As if California parents and children have not had enough mandates from Sacramento, the Legislature is considering mandating kindergarten, even though research, international experience, and teacher testimony undercut the idea.
SB 70 by State Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) would, according to her press release, “require all students to complete one year in kindergarten before entering first grade,” which would replace the current policy where “parents are able to delay their child’s entrance into school until the first grade.”
Rubio argues, “The voluntary participation for kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary schools.” Her claims, however, do not hold up.
Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood expert at Lesley University in Massachusetts, says, “there isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long term-benefit from it.”
In fact, a study comparing New Zealand students who learned to read at age seven versus students who started reading at age five found that both groups had equivalent reading skills by age 11.
In Finland, which progressives often view as an educational paradise, preschool does not start until age six and emphasis on reading does not start until age seven.
Yet, according to Stanford University research, Finland is “one of the world’s most literate societies.”
In contrast, California has the lowest literacy rate among all states.
In addition to expert opinion and research, classroom teachers in California oppose mandatory kindergarten.
Lisa Disbrow, a longtime California teacher, taught kindergarten for many years in the low-income community of Richmond in the Bay Area.
While politicians like Rubio make blanket statements about the supposed efficacy of universal kindergarten, Disbrow warns that what takes place in kindergarten classes is what really matters.
A Spanish-bilingual teacher, Disbrow taught mostly Spanish-speaking students, but said, “I left bilingual Spanish education because I believe it intentionally cheats students of equal educational access and creates a permanent underclass who continue to pass on failing academic behaviors to their children.”
She warned that that popular pedagogical techniques like balanced literacy programs “do not explicitly teach phonics and ignore the amount of time it takes for children today who may face a huge span of issues and concerns to learn to read, write, and compute numbers.”
It should be pointed out that even though kindergarten is voluntary in California, the vast majority of parents decide to send their kids to kindergarten.
However, using failed programs in kindergarten has not helped these children and will not help the children who are currently not attending kindergarten once they are forced to attend.
Indeed, even with most children voluntarily attending kindergarten, Disbrow says, “Today’s California pubic schools academically rank from 47th to 50th in reading, writing, science, math, and history proficiency.”
Mandating kindergarten for the relatively small minority of students who are not attending will not solve California’s massive literacy and numeracy problems.
Further, mandating kindergarten does not take into account the individual needs of children.
UCLA education lecturer and longtime Los Angeles teacher Walt Gardner has observed: “But not all children even at age 5 can profit equally from enrollment. They need more time. Only their parents can make that determination. The fact is that young children mature at different rates.”
Thus parental choice, not mandates by politicians would better serve children.
If mandatory kindergarten will not likely benefit children, who does stand to benefit?
According to Disbrow, mandating kindergarten, plus the push for universal pre-K education, will benefit established interests: “Schools will need more supplies, more staffing, union membership will grow, new consultants with new trainings will be hired, more students will need more supplies, and big government will have grown into the vision they share with Karl Marx when he stated, ‘The education of all children from the moment that they can get along without a mother’s care, shall be in state institutions.’”
Mandatory kindergarten, therefore, is a bad idea. California would do better to follow the lead of Arizona and give parents more educational options, not force them into a one-size-fits-all government program that already has a bad track record.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.