Is All-Day Kindergarten Worth the Money?
Is the push nationally to switch our schools to all-day kindergarten paying off
academically for our kids? Or is it just about funneling more money into
schools, getting more people employed in our schools, and giving parents free
day-care at taxpayer expense?
It appears to be the latter.
Academic gains by children in full-day kindergartens are modest, compared to
those in half-day programs. Moreover, those gains diminish to insignificant
levels by first grade, and completely disappear by third grade in a phenomenon
It is important to consider the
relatively small size of the research samples, the quality of the preschool
experiences the children had, the level of educational attainment that their
parents had, and many other variables. Equally important is to compare how the
children who attended half- and full-day kindergarten were doing academically
several years on down the road. When studies are carefully designed with these
variables and conditions in mind, all-day kindergarten is revealed to be of no
extra benefit to children, compared to the traditional half-day experience.
Key federal research indicates that
for the vast majority of kindergartners, all-day kindergarten is a waste of time
and money, although there is evidence that it can be a help to low-income and
non-English speaking children.
This is according to the Early
Childhood Longitudinal Study of the National Center for Educational Statistics,
Researchers started following 22,000
children at kindergarten entry in 1998, and recently reported their third-grade
status reflecting the "fadeout" effect of all-day k.
Among other findings, the study
reported that kindergarten "readiness" is in great shape in this country: 97%
of the children come to school in excellent or good health; 94% can read
numerals, recognize shapes and count to 10; 92% are deemed eager to learn, and
82% already have basic reading skills such as knowing that you read print from
left to right.
Defenders of expanded government
preschool and full-day kindergarten claim that for every $1 spent on early
schooling, society saves $7 in "social costs" on down the road. But that figure
has been thoroughly discredited. It stems from a 1960s study of just 123
mentally retarded children, not enough to be statistically significant and
vastly different than the mainstream population of kindergarten children. Most
importantly; that cost-benefit ratio has never been replicated in other
studies. Therefore, that claim must be considered invalid.
Despite the utter lack of
effectiveness, though, full-day kindergarten is being implemented at a cost of
hundreds of millions of dollars for added staff and space in schools
nationwide. Nine states mandate it, seven offer financial incentives, and most
districts either have it or are planning it.
The full-day schedule is popular
with working parents because it saves on child-care expenses and transportation
headaches. Teachers like it because they say they have more time for enrichment
activities, assessing children individually, and building better relationships
However, child psychologists say
improper early instruction with "time on task" in structured settings may be a
key cause of the epidemic of learning disabilities. And it denies children what
they really need: free time for self-directed play, and a chance to be reared
and shaped mostly by Mom and Dad, who know and love them best.
A possible solution might be to make
it a matter of public policy that all-day kindergarten will be provided free of
charge to parents if the family income is low enough to qualify the child for
free or subsidized lunch, or if there are serious social factors at play that
place that child at risk of not succeeding in school - for example, alcoholic
or drug-addicted parents, or a medical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, for
This sensible policy has been in
practice in the State of Colorado. All other parents can either place their
children in a private-sector day-care facility for the second half of the day,
or hire a part-time nanny, or collaborate with other parents to share
child-care responsibilities, or stay home with them in this important "bridge
year" in which it is very important to balance the child's need for free play
and quiet time with a need for a solid introduction to school.
Note that in many schools today, the
best readers and best behaved children in the class tend to be those who
attended only half-day kindergarten. That might be the most powerful evidence
of all that half-day kindergarten is the best solution for all concerned.
excellent and related articles on this topic are available from Arizona's
Goldwater Institute, www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article.php/542.html
and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, www.tennesseepolicy.org/publications/studies/52005_1.pdf