Hot Button Issues in Education Today: Full-Day Kindergarten
By Judy Molland 

Homework is not the only controversial issue affecting 5- and 6-year-olds. With nearly 98 percent of youngsters nationwide attending kindergarten prior to first grade, a half-day of kindergarten is the usual experience for
U.S. children.

Thirty-nine states mandate that districts offer at least a half-day of kindergarten, while nine states, not among them, require that districts offer full-day kindergarten. Yet, only 14 states – again, not – actually require children to attend kindergarten at all. Of those, only two – West Virginia and Louisiana – require full-day attendance.

Nevertheless, 60 percent of kindergartners nationwide now attend a full-day program. This is because, at the local level, many districts have begun implementing full-day kindergarten programs, regardless of whether the state mandates it or not, to meet the demands of parents and children.

Recent research has shown that children who attend full-day kindergarten are better prepared to succeed in first grade and beyond. A landmark study of Maryland’s Montgomery County school district found that adding full-day kindergarten four years ago, along with other reforms in the primary grades, has helped raise math scores among the district’s second-graders. It also has helped narrow the achievement gaps between children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Beyond academics, for children of working parents, full-day programs limit the number of transitions a child must make during a day, reducing child and parental stress. However, most school districts cite a lack of sufficient funds to support a full-day kindergarten program, particularly if the state isn’t mandating it.

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