Cynical about full-day kindergarten

by Decemberbaby

I just couldn’t shut up about this one. Jennifer in Mamaland recently asked a government representative about the new full-day Junior kindergarten program in Ontario. She was directed to a government page about the issue, entitled “the research is in” that explains why full-day kindergarten is such a good idea.

I’m married to a cynical engineer, and I have a touch of cynic in me too, so I take all research citations with a grain of salt. But for some reason, this list (and the way it was worded) just really irked me. Here is the text of the page in italics, and my cynical responses.

Many studies have shown that full-day learning programs for four- and five-year-olds can have a positive impact on their academic, social and emotional development. These programs also give the children’s parents more opportunities to work towards a better future for their families. For example:

Notice the weasel phrasing “can have a positive impact”. Sure it can. But “can” is not the same as “consistently does”. Watch out for weasel words, people. As for the programs giving more opportunities for parents to earn more money, doesn’t that mean that we’re providing free daycare for 4-year-olds? Anyhow, let’s look at the research:

  • A Rutgers University study found that prolonged and regular full-day preschool attendance significantly increased children’s verbal and mathematics test scores in Grade 1 and beyond.

Which children? Where? What was the socioeconomic status of the children being followed? And once again, notice the weasel words “in Grade 1 and beyond”. Grade 2 is beyond Grade 1, but if the test scores are only elevated for those two years, that means that eventually everyone evens out regardless of kindergarten attendance. So let’s clarify: how far “beyond” were these test scores elevated? And on another note, could their test scores be higher because they’re being trained in test-taking behaviour at an earlier age?

  • A University of Ottawa study found that full-day preschool programs for four-year-old children had a positive effect on the children’s language and academic learning.

That’s great. How large was this effect? Was it sustained past the kindergarten year? And “positive” is pretty vague. Did the kids enjoy it more? Retain more information? Learn to actually use the information?

  • That same study noted that parents of the children enrolled in the full-day program observed higher levels of progress in their children, and that the teachers observed that children in the full-day program more easily adjusted to academic life than children who attended a half-day program.
Oh, I see. Thanks for clarifying that. Let’s point out that this couldn’t possibly have been a double-blind study, so parents’ observations of progress might be because they expected to see progress, or that they wanted to justify committing their kids to a full day in school for whatever reason. Also, “higher levels of progress” than whom? Than a different set of kids and parents? Than what they expected? Once again, there’s a serious lack of specificity here.
As for the teachers’ observation of easier adjustment, it’s fairly obvious that it takes kids a fair amount of time to get used to school at the beginning. So if your kid begins full-day schooling at age four, he or she will be pretty much adjusted to it by halfway through the following year. Kids who start at age five will, by comparison with the previous group, seem to adjust more slowly. They actually are adjusting at the same rate, it’s just a difference in when they started the process.
My nasty inner cynic also wants to ask: does “adjusted to academic life” mean “got used to sitting quietly, quelling their urge to play, learning to please the teacher, and following instructions”? Because if that’s the case, is that really what we think is appropriate for a four-year-old?
  • Early childhood programs that help compensate children for difficult home and community environments and that support parents to work or upgrade their job skills are highly effective at reducing the rate and depth of family poverty.

OK, I buy this. So we’re talking about a segment of the population who can benefit from this. It doesn’t mean that my child or yours will benefit. So why is it mandatory? Also, while full-day kindergarten does allow parents to work longer hours, how exactly does it support them to upgrade their job skills? That one seems like a red herring.

  • A recent study from Harvard University found that students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college and earn more over time.
Really? No kidding! You know, learning also happens at home, from the richness of the parents’ vocabulary to the availability of books, and those things (and others) probably impact how much the child is able to learn in kindergarten. Not to mention that the kids more likely to go to college and earn more are probably the children of parents who have college degrees and encourage their children to enter professions with the potential for higher earnings.
I’m sorry to have to disappoint the government of Ontario, but they’ve failed to convince me that there’s a long-term benefit to full-day kindergarten that can be absolutely attributed to the kindergarten program itself. Nice try, Ministry of Education, but don’t give up your day job.
Oh, wait, this is their day job. Crap.
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5 Comments to “Cynical about full-day kindergarten”

  1. Very, few to almost no educational studies are double blind. That is a very high standard. Also in whole vs. half day would be impossible to do double blind – wouldn’t it?

    I had no idea kindergarten was mandatory at all…

    • I get that educational studies can’t be double blind… but that’s a reason to be cautious about drawing conclusions from the parents’ and teachers’ observations.

      I don’t think kindergarten is mandatory. But I hate it when people cite research to back up their position but fail to give any actual information.

  2. this whole program is sketchy and not well explained to the public, and from my conversations with teachers in different boards (3) it seems to be widely different in how it is carried out, i.e in terms of quality and type of programs. How is that fair?
    Kindergarten is not mandatory, and they made a big deal initially that you could OPT to put your child in the all day program, making you think you have a choice, but it’s either ALL day kindergarten or NO kindergarten. Some choice.
    I’m glad R went through ont he 1/2 day program and am hoping Z will get through at least 1 year on the all day alternate day prog. before our school switches….
    great post Sara, love your comments on learning and playing at home vs. learning to sit, and please others ! Bravo!

  3. Yeah, I loved that last one “A recent study from Harvard University found that students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college and earn more over time.” Did anyone with toddlers get to chime in on whether “learned more” is the same as “learned for more HOURS”???
    As a parent, I know there’s only so much you can pump into my kiddies’ brains in any given day – however long I make them sit staring at a blackboard. (um, never tried it, so no actual double-blind studies)
    I read somewhere (I think Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well-Trained Mind) about a Grade 1 teacher who said, “I can always tell the kids who have been to kindergarten.” The (homeschooling) parent was dismayed until the teacher added, “they’re the best at following directions, lining up, putting up their hands…”
    But no mention of the typo??? Clearly, you’re not nearly as childish as I am.
    Now go have a baby!

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