Transitional Kindergarten: Preparing California’s Children to Succeed

11.11.2011 | California Progress Report | Deborah Kong

As schools across California gear up to offer transitional kindergarten  – the first new grade introduced in state schools since 1891, when kindergarten began in the Golden State – educators and policymakers from across the state gathered at a statewide summit recently to talk about getting transitional kindergarten classrooms up and running next fall.

Transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten experience for children born between September and December, is an exciting new opportunity to help better prepare our children for kindergarten and beyond. Transitional kindergarten was created by the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which also changed the kindergarten entry date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so children enter kindergarten at age 5.

For children, transitional kindergarten provides the gift of time that will help them build a strong foundation for success in elementary school. It gives parents an additional option to ensure their children enter kindergarten with the maturity and skills they need to excel. And for schools, it means that students are better prepared to succeed, and less likely to be placed in special education and retained in later grades.

Transitional kindergarten is critical because kindergarten in California has changed over the years, and many of the skills children were once taught in first grade are now taught in kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten is the right program at the right time.

At the recent Transitional Kindergarten Implementation Summit in Sacramento, education leaders told a packed room of almost 500 enthusiastic educators and policymakers that transitional kindergarten is a historic achievement.

“This is going to be a game changer of immense proportions,” said Senator Joe Simitian, who with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg coauthored the law creating transitional kindergarten. “Fifteen years from now we will see better test scores. We will see improved performance. We will see a reduction in retention for this group of kids. We will see fewer students inappropriately placed in special education. That is going to be your legacy.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called transitional kindergarten “one of the bright spots for education,” noting that it will “create a wave of success. It’s going to deal with the dropout rate. It’s going to deal with having our students be able to be proficient in math and language arts” by the early elementary grades, he said.

Superintendent Torlakson and Senator Simitian spoke to a crowd of educators representing almost 100 school districts from all corners of the state – big and small, urban and rural. The districts at the summit serve more than 2 million children and represent more than a third of California students in the K-12 system.

Among them were districts that have offered programs similar to transitional kindergarten for years, and some of the more than 20 that have already implemented transitional kindergarten. These districts, who are on the front lines of implementing transitional kindergarten, shared promising practices, strategies, and resources for doing it in a high-quality and efficient way. Included in the districts that are leading the way are Los Angeles Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District and Gilroy Unified School District.

Their work is backed by research that shows children who attend kindergarten readiness programs like transitional kindergarten are more likely to do well in school and attend college. Citing Nobel Laureate James Heckman, one of the summit speakers noted that such high-quality programs offer one of the highest returns of any public investment.

Heckman’s research shows “we can invest early to close disparities and prevent achievement gaps, or we can pay to remediate disparities when they are harder and more expensive to close,” said Carl Cohn, State Board of Education member and clinical professor at the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Cohn told the gathering, “I salute all of you for beginning this pioneering work, which is going to pay huge dividends for the state of California and rescue the next generation of kids.”


Deborah Kong is communications director at Preschool California, a statewide nonprofit organization working to increase high-quality early learning opportunities for all of California’s children, starting with those who need it most. For more information, visit

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