This Digest examines how changing family patterns have affected the full-day/half-day kindergarten issue, discusses why schools are currently considering alternative scheduling, and describes the advantages and disadvantages of each type of program.
CHANGES IN FAMILY PATTERNS
Among the changes that make full-day kindergarten attractive to many families are the following:
--An increase in the number of working parents. The number of mothers of children under six who work outside the home increased 34 percent from 1970 to 1980 (Evans and Marken 1983). In 1984, 48 percent of children under six had mothers in the labor force (The National Commission on Working Women 1985)
--An increase in the number of children with preschool or day care experience. Since the mid-1970s most children have had some kind of preschool experience in Head Start, day care, private preschools, or in early childhood programs in the public schools. These experiences have provided children's first encounters with daily organized instructional and social activities before kindergarten (Herman 1984)
--An increase in the influence of television and family mobility. These two factors have produced 5-year-olds who seem more knowledgeable about their world and are apparently more ready for a full-day school experience than the children of previous generations
--Renewed interest in academic preparation for later school success. Even when both do not work outside the home, parents are interested in the contribution of early childhood programs (including full-day kindergarten) to later school success.
SCHOOLS AND FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN
School systems are interested in alternative scheduling partly for the reasons listed above and partly for reasons related to finances and school space availability. Among the reasons considered:
--State school funding formulas. Some states provide more state aid for all-day students, although seldom enough to completely pay the extra costs of full-day kindergarten programs. Other states allow only half-day state aid. Funding formulas would have to change in order for these schools to benefit financially from all-day kindergarten
--Busing and other transportation costs. Eliminating the need for noon bus trips and crossing guards saves the school system money
--Availability of classroom space and teachers. As school enrollment declines, many districts have the extra classroom space and enough qualified teachers to offer full-day kindergarten
In addition, school districts are interested in responding to parents' requests for full-day kindergarten. In New York City, for example, parents offered this option were overwhelmingly in favor of the plan, initially creating waiting lists of thousands of children ("Woes Plague New York's All-Day Kindergartens" 1983).
ADVANTAGES OF FULL-DAY PROGRAMS
Herman (1984) believes full-day programs provide a relaxed, unhurried school day with more time for a variety of experiences, for screening and assessment opportunities, and for quality interaction between adults and students.
While the long-term effects of full-day kindergarten are inconclusive, Stinard's review of 10 research studies indicates that students taking part in full-day programs demonstrate strong academic advantages as much as a year later (1982). Stinard found that full-day students performed as well or better than half-day students in every study with no significant adverse effects.
A recent longitudinal study of full-day kindergarten in the Evansville-Vanderberg, Ohio, School District indicates that fourth graders maintained the academic advantage gained during full-day kindergarten (Humphrey 1983).
School districts that have planned a developmentally appropriate, non-academic curriculum with well-paced activities have reported few problems with full-day scheduling (Evans 1984; Stinard l982).
DISADVANTAGES OF FULL-DAY PROGRAMS
Critics point out that full-day programs are expensive because they require additional teaching staff and aides to maintain an acceptable child-adult ratio. These costs may or may not be offset by transportation savings and, in some cases, additional state aid.
Other requirements of full-day kindergarten, including the use of more classroom space, may be difficult to satisfy in districts where kindergarten or primary grade enrollment is increasing and school buildings have been sold.
In addition to citing added expense and space requirements as problems, opponents argue that full-day programs may become too academic, concentrating on basic skills before children are ready. In addition, they are concerned that one half-day of an all-day program may become merely child care.
ADVANTAGES OF HALF-DAY PROGRAMS
Many educators still prefer half-day, everyday kindergarten. They argue that a half-day program can provide high quality educational and social experience for young children while orienting them adequately to school.
Specifically, half-day programs are viewed as providing continuity and systematic experience with less probability of stress than full-day programs. Proponents of the half-day approach believe that, given the 5-year-old's attention span, level of interest, and home ties, a half day offers ample time in school and allows more time for the young child to play and interact with adults and other children in less-structured home or child care settings (Finkelstein 1983).
DISADVANTAGES OF HALF-DAY PROGRAMS
Disadvantages of half-day programs include disrupting children midday to move them from one program to another and inconveniencing parents who must arrange transportation if busing is not provided by the school. Even if provided, schools may find the extra trip expensive. In addition, the half-day kindergartner may have little opportunity to benefit from activities such as assemblies or field trips.
The length of the school day is only one dimension of the kindergarten experience. Other important issues include the nature of the kindergarten curriculum and the quality of teaching. In general, research suggests that, as long as the curriculum is developmentally appropriate and intellectually stimulating, either full- or half-day scheduling can provide an adequate introduction to school.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Evans, Ellis D., and Dan Marken. LONGITUDINAL FOLLOW-UP COMPARISION OF CONVENTIONAL AND EXTENDED-DAY PUBLIC SCHOOL KINDERGARTEN PROGRAMS. Seattle, WA: 1983. ED 254 298.
Finkelstein, Judith M. RESULTS OF MIDWESTERN UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS STUDY: KINDERGARTEN SCHEDULING. Volume I Number 4. Iowa: Price Laboratory School Research, 1983. ED 248 979.
Grant, W. Vance, and Thomas D. Snyder. DIGEST OF EDUCATION STATISTICS 1983-84. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 1983.
Herman, Barry E. THE CASE FOR THE ALL-DAY KINDERGARTEN. Fastback 205. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1984. ED 243 592.
Humphrey, Jack W. A LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN. Evansville, OH: Evansville-Vanderburgh School District, 1983. ED 247 014.
National Commission on Working Women. "Working Mothers and Their Families: A Fact Sheet." WOMEN AT WORK: NEWS ABOUT THE 80% (Winter 1985).
Stinard, Thomas A. SYNOPSIS OF RESEARCH ON KINDERGARTEN SCHEDULING: HALF-DAY, EVERYDAY; FULL DAY, ALTERNATE DAY; AND FULL DAY, EVERYDAY. Cedar Rapids, IA: Grant Wood Area Education Agency, 1982. ED 219 151.
"Woes Plague New York's All-Day Kindergartens," NEW YORK TIMES, October 13, 1983, section Y, page 47.
This Digest was prepared for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1984.