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Full-day kindergarten: Should it be mandatory in Oakland?

Five-year-olds in Oakland are logging many more classroom hours these days than they used to. The switch to universal full-day kindergarten happened about a year before I came to town, but I understand the move was intended to help working parents while giving kids an academic boost.

Has it worked?

Carrie McKiernan, a Thornhill mom with an incoming kindergartner and a fifth-grader (who attended half-day), says the change has been a “mixed bag” for parents. While it undoubtedly helps many families with two working parents, she said, the new schedule — combined with ramped-up academic rigor – might be too much for some little ones to handle. She also says she has yet to meet a teacher who really likes the new structure.

In a letter to the Brad Stam, the district’s chief academic officer, McKiernan proposes that individual schools have more scheduling flexibility. Below is the text of the letter, which 25 parents and teachers from various schools “signed” electronically.

Share your experiences with full-day kindergarten by posting a comment or e-mailing me directly — or both.

Brad Stam
Chief Academic Officer
1025 2nd Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

Dear Mr. Stam;

We are writing as a group of concerned parents and OUSD staff to ask
that you reconsider the rigidity of the “all day kindergarten”
schedule currently in place. Our goal is to allow individual school
sites to implement hours, within reason, that best meet the needs of
the students, families, and staff, as opposed to a unilateral
structure that attempts to be a “one size fits all”.

While we understand the goal in all of this has been to improve the
quality of education for our kindergartners, and to support families,
we believe the all day structure has backfired for many students.
Feedback from parents and faculty who have experienced both part day
and full day schedules seems to be that there are not academic leaps
being made as a result of longer hours, but 5 and 6 year old students
who feel stressed and overwhelmed by school. Some feel the academics
have moved backwards, as the teachers spend more time focusing on
behavioral challenges resulting from children not yet ready for the
combination of hours and academics. The result is students feeling
unsuccessful at the outset of their school career, a marked increase
in stress behaviors in the classroom, and school sites that feel
powerless to make the changes necessary to help their students succeed.

We have no wish to ask you to return to a one size fits all solution
in the opposite direction, and ask that all schools return to part
day. We do ask that you allow the principals and teachers to design a
schedule that best suits the needs of the students, staff, and
community. In the spirit of the site based budgeting being implemented
at our campuses, we ask that you allow site based scheduling when it
comes to our kindergarten classrooms.

A small group of us would like to meet with you at your earliest
convenience to discuss what options could be available. We will
contact your office shortly to schedule a meeting.

Thank you,

Carrie McKiernan, Thornhill Elementary Parent

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • wendy dutton

    I have long felt our school schedules don’t match our children’s personal timeclocks. Nowhere is this more clear than in kindergarten where children are now forced to stay in school long after their attention span is up.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Full day kindergarten was really helpful to my family. But I’m sure, if given a choice, between working a half-day or working a full-day for the same salary, most people would choose the half-day; so, it wouldn’t surprise me if teachers didn’t support all-day classes.

  • Debora Rinehart

    Full day kindergarten works for those kids who are ready. It was tremendously helpful to my daughter who has a December birthday and missed the cut off. She was reading and doing addition and subtraction by her second month of kindergarten – she was nearly 6. Full day kindergarten works especially for those children who cannot get early admission because of district policies. The day is longer – the curriculum is the same. More time for art, science, play, social studies, singing, dancing and learning how to be at school. So, for our family, full day kindergarten was a positive outcome to having to wait an extra year.

  • Maria Ku

    We so much would love to have had a full-day kindergarten – we missed it by one year. Most of the kids we know attended preschool before entering kindergarten or if not a preschool, they had their day filled with various extracurricular activities – music, dance, swimming, art lessons. With a 3-hr short kindergarten day it was too odd to have this artificially shortened day between preschool years and 1st grade, and this was the reason many parents did not send their children to kindergarten altogether, coming from private full-day kindergarten to 1st grade.

    My daughter started kindergarten at 4.5 and we wished for the full day, but it only started being full-day the year after. . .

  • Harriet Hutchinson

    First, please call this new Kindergarten ALL day Kindergarten. Kindergarten was always FULL day for the children it served! I just retired from 40 years of teaching mostly Kindergarten. I would have gone longer if not for the All Day Kindergarten. I have never had so many children who were so stressed out – sucking shirt sleves, shirt collars and having bathroom accidents (with a bathroom right in the room!). It is not just that the children are more tired from the length of the day but they are stressed by the new academic requirements. This new Kindergarten is no joke! It is really a first grade curriculum and four and five year olds are not any different developmentally than they were forty years ago. So, what’s the rush and at what cost? If this is a childcare issue then let’s look at some programs that facilitate that for working families and not put young children through this pressure.
    I would also like to respond to the statement “…if given a choice, between working a half-day or working a full-day for the same salary, most people would choose the half-day;…” Kindergarten teachers work ALL day no matter how many minutes the children are in school! What happens with the all day K is that we now only have two hours of preparation time per week instead of an hour a day and we no longer have a colleague (trained and credentialed) to assist in our classrooms. We have also lost the ability to have small groups before or after the regular day. And finally, I think that we are seeing more children acting out because they are so tired, stressed and struggling to “make the standard”. This requires teachers to find time to seek resources to address these issues for the children. Teaching was never a 9-3 job! Most of us are at school longer than our paid hours no matter what the school day is. There is no additional compensation for any of these additional hours. The parents who volunteered in my classroom and saw how the children were functioning after lunch were soon convinced that all day Kindergarten is not the answer.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Ms. Hutchinson,

    How does all day Kindergarten reduce your preparation time to 2 hours per week? If you need an hour a day prep time, why not come to work earlier? or stay later? Teachers only work 8 months per year; I don’t see why they are so reluctant to give more or their time during the school year.

  • Carrie McKiernan

    Mr. Jones -

    I admit I’m a bit stunned by your comments. Teaching is not a 8:40 to 3:00 job; never has been, and never will be. Their salaries remain very low compared to the corporate world; there are a parade of people who have left teaching as they were unable to support a family on the salary in this high cost of living area. We want to attract the best and the brightest to make a difference in Oakland’s schools, and we encourage them by adding hours at the same compensation and bind them to scripted lesson plans? There’s a great retention strategy…

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Ms. McKiernan,

    I don’t get what was so electric about my suggesting a teacher work an extra-hour to make up for lost time. That’s what I would do.

    And, since you brought it up: Teacher’s salaries are what they are; and everyone that plans to be a teacher knows what they are, but, it seems that whenever anyone mentions what they believe teachers should do, a teacher-protector brings up teacher-salary as if it’s the universal answer to all criticism or suggestion. Teachers need to be paid more, but, while we are waiting, they still need to be open and flexible enough to be part of the solution.

    And.. In the corporate world, job security and salary are strictly based on performance; there is no Tenure and there are no 3-month summer breaks. Corporate jobs with similar education requirements are not 8:30 to 3pm either. If a salaried corporate worker’s workload required him/her to stay an extra hour, that’s exactly what he/she would do.

    And another point: Even if teachers worked from 7 to 5pm–for the 8 months that they work–if you laid those hours worked over a 12-month work schedule, it averages out to, roughly, 3.5 hrs per day. I’m not aware of any corporate job with those kind of assurances, benefits and work hours. Teaching is a good job. The cost of living in the Bay Area is high for everybody–not just teachers.

    Last thing: Many of us believe that the current educational environment in Oakland needs to change but that won’t happen unless we take an honest look at all the factors and calculate a new result.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Getting back to the original question.. What effect, if any, does half/day full/day kindergarten have on per-pupil funding? Is their more money involved with full day?

  • Jim Mordecai

    I believe full day does not have an additional teacher cost. A teacher is working her/his contracted 6 hours and 45 minutes.

    To change from half-day kindergarten to all day kindergarten includes hinded costs and values. Changing in crowded schools means need for additional classroom space. Kinderarten needs are for furniture and restrooms appropriate for youngsters.

    The change over means that the teachers that work a full six hours are not available to teach and lower the adult teacher ratio.

    The change over means that an instructional assistant working with two classes will now work with one. Often because of economic pressure this means cutting down on adults working with kids.

    It is most desireable to have two fully qualified teachers working with one class. Team teaching with two qualified teachers enriches the kindergarten experience for children. Kindergarten half a day affords this situation although one of the teachers is the teacher responsible for a
    class. Teachers each have primary responsibility for their class but switch roles as helping the other teacher. This breaks down the isolation of teaching to the benefit of the children.

    And, the kindergarten child’s long day is developmentally inappropriate for many
    children and counter productive in developing an attachment to school.

  • Harriet Hutchinson

    Just a few things – there is no additional ADA (per pupil $) for the all day K, teachers work 186 days per year NOT 8 months and most of them take additional jobs in the summer after attending professional development classes, teachers spend thousands of their own dollars on their students/classrooms for things that ousd does not provide, and with Results Based Budgeting there is NO job security ( a site administrator can subjectively evaluate a teacher out). So, why teach? Well, unlike the expression, teaching effectively is a gift and NOT everyone can do it!
    I would also like to explain about the preparation time. For the shared class and extended day Kindergarten(240 minutes) there was a preparation hour built into every day. This gave the Kindergarten teacher time to prepare projects, contact parents, work with individual children or small groups, meet with resource teachers, plan with colleagues and clean the classroom. With the all day K there is no built in time and only two hours are provided during the work week. This is a huge change in working conditions and means that just about everything on the above list must be accomplished after the paid work day.
    I would agree with Jim that the long day is developmentally inappropriate and does not create a love of school and learning for the young child.

  • http://none Nancy

    Who’s walking out the back door with the bacon? Since the August 11, 2004, auditor report finding material weaknesses in the District’s financial reporting and accountability systems as well as internal control procedures, there is no audit for the past three years available to the public. No board member or bargaining unit or parent organization is demanding a review of the current state of the District. No corporation or any other company could stay in business with this kind of a dysfunctional record. When people have given all they have given and then some as the 40 year veteran mentioned, as well as forced paycuts and health-care across the board, that in my opinion have enabled the District to continue to walk off with all the bacon and leave everyone else to keep giving for “free.” Mr. Jones should then ask himself why wouldn’t anyone be reluctant to give extra time during the school year or any year for that matter when nobody thinks they have to be accountable to the public. On the issue of full day kinder, I would rather home-school my baby rather than force him into a ‘corporate’ mentality school philosophy–OCR for one–whose really making money off this. And, I bet if Oakland community people knew that our schools are being used by University and Corporate Foundation money to conduct unconsented research in our OUSD schools, while having no accountability to answer to the public, Where has all the money been going the past 3 yeas since the scandal broke? Why don’t you all expand on Michigan’s Early-On model of results-based accountability–District-wide, and then I bet OUSD could offer every CDC and K-2 kid full-time music, art, dane, P.E., as well as upper elementary kids. ACCOUNTABILITY is Key.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Harriet (or anybody),

    Would All Day kindergarten be OK if there were less students per class?

    If you had to pick between (All day & Less students) -or- (Half day and max students) which would you choose?

    Or: (All day, Max students & a teachers aide) vs. (Half day, less students & no Aide)
    which one?

    It would be nice each school could choose their own configuration.

    Would you say the behavior problems you experienced with All Day kindergarten were the result of too much classroom time or too many students per teacher.

    A compromise would be nice, like: All Day

    Nancy,

    My my miss Nancy, what a broad brush you have. I don’t even know where to start.

  • Maria Ku

    Most of parents I know celebrated the announcement of full-day kindergarten, which gave their children more time to spend with our dedicated, creative and talented K teachers.

    In our school, each classroom has a teacher assistant and a supplies budget for all necessary things for each classroom – this is a regular part of our PTA budget, so teachers are NOT on the hook for preparing projects, checking homework all on their own or buying supplies out of their pocket. While I understand that not all Oakland schools operate like this, the school where the original complaint letter originated from (Thornhill) does have similar budgetary items, so apparently these issues (introduced into our discussion up by Harriet) do not influence success of full-day kindergarten.

    I never heard of two K teachers team-teaching a short-day kindergarted, to which Jim referred as a norm before the full-day kindergarted years. We never had it in our school, so not all schools did this. Thus children did not get any more attention in short-day kindergarten than they did in full-day K.

    My kids felt that short-day kindergarten was so shortchanging them – while the morning session was exciting & educational, there was no afternoon learning, so my kids had to fill their afternoons with all kinds of science, chess, drama, music classes, and if not, they spent some hours each day reading various encyclopedia, because they wanted to learn so much, but all that school offered to them was a 3.5hr school day. Children are developmentally ready for more than that – in fact, a longer day and a more advanced curriculum is commonplace in most European and some Asian countries. This is why most parents I know celebrated the announcement of full-day kindergarten.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    WHAT I MEANT TO SAY:

    Harriet (or anybody),

    Would All Day kindergarten be OK if there were less students per class?

    If you had to pick between (All day & Less students) -or- (Half day and max students) which would you choose?

    Or: (All day, Max students & a teachers aide) vs. (Half day, less students & no Aide)
    which one?

    It would be nice each school could choose their own configuration.

    Would you say the behavior problems you experienced with All Day kindergarten were the result of too much classroom time or too many students per teacher.

  • Debora Rinehart

    Getting back to Harriet’s comments about stress and shirt sucking – these are not habits of a well adjusted kindergartner and I sincerly doubt that the only reason for the stress is the longer day. There was no adjustment in curriculum at the time kindergarten began full day. The quantity of reading and math material was the same, just more time to teach the material in new and more creative ways such as art projects, science projects, hands on manipulatives, etc. Nearly every kindergarten class is limited to 20 students.

    Perhaps the solution would be to make the kindergarten birthday cut off September 1 instead of December 2 or 3. You would have fewer 4 year olds in kindergarten and more children prepared for 6.5 hours of learning and fun.

  • Carrie McKiernan

    I see the reduction of hours spent in the classroom as the most viable solution given the current climate of forcing down what used to be the 1st grade curriculum into the K curriculum, combined with the lack of funds to offer extensive classrom aides. While I know many children are able to master the curriculum, not all are reading the encyclopedia in their spare time.

    Yes, Thornhill does have a PFC that is able to support items that the district is no longer able to fund, but that does not include full time aides in Kindergarten. Our structure prior to all day was similar to what Jim M describes – a team of two teachers was there for the majority of the day, able to handle the 20-27 kids who were there. I have a 5th grader who went through half day K, and many were spent after a half day. While there are many folks whose kids are up for an afternoon of classes, etc, most of the families I knew had kids who couldn’t make it through an afternoon class after a morning of kindergartener. Some still nap at that age, and are falling asleep in class, as OUSD says there is to be no ‘nap’.

    The solution of lowering the age seems a logical direction on the surface, but to me is an outcome of asking kids to do things that aren’t age appropriate. We’ve slowly made kindergarten into first grade, and found that the kids who are ready for that kind of day… are first graders.

  • Harriet Hutchinson

    Carrie – you hit the nail right on the head! We have geared up the curriculum so much without making allowences for different developmental levels not to mention learning styles. There is pending legislation to change the cut off date to Sept 1 (currently Dec. 2) and to make Kindergarten mandatory which it currently is not in California.
    I taught for a year in England and the schools I saw were much more attuned to developmental needs of young children. When I visited schools in Japan I found that 5 year olds were still at schools with a nursery program and the six year olds who were first year students in school went home at 1 p.m. (not staying all day). And Scandanavian countries do not start their children in schools until age 7. Suggesting that European and Asian countries do geared up curriculum and longer days is not what I have seen first hand. And, I contend that even if they do does that make it right? If we look at the suicide rates of some of these countries would we want that for our children? (That seems harsh but I think it’s important to be realistic and not lump every child together – our children all have different needs when it comes to education).

  • Debora Rinehart

    With the mandatory cut off date of September 1, AND half day kindergarten, we will have many children with the problem my daughter faced and that is that she was ready, academically, socially, developmentally, and physically for kindergarten, yet had to stay in preschool another year. Now we find that she entered first grade with the knowledge, skills and development of grade 1 – month 6, and is entering into second grade having nearly mastered the curriculum, developmental skills (as assessed by the first grade teacher) to be “advanced” in almost every area.

    If kindergarten becomes mandatory, are there safeguards in place for kids that are ready before the cut-off, then it will work. If there are no safeguards in place, then we are accommodating the lowest common denominator at the expense of the other children. From what I have seen, the schools are too bureaucratic to assess kids for early admission and few teachers want to believe a 4.6 year old is ready for kindergarten.

    My daughter was in a play-based, developmental preschool that focused on a Reggio Emilia style. There was no focus on traditional learning, yet she was bored with not being able to read for information. Not all children are excited about having a kindergarten with a “play house,” puppet theater, block corner and bathrooms in the classroom. Some children yearn for more intense learning. This difference is very real and should be embraced as much as any other learning style.

  • Jenn

    All day OUSD kindergarten is great and I feel fortunate that the timing worked out for my daughter to be in an extended day kindergarten. I can’t believe that only 1-2 years ago they were still doing half day.

    However, for all the talk of kindergarten being academic… frankly I haven’t seen it yet. My daughter’s K class is more about play and socialization. I’m actually really surprised that they haven’t covered any material that is really new to my daughter. K seems a lot more like preschool than I anticipated with block areas, play kitchens, playdough, coloring, drawing, looking at books, naptime, art, music, PE etc. Where are the academics in Kindergarten?

  • Maria Ku

    Regarding European countries starting school at 7 -

    Yes, we started at 7, but we were expected to read fluently before starting school and were actually tested on our reading and math (doing it by yourself in front of a group of 3-4 teachers) prior to entering the first year of school.

    In preschool, we were taught to add 3 digit numbers, by placing hundreds under hundreds and tens under tens.

    When I came to this country and started college here, I discovered that college algebra is what we learned in 5th grade (at age 11), and then trigonometry in 7th grade, and calculus in 9th & 10th. Don’t even start me on how we learned science – how deep, how early. . .

    So when you talk about “starting school”, make sure you define what you mean by that.

  • http://www.earlyedcoverage.org Richard Colvin

    First of all, Katy, this discussion shows the brilliance of newspaper blogs: they engage readers, who share their distinct points of view. The blog I write, called EarlyStories looks at how issues in early childhood education are covered and discussed nationally. Full day kindergarten, by the way, is spreading nationally at wildfire pace.

    The important point above is from Debbie Rinehart, who says that the curriculum was not made more difficult or intense when the district went to full day kindergarten. The day is longer and creative teachers can use it in many ways.

    I wonder how many 4-year-olds in the Thornhill area go to preschool? Given the affluence in the hills, I’d suspect that most do. Keep in mind the class angle to this issue. Families in which both parents don’t need to work, or who can hire a nanny to pick up the kids, don’t need full day kindergarten. Working parents need a place for their kids all day. When my kids were in half day kindergarten in Los Angeles, we had to pay for an afterschool program at the school for the rest of the day. It was babysitting. Not stimulating or fun. We hated to do it. But because there wasn’t transportation available, and because my wife and I couldn’t leave our jobs in the middle of the day, that was our only option.

    One more point: Carrie McKiernan is asking that every school be able to decide, to meet the needs of their children and their parents. How would you determine that? Majority rule? Just curious. Carrie’s view might win out but then many parents would be disadvantaged.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Richard. I agree wholeheartedly about the virtues of newspaper blogs. I’ll have to check out your site.

  • patrice

    In San Francisco public schools kindergarteners go to school from about 8:30am til 2:30pm. In one school called Gordon J. Lau the kindergartners spell words like California, difficult, so on and so on. If children have teachers who are willing to put time towards being patient, rearranging schedules and putting in time to think about how smart 5 y.o. are you’ll understand that they are more than capable they are willing and able. When getting out of our comfort zones as teachers and parents we automattically think about the worst that can happen. What about the best, forget about just having longer hours for adults work time think about the learning. They can even add naps into the curriculum, hooked on phonics make reading easy and learned by 3 y.o. it just takes a little more of our time. Kindergarten sets the pace for the rest of their lives. If we’re complaining about one thing it’s another.

  • http://computertech111.blogspot.com/ Joey

    Full day kindergarten is a nutty idea. Even if kids look like they can handle it and even if you think it will somehow get them ahead in school, they will most likely fall back to the same level as all the other students who only went to half day kindergarten later in school. Check out my website (I posted a blog about this).