In Our View: Raise the Bar for 5-year-olds

They'll meet the challenge, as demonstrated in full-day kindergarten

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Many parents — and especially grandparents — of today's kindergartners would be surprised at how this introduction to school has changed from what previous generations experienced. First, for many modern students it's an all-day experience. Evergreen Public Schools, for example, provides universal all-day kindergarten.

Second, the instruction is more elaborate than in decades past. According to http://www.k12.wa.us, today's kindergartners learn about reading, math and writing, advance their communication skills, and embark on new adventures in science, social studies, arts, health and physical education. They even develop introductory skills in a second language.

That's why we endorse all-day kindergarten and the state's mandate that it will be fully implemented statewide by 2018.

Not all school districts have kept pace with Evergreen. As Erin Middlewood reported in a Saturday Columbian story, Vancouver Public Schools offers free all-day kindergarten at six low-income elementary schools. Also provided is tuition all-day kindergarten ($2,900 per year) at four schools, but no all-day kindergarten is provided at 11 elementary schools. The higher priority in the Vancouver district has been smaller class sizes, certainly a praiseworthy goal.

Legislators, as part of the highly contentious budget process, are negotiating various levels of funding that would boost the state toward the court-mandated full implementation by the 2018 deadline. Those lawmakers might be inclined to accelerate that transition if they more fully understood what's happening in the Evergreen district.

Full implementation of free, all-day kindergarten in Evergreen has been both costly and complicated, but certainly worth it. Before that change, about half of children in the half-day program were reaching benchmarks in reading. Now, as Middlewood reported, that success rate is 85 percent.

This particular subtopic of pedagogy is replete with extensive research, but two simple principles also apply: (1) When children double their time in school, they learn more. (2) And when academic standards are raised for children, they consistently meet the challenge, especially when adequate funding and sufficient resources accompany those higher standards.

It would be great if every school district copied the Evergreen kindergarten model, but the answer for now is: Many simply cannot afford it. That's why meeting the state constitutional mandate to fully fund public education must remain a high priority for the Legislature. We embrace the concept of local autonomy, which explains why many districts have not adopted universal all-day kindergarten. But local independence must not be used as an excuse for the Legislature to shirk its obligations. It's not right for some children to benefit from free (actually no-fee; no aspect of public education is free) all-day kindergarten but other children to be denied.

For more evidence, consult the prime beneficiary of all-day kindergarten. Ask one of the kids. You might be surprised at the eloquence of the 5-year-old's answer.