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It's time for all-day kindergarten

It’s an exciting day in April when parents sign their kids up for kindergarten — the official passage from toddler toys to spelling books. A hallmark moment in childhood, filled with optimism and hope. And rare is the mom or dad who doesn’t beam and wonder whether their child may be president someday.

But when the schedule arrives in the mail and they learn Oregon offers only half-day kindergarten, that hope sinks like the September sun. Nobody’s going to be president if they’re in school only a few hours a day.

This ritual played out every year for thousands of Oregon parents.

But it won’t play out any more.

Beginning last week, every single kindergarten student in Oregon receives a full day of age-appropriate education. The day will begin around 8:30 a.m. for most kids and end around just before 3 p.m. It will be a structured day of math, reading, vocabulary, arts and reasoning. There will be time for interaction, play and transition — all essential elements of early learning.

I introduced full-day kindergarten legislation in 2003. After years of hand wringing and procrastination, the Legislature finally has funded it. The funding came not through higher taxes, but with changing priorities in education.

The law actually passed in 2011. Schools — and budgets — were given five years to ramp up.

The research on the benefits of full-day kindergarten is deep and indisputable.

n Students in full-day classes learn more in reading and mathematics than students in half-day classes.

n Students in full-day kindergarten receive significantly higher basic skills test scores in third, fifth and seventh grades than students who attend half-day.

n And full-day kindergarten helps raise self-esteem and independence.

The research also suggests full-day kindergarten will pay for itself with less need for educational intervention and remedial courses.

Most importantly, full-day kindergarten has been found to help more students read proficiently by third grade. Educators say this is a critical benchmark because those who aren’t fluent readers by third grade are not likely to graduate high school.

But for most parents of “kinders” this year, none of what happened in the past matters. They’ve been busy changing diapers and chasing toddlers.

In fact, this was one of the political problems in passing the full-day kindergarten legislation during the past decade. The grassroots constituency — the families who would benefit most — didn’t know they didn’t have it. They didn’t write letters or hold rallies.

Full-day K may not be new for everyone; kids in Title I poverty-designated schools had full-day kindergarten for years. And kids from wealthy families in private schools have historically had full-day kindergarten.

What always frosted me was that middle-class students from families who pay most of the bills in Oregon were still limited to a half-day — or asked to pay up to $500 a month for full-day.

Until now.

I’ve been amazed at how standards and expectations continue to increase for early education.

Ten years ago, the buzz-phrase was first-grade readiness. Now we’re talking about kindergarten readiness. That’s progress. It’s hard to see sometimes; it’s like trying to watch a glacier move. But we’re advancing.

Sometimes when we take action, it creates possibilities that didn’t exist before.

State Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) chairs the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee.


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