At the heart of the Park City School District plan for rebuilding schools is the concept of grade realignment. Grade realignment means that Pre-K to 4th grade will be in elementary schools. There will be a new 5th/6th school, a 6th/7th school, and the high school. We’ll be moving schools around, adding on to them, and making multi million dollar changes ($65 million in changes to be exact). The reason given for grade realignment was that only 9% of Hispanic 11th graders were proficient in English. So, the idea was spawned that we should have all day Kindergarten for all children in order to improve results. With the addition of these extra Kindergartners, there wouldn’t be room in our elementary schools, so we had to move the 5th grade out and it caused a chain reaction across the district.
At face value, all day Kindergarten seems to make sense to solve proficiency issues. If we can only have 4 more hours a day with Kindergarten kids who don’t speak English as their first language, they will learn English more quickly. In fact studies show that by second grade, many English as a second language students have caught up and are on par with their classmates. It truly sounds like a great solution. So, what’s the problem?
You see, studies show that there is great success for children in full day Kindergarten (vs half day) until first or second grade. Anecdotal evidence shows the same thing. Many Kindergarten teachers describe miraculous changes that happen after a few months. The problem is that the impact seems short lived. In fact, most studies seem to show that any benefit of full day Kindergarten over half day Kindergarten disappears by the end of second grade (often by first grade). Fade out indicates that those children who had all day Kindergarten, and those who had full day Kindergarten, will have statistically similar test scores by 3rd grade (i.e., there is no test score benefit related to all day K over half day K).
There is now an effort to figure out why that is. There are some who say that the methodologies used in these studies looking at the long-term effects of all day Kindergarten are flawed. That may be true. Yet, what seems to be true for sure is that there are few if any well designed studies that show that a full day of Kindergarten versus a half day of Kindergarten adds any lasting effect. Take this Ed Central article on a recent study on all day Kindergarten. The article is very much in support of all day Kindergarten and describes a new study by Chloe R. Gibbs that uses new data to show benefits of all day Kindergarten. Yet, what does it conclude?
I would encourage you to read the article. It is very balanced. It appears to conclude that Full-Day-K seems to have benefits for a while. However, it says that a lot of research concludes those benefits are short-term, but that more research is needed to really know why. It also talks about how some research shows test scores aren’t improved long-term through Full-Day-K but some adult outcomes, like long-term earnings, are improved. Lest you think I cherry-picked an article on the subject, do a search on Google for “all day Kindergarten fade out.” The results of studies are all over the map. There is a lot of defense of all day Kindergarten. However, if you read through the literature, I would challenge you to come away with a rock-solid feeling that our 11th grade Hispanic students are going to improve their English proficiency test scores through this effort.
So what do I take away from it? There needs to be more research on Full-Day-K to determine whether outcomes last.
What’s the problem with this? It seems we began this school rebuilding adventure with the notion that we had to realign grades to help our English as a Second language kids. However, research doesn’t show it will have any impact over the half day Kindergarten (which we already have) past the second grade. Research may eventually show that it works or research may show it doesn’t. Yet, we’ve made a BIG plan based on an idea that just sounds good. If we didn’t realign the grades, we may still have to rebuild Treasure Mountain on Kearns ($25 million). We may still want an Athletic Field House ($12 million) but we wouldn’t have to upheave the entire school district to achieve the goal.
For a school district that prides itself on making decision based on research, this is more than a little worrisome.