Op-Ed: Require kindergarteners to be 5 by Sept. 1

08.12.2010 | San Francisco Chronicle | Diana Argenti and Natalie Bivas

Diana Argenti is a kindergarten teacher and Natalie Bivas is a reading and English language development specialist in the Palo Alto Unified School District.

When you think back to kindergarten, you probably remember finger painting, listening to stories, playing in the sandbox and nap time. You probably do not remember solving story problems in math and writers’ workshops.

Over the past 10 years, kindergarten has become increasingly academic, though teachers still make time for art, music and play. For some children, it is too much.

They try to keep up, but fall behind right away. They keep lagging their classmates when they are 7 and 10 and 15 – or until they give up.

As teachers, it breaks our hearts, especially when their struggle has such as an obvious cause: They started kindergarten too young.

It has an obvious remedy: Require kindergarteners to be 5 by Sept. 1. We’re calling on the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 1381, authored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, that will make this overdue change.

Only four states set a kindergarten entry date as late in the year as California does, where children may start if they will turn 5 by Dec. 2. As teachers of kindergarten and of reading, with decades of experience, we see it as just plain wrong to expect a 4-year-old to participate in a curriculum that used to be reserved for 6-year-olds.

We see that children with fall birthdays are disproportionately recommended for intervention: extra reading instruction, summer school, private tutoring, retention and even special education.

The proposed legislation would phase in the new entry date by advancing it one month a year for three years. Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, children would have to be 5 by Nov. 1, then 5 by Oct. 1 the next year, and 5 by Sept. 1 in the third year.

For three years, there will be smaller kindergarten classes – 11 months of students starting school instead of 12 – that will remain smaller classes as they move through high school. The money not spent on classes for children whose kindergarten entry would be delayed instead will be used to provide transitional kindergarten for them. Transitional kindergarten will be the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.

Parents who are aware of the challenge of today’s kindergarten often set their own later start date. They give their children the gift of time by keeping them out of school a year, especially if they have fall birthdays. Not all parents are aware of this choice, however. Now is the time for California to give all its children the gift of a strong start in school, but only when they are ready to open the box full of all the wonders of learning.

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