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New Law Gives Children a Boost in Kindergarten Readiness

February 26, 2013
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We’ve all at various times in various ways tried to pursue what is becoming an huge development in early childhood education. But it took more than a quarter of a century to get it right.

Joe Simitian

Former State Senator

California State Senate

For more than 25 years, California legislators have written bills aimed at modifying the age requirement for entry into kindergarten, but it wasn’t until 2010 that Senate Bill 1381, The Kindergarten Readiness Act, seemed to possess all the right elements.

“We’ve all at various times in various ways tried to pursue what is becoming an huge development in early childhood education,” said former state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the author of the bill. “But it took more than a quarter of a century to get it right.”

Up until that point, California was one of just four states that allowed children to begin kindergarten before the age of 5.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act changes the kindergarten entry date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1 so that children enter kindergarten at age 5. The roll out for the change in entry date is incremental, rolling back one month each year until the 2014-2015 school year.

The act, signed into law in 2010, also offers children with birthdays between September and December Transitional Kindergarten, or TK.

TK is a developmentally appropriate curriculum that combines preschool foundation and frameworks with state kindergarten standards. TK, the state’s 14th grade, will now be the first grade a child can potentially enter into the public school system. But, like kindergarten, TK is optional. By law, children must begin attending school each day come first grade.

This year, more than 800 school districts are offering the first of a two-year kindergarten for these children with fall birthdays, according to Simitian. Nearly 40,000 California students have been offered the program in more than 2,000 classrooms. Once fully phased into the public school system, approximately 125,000 California children will be eligible for TK each year.

Petition power

Two teachers, armed with a petition including 280 signatures, launched The Kindergarten Readiness Act movement, according to Simitian.

The senator agreed to author the bill after the teachers from his legislative district approached him, voicing their concerns over many youngsters simply not being “teachable” due to their young ages. That, coupled with those children who were ready, created a predicament for teachers focused on meeting their kindergarten curriculum goals. These teachers described to Simitian how the children who went to kindergarten unprepared were struggling with numerous subjects in later elementary grades.

“For years we thought of kindergarten as the year where we get ready for ‘real school’ but now it has become real school and we have academic standards for kindergarten,” Simitian said.

Now, according to Simitian, we are faced with a need to help the children who are not ready for the rigors of kindergarten. Simitian said TK gives these children a leg up, providing them with an appropriate learning environment to develop their social and emotional finesse in an academic environment, thus ensuring their future academic success.

According to Preschool California’s Senior Policy Advisor Scott Moore, teachers across the state have been waiting for this bill for some time.

“Kindergarten teachers have been some of the strongest proponents over the last decade of 4-year-olds (beginning) in these rigorous programs,” Moore said. “They have long said that TK is a more developmentally appropriate option to getting these young kids ready for school.”

How does it work?

Under the law, each district in California must offer TK. Each district can go about including TK in its program a number of ways, according to Simitian.

The law was written with an enormous amount of flexibility, allowing districts the decision to split kindergarten with TK or have a stand-alone TK class. Districts could offer TK on every campus or just one campus that pulls students who meet the age requirement from neighboring schools to one site. The same idea goes for curriculum, Simitian said.

At this point, there is no mandatory curriculum to follow as with K-12 grades. Only California state credentialed teachers can teach TK students.

State funding already in place

TK was all funded through existing state education money.

Since TK is now the 14th grade in the state’s public school system, each district receives the same full California Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding rate for TK students that it receives for all kindergarten students. All funding arrangements, such as Title 1, class-size reduction, Title II and Title III funds apply, according to Shirley Esau, principal of Washington Elementary School.