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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/12/2010

All-Day or Half-Day Kindergarten?

By Valerie Strauss

The Answer Sheet’s guest blogger today is Debra Viadero, who reports on education research for Education Week and writes a daily blog called Inside School Research.

By Debra Viadero
In my Fairfax County neighborhood, there are two elementary schools within half a mile of each other. The school that my children attended has an all-day kindergarten; the other one offers kindergarten half a day. The school with the half-day program, however, has other benefits, though, such as smaller class sizes in the early grade.

So, I’ve often wondered, which students were better off in the long run: the full-day program graduates or the half-day students who got more individual attention from their teachers?

Research, as it turns out, doesn’t offer much guidance on that question. Some studies show that full-day kindergarten programs, used in most school districts to give disadvantaged students a leg up on their better-off peers, do just what they’re intended to do.

Even though the poorer full-day students started out school trailing behind the more advantaged peers in half-day programs, academically speaking, they finished out the year a month ahead. Other studies, however, suggest, disappointingly, that the disadvantaged students lose their edge later on in elementary school.

A new study, however, sheds some light on what might account for the differing findings. In the study, University of Oregon researcher Keith Zvoch analyzes two years of data on 3,485 full- and half-day students in an unnamed school district somewhere in the Southwestern United States. Because he tested students at more points along the way, his findings paint a more compete picture of the ebbs and flows of students’ achievement patterns.

In this district, the students placed in the full-day programs were also poorer and lower-achieving than the students in the half-day programs. But they learned quickly in the full-day programs and finished the year ahead of their half-day counterparts.

The problem was that they lost more ground than the half-day students over the long, lazy summer months so that, by the start of the 1st grade year, they were behind again. Over the course of the 1st grade school year, though, both groups learned at the same rate. That meant, however, that the former full-day pupils were still behind when the year ended.

Writing in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Zvoch says his findings suggest the need for summer academic programs to protect the learning gains that disadvantaged students make in full-day kindergarten programs.

Does that mean that that full-day kindergarten programs don’t work? Probably not. The disadvantaged students might have been even farther behind after 1st grade, I would argue, had they never had a chance to attend full-day kindergarten.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 12, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  kindergarten; guest bloggers  
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