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Extra Credit: Providing Equal Access to Full-Day Kindergarten

In the education-reform shopping mall, the product moving fastest off the shelves appears to be early-childhood programs. Florida voters were so eager for pre-kindergarten classes that they passed a statewide ballot measure they could not afford. Similar measures have done well in other states. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has made preschool a key part of his agenda.

Of course, when government raises expectations and then fails to deliver, parents complain. Here is an exchange of e-mails between a Fairfax County parent and a Fairfax official over the issue. Who is right? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Mr. Storck:
I am a parent of a child who will be going into kindergarten in the fall at Stratford Landing Elementary School. We have been lucky enough to have him enrolled in an excellent private preschool in the area. He has excelled in pre-K and is eagerly looking forward to attending kindergarten. Of the 44 children who will be graduating from his preschool, only two will be going to Stratford Landing. But this is the only school in our county cluster that does not offer a full-day kindergarten program.
Research from the Alexandria public schools clearly demonstrates that children in full-day kindergarten, across socioeconomic and ethnic groups, perform better on the Cognitive Ability Test than their peers in half-day kindergarten programs. Also, Fairfax County prominently promotes the benefits of full-day kindergarten, including a video clip on its Web site.
As a taxpayer and voter in Fairfax, I feel that it is unfair that children who live less than a mile away will be getting the equivalent of two times the education our son will be getting next year. I learned that the cost to implement full-day kindergarten at Stratford Landing for the 2009-10 school year would be $260,000. After meeting with the teachers at the Stratford Landing kindergarten orientation, I learned that because of the half-day situation, music and movement meet only once a week (in first through sixth grade, it is every day). Art is offered once every two weeks. Recess is the first to be dropped if the teachers feel pressured to keep up with the curriculum. A full-day program would easily remedy these issues.
Although there are other programs that need funds in the county, I believe one of the most equitable, and certainly the most important, would be to get the full-day kindergarten in place at Stratford Landing.
David Weinraub

Thank you for your e-mail regarding adding full-day kindergarten to Stratford Landing this coming school year. I am fully aware of the benefits of full-day kindergarten, and strongly support its addition to Stratford Landing and all our elementary schools. However, our ability to do so is directly tied to the funding available. Full-day kindergarten's per-student funding for next year's budget is more than $500 lower than this year, with no raises for any employees, increasing class sizes and cuts in many other programs, besides full-day kindergarten, that I believe are critical to our children's education.

The full-day kindergarten implementation formula (risk factor index) the School Board debated and adopted several years ago is an equitable one for distributing our very limited funds. The elementary schools that have full-day kindergarten have received it because of their risk factor index. This index is calculated according to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and limited English proficient students in a school. The higher the risk factor, the sooner a school receives full-day kindergarten. The only exception to that rule was made almost 10 years ago, before my service, for those schools that agreed to adopt the "Success by Eight" program, such as Waynewood Elementary School, which is based upon multi-age K-2 classrooms.

Even though Stratford Landing is one of the next schools on the list, without a dramatic improvement in the economy or new county revenue sources, it seems unlikely, at this time, that Stratford Landing will get full-day kindergarten for the 2010-11 school year, either. I wish that I had better news, but Fairfax County still has almost a third of its elementary schools with no full-day kindergarten, and the prospects of receiving additional funding next year are poor at this time.

Dan Storck
Fairfax County School Board

Mr. Storck:

Thank you for responding. I understand how the formula for full-day kindergarten has been used in the past. I believe it is time to throw it out. Studies have shown the benefits of full-day kindergarten outweigh the costs. If Fairfax County is unable to implement full-day kindergarten in every school, it is a shame.
As our representative, I would hope you would fight to have it in all schools in your district. There are other county programs that could be cut to fund full-day kindergarten at Stratford Landing with minimal impact to the county (for example, foreign languages in the elementary schools with a larger number of ESL students). If some consider that unfair, so be it. It's unfair that every other school in our cluster has had full-day kindergarten for some time, and Stratford Landing has not. It's unfair that it has already been determined that the two new elementary schools opening this fall will have full-day kindergarten, and Stratford Landing does not.
David Weinraub

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | May 14, 2009; 3:06 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  | Tags:  kindergarten  
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It is absurd that Stratford Landing is the only school in our cluster without full day kindergarten. My children attend Fort Hunt Elementary, which until the 2007-08 school year also had only half day kindergarten. The answer typically given to parents who question this is that schools such as Ft. Hunt and Stratford Landing are higher performing schools with few low-income or minority students, and that funding for full day kindergarten is reserved for underperforming, at-risk students. This argument has never rung true for me, as our other neighborhood school, Waynewood Elementary, has had full day kindergarten for many years. Waynewood is a very high-performing school with virtually no minority or at-risk students enrolled. After hearing the condescending comments made by Mr. Storck Tuesday evening in response to the many Stratford Landing parents who addressed the school board, it seems clear to me that our representative to the board is not fighting hard enough to represent the interests of the parents and families in our school cluster. Fairfax County needs to get with the program and stop making excuses. There is a way to implement full day kindergarten at Stratford Landing; the school board just needs to be willing to get to work, do their job and implement the necessary changes and cuts to do so. This needs to be a priority.

Posted by: RJD1 | May 14, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

But what about families who do NOT want full-day kindergarten? Six hours is a long time for a young child to be in an institutional setting. It's one thing if the child comes from a dual-income or single-parent household and would otherwise be in daycare. But what about children with a stay-at-home parent?

Families should have the option of choosing whatever schedule they feel is best for their child.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 14, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Full-day kindergarten is often as much a matter of parents having to pay pretty much full-time daycare for another year as it is about advanced academics.

Since the programs are aimed at disadvantaged children parents in neighborhoods that aren't high on the risk index should be satisfied. They aren't high-risk.

Posted by: personabuena | May 14, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, FCPS does not calculate their risk index correctly. Because Stratford is a GT Center, the risk index is skewed. If the index were correctly calculated, it would show that the kindergartners entering Stratford are actually quite high on the risk index. FCPS and the School Board is aware of this, but do not want to change their method for calculating the index. The question is why they do not want to calculate the index correctly?

Posted by: fishy11 | May 14, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

In response to comments above about full-day kindergarten programs being beneficial exclusively for at-risk students-- that's just not true. There is a lot of research on this topic and there is evidence of benefits for children across the board, even when researchers control for socio-economic and demographic differences.

A lot of the problem centers around the stress of trying to cram a pretty intense full day program into a few hours. What is sacrificed is time for play and interact one-on-one with the teacher and other students. The problem is that young children learn through play and interaction, not at all the way adults learn. Beyond that, take a look at what these kids need to know for first grade. Kindergarten is no longer "play time."

Posted by: studdiford | May 14, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

You are right. There are benefits across the board. All kindergartners should have the opportunity to attend FDK.

However, if the county is going to use an index to prioritize funding, it should be correctly applied.

Right now, the index scores for GT Center schools will not reflect their kindergarten class students, as it is calculated from the entire student population.

Posted by: fishy11 | May 14, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

The neediest children among our ranks at SLE are those who receive free and reduced meals and for whom English proficiency remains a struggle. It is for these children in particular that we advocate as a community for FDK. If the county would use a valid risk index which accurately reflected the needs of these children instead of writing us off as another GT center school with scores too high to qualify for FDK, perhaps SLE would have already obtained its place among the ranks of all of the other schools in our cluster which already have FDK.

When the money was flowing in FCPS, Dan Storck rolled out a grand series of excuses for why Stratford Elementary must wait and wait and wait. Now that they are squeezed to find funds, it is all too easy for the board to blame the economy instead of mismanagement and poor decision making.

The time is now Mr. Storck to make good on the promises you made to your neighbors in your community at your local school. We are your constituency and shame on you for not advocating for us.

Posted by: jake19 | May 14, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Studdiford- you've brought up another one of my pet peeves. Why does kindergarten have to be "academic"? Who decided it was beneficial for young kids to make kindergarten what 1st grade used to be and pre-k what kindergarten used to be?

The Waldorf schools don't start academics until age 7 and their students seem to do just fine...

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 14, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Our younger son will attend Stratford Landing kindergarten in the fall. We have also enrolled him in another half-day kindergarten program so that he can have a full-day of learning, like his peers at the other kindergartens in our cluster. This supplemental program will cost us just over $200 per week. Will the Fairfax County School Board reimburse us for this additional expense, not incurred by our neighbors at Waynewood and Ft. Hunt? If Mr. Storck will not support us, his constituents, it is time to find someone who will. Since our older son began attending Stratford Landing 4 years ago, we have been hearing "next year, next year." When will it be next year? Take the funding from the foreign language program and fund the full day kindergarten program at Stratford Landing Elementary that we have been promised for so many years.

Posted by: ilenesam | May 15, 2009 12:22 AM | Report abuse

I fully support full day kindergarten programs. It is outrageous that Stratford Landing is the only school in Cluster IV, Fairfax County, that does not have a full day kindergarten program.

To the parent who stated above that he does not want his child to go to a full day program, I certainly understand. However, the fact is that every other student that in Cluster IV - students who your child will be competing with in middle and high schools - will be getting more of an education than your child.

My daughter is currently in kidergarten, and complains about how rushed her class is. Her teachers are extraordinary in what they've achieved with their students, but not all children can learn as quickly as others.

Our School Board members have the power to appropriate part of Fairfax's $2.2 billion budget to resolve this inequality. All of our students should be given an equal chance at success.

Posted by: llldsk | May 15, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I am a parent of a current Stratford Landing student and an incoming Kindergartener at Stratford Landing. I also attend the FCPS Board Meeting on Tuesday, May 12th. After attending the meeting, I have gained further insight into both the mammoth task that the Board must undergo in order to determine the school budget for the upcoming year; in addition to the various important issues that require money throughout the Fairfax County School system.

However, I also realized that there is money which can be re-allocated out of programs that while they may be terrific goals for the school system, are not necessary for the education of our children, such as the FLES program. As the Director of the Library of Congress Child Development Center, I am incredibly bothered by the fact that Stratford Landing is still the only school in our cluster that does not have full-day kindergarten. As an educator, I cannot fathom that the FCPS Board did not implement this years ago and is still unwilling to allocate money to bring schools up to equal levels. Most of the children at my Center come from families who live in the District and even in the District, not only is there guaranteed full-day kindergarten, but almost every school now has full-day pre-k. The importance of the early years of education have been well-documented and I'm sure that you are well-aware of the findings.

As a working parent, I still cannot believe that I am forced to pay for After-Kindergarten (which is currently $276 a month and will be increased next year) in addition to SACC for both of my children (which will be more than $552 a month combined). Why should parents whose children attend Stratford Landing, but pay the same taxes as children who attend Waynewood, Belle Haven, Hollin Meadows, etc., be forced to pay an additional $2,700 a year in order to receive LESS services. Our fabulous teachers are forced to squeeze the same amount of educational material into half the time as all the surrounding school teachers. If it wasn't for our fabulous teachers, our test scores would be much lower than they are.

Posted by: ilene2 | May 15, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I have been asked to post a comment from a PTA member as i am unable to go to the PTA meeting with Dan Storck 5/18.

What i can say in my comment is that this has been an ongoing issue since i have arrived at SLES, three years ago. It has been hotly debated at PTA meetings at the school level and the superintendent meetings at the county level and I remain as mystified now as I was three years ago, as to why all children and all families despite their economic good fortune or not in this county are not treated equally. That is only one point to me made there are several others discussed well in the letters before mine. I have come to the opinion that i live in a not so progressive county whose elected officials are clearly not listening to their constituents and seem only to be acting on their own agenda.

I could not be more frustrated with many aspects of the county system. As both of my children have moved on from the kindergarten room, I am more focused on the SOL testing. I feel we are doing our children a tremendous diservice with so many of the academic decisions currently in place in the Fairfax County system.

Signed, considering private school education!

Posted by: smwalsh325verizonnet | May 17, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Full Day Kindergarten at Stratford Landing is described by School Board members as long overdue. Test results prove how important this educational time is for children. Fairfax County must make some difficult decisions and implement this program. It is unfair that SLES hosting a GT center costs its neighborhood families full day kindergarten which other neighboring schools have. We are all make tough choices in these times. Stratford Landing families are being put at a disadvantage by offering their children less school and less appeal to new families moving into the area. Families looking into this area will choose Fort Hunt or Waynewood. It costs more to have children in Stratfrod Landing because of additional childcare costs. Treat Stratford Landing fairly. Fund full day kindergarten.

Posted by: my3sons | May 18, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

This was submitted to the Fairfax County School Board today...
Proposed Amendment to Fairfax County Public Schools FY2010 Budget


1. Equal access to full-day kindergarten for each and every child in Fairfax County is a right, not a privilege;

2. Children at 37 elementary schools, or 28% of the schools, do not have the same access to a full-day kindergarten program as do their peers living in other parts of Fairfax County;

3. National research indicates that children in full-day kindergarten score significantly higher on both math and reading standardized achievement tests than their peers in half-day programs;

4. Half-day kindergarteners in Fairfax County are further disadvantaged because the kindergarten curriculum has become more rigorous since full-day kindergarten implementation began in Fairfax County in 1998;

5. FCPS has spent $517.7 million from FY2003-FY2008 on prevention strategies to ensure that schools achieve Adequate Yearly Progress;

6. The current Fairfax County School Board risk-factor index does not adequately reflect the needs of a Gifted and Talented Center based school. For example, Stratford Landing Elementary School has a risk-factor index of 13.8 when adjusted for GT Center students;

7. Savings from full-day kindergarten are realized over the short and long-term due to the elimination of mid-day transportation, reduced need for half-day School Age Child Care, and need for less remediation and retention;

RESOLVED: that the Fairfax County Public Schools FY2010 Budget be amended to include:

1. The expansion of full-day kindergarten into four to eight elementary schools of the remaining 37 on the current wait list and including any school from this list that has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress within the last three years.

Amendment submitted by the Coalition for Full-Day Kindergarten.

Posted by: cfdk1 | May 18, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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