While school divisions in southern Manitoba begin experimenting with full-day, every-day kindergarten classes — or variations thereof — at least two studies have questioned the value of these programs.
Last week, the Globe and Mail published the results of a longitudinal study from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto that had tracked about 550 children through the early primary grades.
Interestingly, by the end of Grade 1, researchers found that there had been no significant difference between children who attended two years of full-day kindergarten and those in the half-day program, when it came to alphabet knowledge, counting and number tasks and writing a sentence.
However, the full-day kindergarteners did show “significantly better” vocabulary skills, and a strong ability to control their behaviour and engage in play-bases tasks.
This comes on the heels of a similar study published through the University of Manitoba last year that concluded full-day kindergarten makes no difference over the long haul to kids with lower literacy skills.
“By Grade 3, there were significant gaps” reappearing between kids who initially benefited and kids coming from a more literate and affluent background, Marni Brownell, senior scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, told the Winnipeg Free Press in October.
Part of the problem, it seems, were the parents of kids from less-affluent families, who were not reinforcing literacy at home, not reading to and with their kids, and instead watching TV.
These findings should have a direct bearing on the continuing efforts by trustees in the Brandon School Division, and by other school division boards in western Manitoba, to further implement augmented kindergarten programs for local students.
For what these studies tell us is that, though all-day kindergarten programs do have some benefits, by themselves they cannot fully address the needs of would-be beneficiaries. It also suggests to us that parents have just as big a role to play in the literacy of their children, as any divisional program.
But proponents of all-day kindergarten remain undeterred. School divisions in Winnipeg, Brandon and across southern Manitoba have already begun enacting similar kindergarten programs on their own dime, as the province has until now refused to create a provincewide all-day kindergarten program.
The Brandon School Division launched full-day, every-day kindergarten as a pilot project in 2011-12. It’s now offered in six of the division’s elementary schools.
Since the program began, the division has been keeping track of student response. According to BSD’s 2012-13 Student Achievement Summary Report, when compared with half-day kindergarten students, full-day students are ending the year meeting more phonological awareness expectations.
As the Sun has previously reported, when tested in the fall, 16 per cent of students in full-day kindergarten were meeting phonological awareness expectations, but by spring, 80 per cent were meeting expectations. While 35 per cent of students in half-day kindergarten were meeting expectations, by spring, 72 per cent were meeting expectations in phonological awareness.
Recently, we have suggested that the provincial government erred by choosing to put financial resources into mandating class size limits for kindergarten to Grade 3 across Manitoba, instead of all-day kindergarten as BSD trustees have advocated. In principle, we do see the value of small class sizes, but issues of program affordability continue to dog that provincial mandate.
However, when it comes to full-day, every-day kindergarten, Brandon’s pilot project needs a few more years to mature, in order to fully understand the implications of the project on student capabilities.
It may well turn out that, as the U of M study suggests, parents of children who don’t do as well as their peers in school could also use some encouragement in reinforcing literacy skills in their children at home.
But until longer-term results are available, all-day kindergarten should remain off the province’s funding to-do list.