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Barnidge: The not-quite-ready Kindergarten Readiness Act

02.19.2012 | Contra Costa Times | Tom Barnidge


If there is a
soon-to-be 5-year-old in your family, you don’t need to be told that
February is kindergarten sign-up month. It’s a milestone that evokes
every parental emotion from pride to nostalgia to angst.

This year, you can add confusion to the list.

Thanks to SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, the rules of the ritual have been changed.

In
the past, any youngster who turned 5 by Dec. 2 was eligible to enroll.
That date now is Nov. 1. For the 2013-14 school year, it moves back to
Oct. 1. For 2014-15 and thereafter, it will be Sept. 1.

The
intention is as pure as Snow White — gradually roll back enrollment
dates to lessen age disparity, so 4-year-olds aren’t competing with
5-year-olds; something most states already have done — but intentions
have been overwhelmed by ramifications.

To accommodate the near
misses — those who would have qualified under the old enrollment date
— the California law calls for creation of a “transitional
kindergarten,” or TK, as educators call it.

It is similar to the
regular thing, only less demanding — think of it as Kindergarten Lite
— and begins a two-year preparation for first grade. Many educators
applaud the plan, which calls for developmentally appropriate
curriculum.

“This gives those kids the opportunity to still have a
place in K-12 education, so they don’t lose out on what they would have
been getting,” said Pam Comfort, county associate superintendent for Education Services.

Added
Contra Costa County Superintendent Joe Ovick: “If we let them stay home
for another year, the burden becomes greater as they get older and the
costs for mediation may be greater.”

Curriculum details are left
to local districts, according to Education Programs Consultant Mary
Autry of the state Department of Education (“We don’t have specific
standards”), but the thrust is to welcome students at the same age as in
the past while allowing the youngest to work at less daunting pace.

But there’s a bump in the road.

“The governor is proposing to eliminate TK,” Autry said.

Like
nearly every proposal out of Sacramento, this one hinges on money.
School districts receive state funding based on daily attendance, and by
postponing enrollment for those who miss the Nov. 1 cutoff, more than
40,000 would-be students will not be.

Savings to the state will
be about $223 million the first year, said Autry, not endorsing the
plan. If the next two years are handled the same, the governor’s plan
saves $700 million.

None of this is official yet, nor will it be
unless the Legislature signs off. But the fallout already is landing on
district officials.

“They just want to know what to do, what’s the
requirement, what is our advice,” Autry said. “We tell them the
Department of Education fully supports transitional kindergarten, and
until the law changes, we plan to move forward.”

The governor’s
proposal is packaged in a trailer bill that would modify the original SB
1381. It preserves new cutoff dates but deletes the mandate for
transitional kindergarten and makes such programs a local district
option.

Sounds like a ruling out of the Pontius Pilate school of decision-making.

“The
other interesting thing,” said Autry, “is the trailer bill says that
children who turn 5 years old at any time during the school year would
be eligible to enroll at the beginning of the school year on a
case-by-case basis.”

That means 4-year-olds could wind up in class with 5-year-olds.

Isn’t this where we came in?

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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