Starting kindergarten: later is better
09.13.2010 | San Francisco Chronicle
Fourteen studies reviewed by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2008 led it to conclude that the state need to shift its age of entry for kindergarten. Too many 4 1/2-year-olds were struggling in class – and the effects of starting too early reverberated throughout their schooling.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, had seen the studies. Even more compelling was a petition he received from 289 teachers that was brought to him by two in his district, reading specialist Natalie Bivas and kindergarten teacher Diana Argenti.
“This is an issue that has been bouncing around the Capitol for 25 years,” Simitian said.
A legislator who is known for turning constituent ideas into state laws decided to give the idea yet another try. His SB1381 would require that entering kindergartners must turn 5 by Sept. 1 – instead of the current Dec. 1.
Here is how it would work:
— The transition to the Sept. 1 cutoff would be phased in over three years, starting in fall 2012.
— The law would allow for exceptions to the Sept. 1 cutoff if requested by a parent or guardian – and the school district agrees that early admission is in the best interest of the child.
— The $700 million annual savings from the change – which would reduce the number of kindergartners about 100,000 statewide – would be put into a new “transitional kindergarten” program for 4-year-olds with fall birthdays who just missed the cutoff date for admission.
Common sense, and an abundance of research, suggests that sending children to school before they are ready is not in anyone’s interests: theirs, their classmates, teachers or taxpayers. By providing preschool options with the transitional kindergarten program, Simitian’s bill is likely to reap additional savings by reducing the number of students who end up in special education or forced to repeat an early grade.
California is one of just four states – Connecticut, Michigan and Vermont being the others – that set a Dec. 1 cutoff date for admission to kindergarten. All others are earlier, and Sept. 1 is the standard. A 2005 Rand Corp. study identified a significant correlation between the age a child entered kindergarten and his or her test scores.
SB1381 went through the state Senate and Assembly by wide margins, and with bipartisan support. It is backed by a broad array of policy experts and education advocates. It is a rare opportunity to improve our schools while saving money at the same time.
The fate of SB1381 now rests with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He should sign it into law.