When New Hampshire began requiring all school districts to offer public kindergarten in 2009 — a key piece of legislation passed under former Gov. John Lynch — it was the last state in the nation to do so. Now it seems the push to make kindergarten a full-day affair is picking up steam in the Granite State as well.
Many point to the state’s adoption of the federal Common Core Standards in 2010. For school districts that follow suit, those standards will double the amount of time kids are supposed to spend in kindergarten from 540 hours to 1,080 hours.
School districts are not forced to adopt the Common Core, but all students will be subject to a new standardized test beginning next year that is based on the Common Core.
Many see the Common Core as effectively forcing districts’ hands given the time requirement. But others say that train has already left the station.
“The link between the Common Core and full-day kindergarten is not necessarily a causal relationship,” said Leslie Couse, professor of education with the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. “This has been happening for many years prior to the Common Core.”
For proponents, the reasoning behind it is simple: “There is research that supports that children do better when they have full-day versus part-day programs,” Couse said. “They score higher on standardized tests, they have fewer grade retentions and fewer placements in remedial education. There is research that supports all-day kindergarten, that children do, in fact, benefit
Some districts have gone to giving parents a choice between half- and full-day kindergarten, Couse said. Per state law, all districts must offer at least a half-day option for kindergarten. Some have expanded to offer just full-day kindergarten, scrapping half-day kindergarten altogether,
Others, like Nashua, offer full-day kindergarten in certain schools and half-day in others. In Derry, the district charges tuition for enrolling in an optional full-day kindergarten program. Still others have a lottery system because the full-day kindergarten program is popular but limited.
“That’s why it’s really important for families to be involved in decisions in their local schools, making sure their voices are being heard,” Couse said. “A lot of what kindergarten is about is building social relationships and routines and an understanding of what formal school is all about, as well as academic learning.”
Others want a slow-down. Many are not pleased with that they perceive as diminishing local control when it comes to kindergarten.
“I think there are competing theories,” said Rob Levey, an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that essentially acts as a virtual town hall. “Some, they’ll indicate kids are absolutely ready to attend school for an entire day, while others take exception to that. ... To me, it’s a very tricky issues. Research points in both directions.”
The Live Free or Die Alliance recently polled its Facebook followers to solicit their thoughts on the issue. About 84 percent of respondents, of which there were more than 15,000, said they didn’t think districts should be required to provide full-day kindergarten. Still, Levey said it wasn’t necessarily that all members thought full-day kindergarten itself was without merit.
“The interesting thing I found, respondents, many maybe even felt that full-day kindergarten was a good idea, but they felt concerned that it was coming down from the state,” Levey said. “They felt it should be more of a community decision. Other folks took exception to the Common Core standards themselves.”
The Live Free or Die Alliance does not take stands on issues, but Levey said they would be taking the results of the survey to stakeholders.
“We’re very much aimed at magnifying the opinions of citizens,” said Anna Brown, a member of the alliance.
New Hampshire law does not require parents to send kids to kindergarten, period. New Hampshire’s compulsory attendance education laws begin at age 6. About one-third of the districts in New Hampshire offer full-day kindergarten.
Many parents prefer the full-day option, since it also takes care of daycare needs. Proponents also say full-day kindergarten provides daily continuity. They say it doesn’t help a child learn to have him dropped off at kindergarten for a few hours and then shuttled to daycare before parents can
pick him up.
“What we do know is that changes and transitions can be very disruptive to their day and their learning, so providing full-day kindergarten is not just about the convenience factor, per se,” Couse said. “It’s about continuous and better-quality learning, as well as a more formalized opportunity to work on skill development and to work in a formal education site.”
Levey said some respondents were concerned that 5-year-olds couldn’t handle a full day of study, but full-day proponents compare it to any other full-time daycare.
“This is not new,” Couse said. “Actually, many kids are already in full-day daycare from a very young age, even from infancy. At least 60 percent of U.S. children are in out-of-family care when they’re under the age of 5, and much of that is full-day.”
But doubling the amount of time kids spend in kindergarten carries with it financial implications. Districts — read, taxpayers — need to pay for more staff. District officials need to make sure they have enough physical space, and teachers need to develop curriculum plans that work over a full day of school rather than half a day, Couse said.
Many are concerned about taxes.
“Any time someone from outside the district is making decisions that affect people’s pocketbooks, that’s a concern,” Levey said. “There is a fiscal consideration.”
Districts, parents and teachers need to be on the same page.
“When we do get pressures like the Common Core and standards-based curriculum, it’s important for children and teachers to work together,” Couse said. “If they’re not getting enough time with students, it could potentially be setting them up for not the optimal learning environment.”