. "He has the clearest handwriting. You just have to see it. I think because they write a lot more, that helps him. I think that's what it is."" (emphasis added) We see here an example of: The Given. The Given = mother will work and children will attend daycare. Maybe in Maria Covarrubias case she really does have to work in order to make ends meet. We see no mention of a husband or a second income. But the policy of full-day kindergarten is not strictly about serving the needs of low income families. "...Los Angeles school board member David Tokofsky... whose oldest daughter is enrolled in a half-day program at Eagle Rock Elementary School, said that full-day kindergarten appeals to both ends of the economic spectrum: families who have the means for private school but might be encouraged to enroll, and stay, in public schools; and working parents, who would be better able to take full-time jobs if their children were occupied all day long." Now, preparing at-risk children for elementary school education is certainly a good thing. If the child has poor language skills and no means to be taught at home then, by all means, get them off to a good, early start. But we need to be aware of ulterior motives that may be behind such "early education" policies. "Although six states, including New Mexico, offer districts a financial incentive for switching from half- to full-day kindergarten, California makes no such distinction. In fact, under California law, kindergarten attendance is not even mandatory. But because a major part of school funding is based on the number of students at a school on any given day, any boost in enrollment would increase the amount of money that a California district receives." Finally, be aware of the slippery slope mentality in that if they sell you on the idea of full-day kindergarten, then possibly mandatory kindergarten is next?... and then full-day preschool?... mandatory preschool?... full-day infant childcare? Why not? After all, aren't you interested in the best for your child? "Martha Trevino Powell, the principal of Aldama Elementary School in the L.A. district, said she hopes for such a switch. Many of the students who start kindergarten at her school, she said, have participated in full-day preschool programs, often through Head Start. "They are not the students of years back. They are so mature when we get them."" (emphasis added) Caveat emptor.

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