All-Day Kindergarten Sounds Like a Dream, But It’s a Nightmare

Of the 747 parents responding to a Gilroy Unified School
District survey, 74 percent favored the implementation of all-day
kindergarten, 11 percent opposed, and 15 percent were unsure.
Of the 747 parents responding to a Gilroy Unified School District survey, 74 percent favored the implementation of all-day kindergarten, 11 percent opposed, and 15 percent were unsure.

Those numbers are sad, but not surprising. More than 60 percent of preschoolers are in daycare. Naturally, when parents are shelling out big bucks for daycare, they welcome the advent of kindergarten. The more hours the state will mind their 5-year-olds for them, the less they have to pay for daycare.

It is a little surprising that in spite of the district’s low proficiency scores, which get lower with every year that kids spend in school, parents still believe that the district should have their child for an extra three hours a day.

The pictures in Wednesday’s Dispatch were certainly tempting: cute little 5-year-olds picking bell peppers, drawing pictures of N is for nest, and, with happy faces, carrying their lunches to tables in the courtyard. What parent of a 4-year-old could resist?

Two nagging suspicions keep me from leaping onto the all-day-K bandwagon.

First, the academic rationale for all-day K is as follows: today’s standards for kindergarten are so high that it takes three hours just to do the necessary reading, writing, and arithmetic readiness. Kindergarten needs to be three hours longer so we can have time to do enrichment activities such as art, music, and PE.

The flaw in this argument is that 40 years ago, when I was in kindergarten, our whole three hours consisted of painting, stories, circle games, and music. We had a piano in the classroom; I think being able to play piano was required for a kindergarten teacher.

In spite of our lack of Unifix cubes and ditto sheets, we went to first grade the next year and learned how to read, write manuscript, add, and subtract. Today’s standards for kindergarten may be higher, but high school proficiency is lower. Given the tremendous shift to ever-earlier academics, why have SAT scores been in a 25-year decline?

The fact is that few 5-year-olds are ready for concentrated academics. They should be listening to stories, painting, skipping, playing with friends, planting beans, digging in a sandbox, singing, and climbing trees: all things that schools can provide only with a tremendous effort, and families can provide effortlessly … if they want to.

I suspect that the diehards, the 11 percent of district parents who oppose all-day K, are families who provide that kind of environment.

The second nagging suspicion stems from the experience of my oldest son Nick in GUSD kindergarten.

When Nick was 5, I dithered about whether to homeschool him. I attended a parent information night where then-Superintendent Ken Noonan said the magic words: “All kindergarten classes in Gilroy are integrative and developmental.”

I knew that those buzzwords meant that kindergarten would be painting and picking peppers, not just a lot of boring ditto sheets. Just in case we parents did not understand, Mr. Noonan told us about a lesson on A is for apple involving real apples and a trip to Gizdich Farm.

I was hooked. Besides, I thought, it is only three hours.

Over the course of his kindergarten year, Nick brought home a seven-inch stack of completed papers, only three items of which were not ditto sheets. No painting; paint was deemed too messy. He arrived in kindergarten reading at a low second-grade level and stagnated all year. He learned two things: that the word pattern means a rhythmic clapping of hands, and that N is for No, and No is for November, when we say No to Drugs.

Worse, the teacher wanted all the students’ finished work to look the same. So while Nick cut out his circle, the parent helper (me) was told to cut out Miranda’s circle for her, because Miranda was one of those disadvantaged children who arrived in kindergarten without ever having seen a pair of scissors or a crayon.

Nick learned nothing. Miranda learned that she was incompetent. I learned to take pretty stories about apples and peppers with a grain of salt.

Had all-day K been in place when Nick was 5, I never would have sent him. If some of the 11 percent make that decision, all day K might have a positive effect on some children’s education after all.

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