LAUSD’s transitional kindergarten helps younger students catch up
04.13.2012 | Los Angeles Daily News | Barbara Jones
[Click here to watch the video featuring TK parents and teachers.]
Ask the parents of a youngster born late in the year about enrolling their not-quite-5-year-old in kindergarten, and they’ll likely describe the dilemma about whether to send their kid to school or hold him back.
That quandary will be resolved this fall under a new state law that gradually moves up the date that kids are eligible to enroll in kindergarten. The Dec. 2 milestone that has been in place for decades will be Sept. 1 by 2014.
The law also mandates the creation of transitional kindergarten, giving those younger students an additional year to master the academic, social and developmental skills required of today’s kindergartners.
“It’s an amazing, amazing, amazing program for children who aren’t developmentally ready and need that extra year to grow,” said Michelle Adams-Fix, who teaches TK at Winnetka Avenue Elementary School, one of 109 Los Angeles Unified schools participating in a pilot transitional kindergarten program.
“We follow the kindergarten curriculum, but the students aren’t required to master the skills,” she said. “They can proceed at their own pace.”
The kindergarten of finger-painting and sandbox play that most baby boomers remember has evolved over the years to an academic class with math and English-language standards and even homework.
As the goals grew more rigorous, the developmental differences became more obvious between youngsters who turned 5 early in a calendar year and those who mark their 5th birthday 10 or 11 months later.
“We used to say that kindergarten was the ‘get-ready year’ for real school,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who authored the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. “Now, kindergarten is real school.”
Since 1987, California has required children to turn 5 by Dec. 2 in order to enroll in kindergarten.
Under the new law, the cutoff shifts to Nov. 1 this year, to Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014. Youngsters whose birthdays fall between the cutoff date and the previous threshold of Dec. 2 will be eligible for TK – an estimated 125,000 statewide by 2014.
“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these kids,” said Winnetka Elementary Principal Annette Star. “The idea is that they get another whole year of readiness.”
Star said she’s been tracking the youngsters who were enrolled in last year’s TK class at Winnetka Avenue Elementary, part of the pilot program that Los Angeles Unified launched in anticipation of the new law. Nearly all of them, she said, are now at the top of their traditional kindergarten class.
Among those youngsters is Krystal Sanchez, whose mother, Angelica, raved about the play-based math and English-language lessons taught in TK that helped her daughter excel in traditional kindergarten.
“In kinder, she already knows her numbers, her sounds,” Sanchez said, “Her self-esteem is high because she’s prepared with what she learned in the transitional program.”
She’s so impressed with TK, Sanchez said, she hopes to enroll her younger daughter, Jasmine, in the class in the fall.
But the future of transitional kindergarten – in Los Angeles Unified and statewide – remains uncertain.
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to eliminate transitional kindergarten, saying that would save the cash-strapped state some $224 million this year alone. The Assembly subcommittee on education finance voted last month to reject Brown’s efforts, a move that was matched on Thursday by a Senate panel.
However, Brown said in a radio interview Friday that the state budget deficit will likely exceed the $9.2 billion shortfall his administration predicted earlier this year.
And Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the Legislature may reassess the future of the program when updated revenue figures become available in mid-May.
But Simitian maintains that TK essentially costs taxpayers nothing extra since the money the state pays local districts for student attendance – about $5,209 per elementary student in LAUSD – would be spent on transitional rather than traditional kindergarten.
“You take the savings from the date change and reinvest those savings in the same kids,” he said.
Despite the funding uncertainty, LAUSD hopes to continue operating the 109 existing programs and add 100 more each of the next two years, said Nora Armenta, the district’s executive director of Early Childhood Education.
First priority will be given to youngsters within a school’s attendance boundaries, with any vacant seats open to students in surrounding neighborhoods, she said.
The new law does not apply to private schools or to most charter schools, meaning they’ll still be able to set their own enrollment and curriculum criteria.
Van Nuys-based OneGeneration child-care center anticipates increased demand and plans to add a TK kindergarten class to its preschool offerings for the fall semester. Monthly tuition cost will be $890.
“We’ll be taking children to the next level, bridging the gap between preschool and kindergarten,” said Beth Finney, director of child care at OneGen.