Kindergarten Girl

Photo by Michael Cramer

School districts around the state are gearing up to offer an additional year of “preppy kindergarten,” a term that could become an integral part of the California education lexicon.

It’s not a special class for five-year-olds in plaid pants. It’s the name for the “preparatory” or “transitional” kindergarten classes that all school districts in California will be required to offer next year in advance of regular kindergarten for younger students who only turn five between September and December.

Taught by credentialed teachers, it will mark the first time that a new grade has been introduced into California schools since 1891. That was when regular kindergarten was introduced into the Golden State.

It will also relieve California parents of children who are still four when they enter kindergarten of a long-standing dilemma: whether their children are emotionally or cognitively ready to enter traditional kindergarten.

Under current law, students who turn five anytime before December 2 are allowed to attend kindergarten. But under the Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB1381), approved by the Legislature last year, these younger children will no longer be eligible to attend regular kindergarten. Beginning in 2012-13, the law will  be phased in gradually over the next several years.

Transitional kindergarten, to use its more formal name, has been offered by a handful of California school districts, such as Long Beach, Los Angeles Unified, and Palo Alto. Some districts—most notably Los Angeles Unified and Long Beach—have expanded their programs in anticipation of the implementation of the new law next year.  (Check out a list of some of the existing programs serving young five-year-olds compiled by Preschool California, an advocacy organization.)

Some 2,000 classrooms will house transitional kindergarten programs across the state next year, and eventually that number will rise to 6,000, according to Scott Moore, senior policy advisor for Preschool California.

One justification for transitional kindergarten—or TK as it is often referred to by education insiders—is that research shows that children who start school later do better academically as measured on math and reading scores by the time they enter 1st grade. As a RAND research report concluded, “delaying kindergarten has a positive effect on test score gains in the early years.”

Currently parents with kids born between September and December, who are still 4-year-olds or young 5-year-olds when the school year starts, face a tough choice trying to decide whether their child is really ready to succeed in regular kindergarten. And if he or she isn’t, parents are faced with having to pay for yet another year of child care or private preschool. This has long been a dilemma in California, whose December 2 cut off date is  one of the latest for traditional kindergarten entry in the country.

Earlier kindergarten classes are also a recognition that regular kindergarten has become much more academically oriented, and is no longer just a way to get children accustomed to the more structured world of first grade. They actually have to learn something—and many kindergartners, especially the youngest ones, are not necessarily prepared to do so.

What exactly does transitional kindergarten look like? All have to have credentialed teachers, which sets them apart from the state’s current pre-school program. Beyond that, the California Department of Education gives districts considerable flexibility, with no mandated statewide curriculum. So there is variation in how school districts that have already adopted transitional kindergarten are implementing the program.

But common themes appear to be an emphasis on learning social and emotional skills, early literacy and math, and working in small groups. Advocates are hoping TK means the youngest kindergartners will be getting more time for play-based learning and physical development, and understanding basic concepts like shapes, colors, and letter sounds—kind of what kindergarten once used to look like before it began to focus more and more on academics.

There’s one very practical question: How will a cash-strapped California pay for this? According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state will save an estimated $700 million each year that it would normally have spent on its kindergarten class that included 4 year olds. But as the bill’s author Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, noted, those funds will be largely “redirected” to pay for the new transitional kindergarten classes.

As a result, there will be no immediate cost to the taxpayer, but eventually there will be—when the first transitional kindergarten class enters their senior year in high school 13 years later.  That’s because the state will be offering and paying for 14 years of public schooling for these students rather than the 13 most public school students get.  In today’s dollars, that could cost between $700 million and $900 million by the time next year’s transitional kindergarten class makes it into their last year of high school in 2025.

But supporters of transitional kindergarten say that the program will end up costing the state much less than that. Based on research on the long-term effects of high quality pre-school, well-run transitional kindergarten classes will reduce the number of children who end up in more expensive special education programs. Fewer children will end up repeating grades, and more will graduate. That will result in long-term financial returns for the state, said Preschool California’s Moore. “In the long run there will be significant cost savings to the state,” he said.

California's New Kindergarten System: Preparing Children to Succeed

Graphic courtesy Preschool California

Want to see the difference between transitional kindergarten and regular kindergarten? Check out how the Central Valley’s Kingsburg Charter Elementary School District distinguishes between the two.

Planning a transitional kindergarten program? Preschool California offers resources for curriculum development as well as monthly conference calls. (See

For answers to many questions on transitional kindergarten, check out the California Department of Education FAQ.

Is your district implementing transitional kindergarten or preparing to do so? Do you have a child in transitional kindergarten? Do you think three months makes a big difference in kindergarten readiness?   Let us know.

Filed under: Reporting & Analysis, Transitional Kindergarten · Tags: , , ,

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers. The level of thoughtfulness of our community of readers is rare among online news sites. To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective. Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to. EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and non-germaine comments.

EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. Lisa says:

    My son will turn 5 on December 17th, I don’t think that it is fair the just because he was born after December 2nd that he does not have the opportunity to have an additional year of learning. My older son is currently in Kindergarden and my yonger son can do most of my older sons work. He is ready for the transitional kindergarden but can not attend because of 2 weeks.

    I’m not sure how fair it is to offer an additional year of school to such a small group of children and their parents.

  2. Shicora says:

    I have a four year old in preschool currently, who should be going to regular kindergarten for 2012-2013 school year. His birthdate is November 18, 2007, which means that because he was born two weeks early, he won’t be addmitted! I don’t think this is right!

  3. S says:

    Tonya- your son’s school district cannot require your son to attend K again if you send him to a private K because Kindergarten IS NOT REQUIRED. In other words, if he meets the required age for grade 1 they cannot ask him to attend K. Also, there are provisions in the law to allow parents to have their child in K instead of TK if they meet certain standards. If your son is doing well in preschool you should explore the waiver to go straight to K instead of the TK.
    I am on a school board in Northern California where our students do extremely well. The TK concept seems crazy to me in many ways. I DO know that SOME students could use this additional opportunity to build basic skills before starting K. The problem with this law is that MANY of our families will either choose the TK so they won’t need to pay for pre-school (when they think that their child isn’t quite ready for K yet) increasing the demand for TK and further impacting our school district which is already over-crowded. Proponents of this program suggest that it is cost neutral- not so. We will need to educate 1/4 of our students for an extra year. This has got to cost the state more. We will collect these funds immediately. If the date had just been moved back without the TK program there would have been a savings. OR if the state made this a 3 year program until the date was moved to Sept. 1 and then ended the program it might have been manageable.
    What about the fairness to ALL families to get an extra pre-K year? If my child is born during Sept1-Dec 1 we get an extra year of school but not your child who is born in August. You child will only get 13 years K-12 but mine will get 14 years TK & K-12. How is this providing equitable education to all students?
    Also, school districts which are basic aid instead of revenue limit will need to provide this additional year with no additional compensation

  4. Bob Johnson says:

    Voters in 2006 voted against Proposition 82(placed on ballot and supported by CTA and CFT) because of the increased cost in the BILLIONS! Now this so called “transitional kindergarten” of 4 year olds being placed into public schools with “certified teachers” is going against VOTER/TAXPAYER wishes. How is this legal? Now “Public Schools” will compete against the private profit/non profit preschool with the blessings of the CA Government(more paybacks to CTA CFT Unions for campaign contributions to those elected(Legislature and Govenor) officials. Doesn’t this break the Sherman Anti-Trust Laws? Won’t the CA Government, CA Dept of ED, and County Dept of ED’s/Local School Districts have to provide Voters/Taxpayers PROOF that they can provide these services at costs LOWER than current Pre K System? Or does this mean our VOTES do not count or matter to Elected Officals who want to force the Private Preschool System out of business for the benefit of Teachers Unions? This creates another level of beauracratic politial corruption, graft, and further draining of Taxpayer pockets. Would someone please explain this?

  5. Tonya says:

    I think this a horrible idea to students and parents who have been preparing for K. My son has been in preschool for two years now . He is socially and academically ready. But now he will get a watered down education due to the fact that “other” students are not ready. I even considered enrolling in a private K and my district said when he comes back he will still have redo K. Is that fair? My son does not want to play with shapes and roll around on the carpet. He is ready for “real” learning. There she be an assessment for all students entering K to make that determination. And not because they were born in the wrong month.

    1. Lisa says:


      My son is currently in kindergarden and it is nothing like the kindergarden we went to. The are reading, writing and math. They have homework that they are required to do. So an extra year is not rolling around on a matt or just playing with shapes.

  6. Andrew says:

    According to Piaget/Developmental Psychology, individual children are ready for school at different ages. By starting later, you will more students that are developmentally ready.

    According to years of experience as a public school kindergarten teacher, three months does help. The children most often retained (or who need to be retained but aren’t by parental choice) were almost always younger than the average student in my class. Did their age predjudice me in favor of retention? No. I wouldn’t look up their ages until I found academic issues with a student.

    Highly educated parents tend to enter their students in kindergarten a bit later than the average parent due to their reading of this decades old research. That doesn’t make it valid, but it shows that there is an awareness of the importance age has in school success. Bolstered by the media and comedic actress Jenny McCarthy parents have confused correlation of age of onset of autism symtoms and timing of immunizations with the idea that the immunizations caused the autism. Unlike the now disproven autism/shots scare, the developmental psychology argument asserting the variability of children’s school readiness has been supported since the 1930′s.

    It is best to have interventions in the lower grades as the more a child falls behind in reading by the end of third grade, the less likely the child will EVER catch up. End of third grade is a real make or break statistically. Pre-K is an one such intervention. It will allow students more time to be cognitively ready. There is a limit to how much we as educators and parents can “help” a child become ready. The desire to speed this up beyond the limits of the individual child’s development was termed by Piaget as “The American Problem.”

  7. Kareena says:

    The three months difference in age does not make any noticeable difference in kindergarten readiness. Infact the kids are more than eager and ready to start kindergarten even if they are 3-4 months younger.

    The transitional kindergarten is absolutely not required in my opinion. It would be waste of time and resources.

  8. Ron says:

    How are these 600 classrooms going to be funded and can you provide the specifics as to which schools will be funded?

  9. Erin Brownfield says:

    Hi, Angela. Thanks for your question. Yes, you are correct that the date change is going to be staggered. This is from the California Department of Education’s FAQ, which we link to above.

    For the 2010–11 school year the date is December 2
    For the 2011–12 school year the date is December 2
    For the 2012–13 school year the date is November 1
    For the 2013–14 school year the date is October 1
    For the 2014–15 school year and each school year thereafter the date is September 1.

    Best regards, Erin

  10. Angela Lucer says:

    Can you clarify what is going on with the date of birth changing for kindergartens from the December 2 cut-off to Sept 2? I thought this was also going to be implemented on a transitional basis.