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Is all-day kindergarten best use of state funds?

November 22, 2000

Is all-day kindergarten best use of state funds?



In August, when the Washington Cunty Board of Education was negotiating with Resources for Children and and Families to find space for Head Start classes, Superintendent Herman Bartlett Jr. warned that the arrangement might only be temporary. By the 2001-2002 school year, the school system might need that classroom space for all-day kindergaten, Bartlett said.

Now, despite the fact that there's an all-day pilot program at the Marshall Street School, the board is having some second thoughts, even though the concept has been backed by the Maryland State Board of Education.

Some of the doubts involve funding a program that a state commission estimates will cost $71 million a year by 2005. But others touch on the possibility that the good a program might do for all children might be lost if teachers must spend most of their time dealing with so-called "special needs" students.

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A smiliar concern was raised this fall in a Baltimore Sun opinion piece written by Kate Walsh, senior program officer for education for the Abell Foundation. Walsh argued that the most important things for kindergarteners to learn are the connection between the spoken word and written texts and the development of a large vocabulary.

How do children learn vocabulary? By being engaged in cnversation with adults and experiencing new and different things, Walsh said, adding that it doesn't take a certified teacher to provide that experience. It happens naturally in the homes of higher-income families, she said.

Does it make sense, she argues, to mandate all-day kindergarten for all children, when cash and class time are more urgently needed for students whose parents can't or won't provide those early learning experiences?

These are some of the issues Washington County's General Assembly delegation needs to look into, before the local school system commits a lot of space and plenty of local dollars to a program which may not meet young students' real needs.

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