Quality, Like Time, Is Important In the Early Years

Early Learning

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UPDATED 5/31/19

Last week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into statute H.B. 1262, which fully funds full-day kindergarten across the state, beginning this fall. With this new law, Colorado joins the majority of states (30 states and the District of Columbia) that provide funding for full-day kindergarten.

Research tells us that students in full-day kindergarten make stronger academic gains in reading and math over the course of the kindergarten year than do their peers in half-day kindergarten programs. Expanding to full-day kindergarten increases the opportunities to develop the foundational skills necessary to set students up for academic success, to help close the opportunity gap and to be proficient readers by the end of third grade — which is a goal policymakers and educators strive to achieve. As states look to strengthen their investments and quality in early learning, full-day kindergarten is a key component in creating a seamless early learning continuum.

However, quality matters too: When the kindergarten teacher has training in early childhood education and understands child development, when he understands how to deliver the chosen curriculum, when he supports choice and individualized learning, when he creates the opportunity for a mixture of play based along with one-on-one instruction and when the kindergarten classroom is a happy place where children are interacting and learning together, children can expand on their curiosity and their love for learning.

If an elementary school includes kindergarten through fifth grade, then the K-3 grades are over half the years that a school principal will have that child in her school. Thus, elementary school principals who have training or a background in early childhood education are critical to the schools’ culture and success and to providing appropriate evaluations of kindergarten teachers.

Group size; adult-to-child ratios; the physical classroom environment; transitions from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten and from the end of kindergarten to first grade; parental involvement and input; ongoing formative assessments that do not create assessment fatigue; and a culture of learning, self-motivation, curiosity, compassion and fun are all components of quality in full-day-kindergarten.

As states continue to develop strong pre-K programs, many are also looking to fund full-day kindergarten. Establishing quality in those full-day kindergarten programs can support the gains made in the pre-K space and create the high-quality, seamless continuum of education in the early years that are critical for the youngest learners.

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Bruce is a former principal at Education Commission of the States.

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