On April 8, the Westport Board of Education plans to vote on a five-full-day kindergarten proposal. As a mom of four, I have a personal interest in the debate, but this vote has financial and philosophical implications for taxpayers and all parents of school-age kids in town.
Money talks, so let's start there. Currently, 19 kindergarten teachers in Westport assist in other classrooms on Monday and Friday afternoons when their students head home for much needed free play and down time. The kindergarten teachers cover classrooms during grade-level meetings and offer small-group instruction. If full-day kindergarten is implemented, almost 80 hours of assistance per week will either disappear or new teachers will need to be hired to cover the hours. Yet, this fact has not been discussed. Wilton is in an uproar now due to $200,000 in full-day kindergarten expenses that were overlooked by its board. Is Westport next?
As for philosophical concerns, did anyone see "Race to Nowhere?" That's a rhetorical question; most of us did. So why have we forgotten its message already? The administration's proposal asks for 350 additional instructional minutes so that kindergarten students can be pushed to read earlier, count to 100 and analyze "informational text." (Story books? Nah. That's old school. Likewise, high school language arts will have only 30 percent literature!) Choice/recess has not been upped beyond the usual 30 minutes on the two added kindergarten afternoons. The research supporting unstructured play as most vital to kindergarteners' overall development is overwhelming. Why would we do this?
Apparently because Connecticut has adopted the Common Core Standards. Never mind that not one K -- 3 teacher or early-child development expert was consulted in designing the standards and that our students already meet or exceed most benchmarks. The fear mongering is unwarranted. Plus, if anything will help 5-year-olds perform on tests (if we must ask them to do something so absurd when their brains are just developing, each one at a different pace), it is a schedule that allows them to be rested, focused, enthusiastic learners, not one that will produce stress cases with self-esteem issues because they couldn't read at age 4.
Our kindergarteners already attend school 30 hours per week -- that is a full-day program. Give them an iota of the free time we had as kids to play, explore and develop social skills, which will serve them better in life than crammed academics.
It's clear that this is not about what our young children need; it's about what adults want. It's about one facet of kindergarten -- academics -- and is dismissive of so many aspects of child development that are more important for a 5-year-old. I don't care if my kids go to Ivy League schools, but I'm 100 percent sure four more hours in kindergarten will not be the difference between Yale and UConn. It may be the difference between a child who loves learning and an exhausted, anxious kid, though.
Please voice your opinions at the April 8 Board of Education.