The first lesson that the state’s youngest students may learn is about the meaning of words – specifically, words in the state education code that may or may not give these children access to Transitional Kindergarten in charter schools.

The California Department of Education maintains that any charter school offering kindergarten must provide Transitional Kindergarten, or TK. “Our lawyers affirmed it verbally,” said Tina Jung, spokesperson for the California Department of Education. “To us, it’s clear that public schools and charter schools must offer Transitional Kindergarten. This is the law; it’s what’s best for kids.”

The California Charter Schools Association takes the position that the law “regarding Transitional Kindergarten does not require charter schools to offer Transitional Kindergarten.” The Association has told its member schools that it’s up to each of them to decide whether to offer TK. The State Department of Education has not sent any memo or letters to charter schools explaining its legal opinion.

How Transitional Kindergarten works. Source: Preschool California. (Click to enlarge).

Before slogging through the education code, here’s a quick refresher on the TK law. Almost two years ago, in September 2010, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act. The Act does two things: It moves up the kindergarten entry age by one month a year over the next three years, so this year children will have to turn five by November 1 to enroll in kindergarten, next year by October 1, and by September 1 from 2014-15 and on; and it creates Transitional Kindergarten just for the children born between the old cutoffdate of December 2 and the new cutoff date for the school year.

The Act doesn’t add a new group of students to school; it creates a new curriculum for the youngest kids who would otherwise be in regular kindergarten. Districts have flexibility in the way they implement the program. They can run individual TK classes in schools, have split kindergarten/TK classes with age-appropriate instruction for the younger students, or they can offer TK at just a few schools as long as it’s open to all students in the district whose parents want to enroll them.

Now, on to the confusing part. The California Education Code, Section 48000, says the following about TK: (c) As a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program pursuant to subdivision (g) of Section 46300, a school district or charter school shall ensure the following: Then it goes on to provide the new birthday cutoff dates described above.

It’s those first seven words that are at issue in this debate, “As a condition of receipt of apportionment….” An official in the Assembly said that refers to how TK is funded, which is based on the same average daily attendance (ADA) calculation as all other students. If a school offers TK, it receives the same amount of funding from the state for each of those students as it does for its traditional kindergarteners.

Charter school officials interpret those words to mean that offering TK is voluntary. In a series of comments made in reference to an earlier EdSource Today article, Eric Premack, the founder and executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, wrote that “the law says that offering TK is required as a condition of receiving TK funding. One reasonable interpretation of this is that, if a district takes the funding, it must admit TK students and that if a district opts not to take the bait, it doesn’t have to admit TK students or run TK programs.”

No one has a count of how many charters are offering TK, but one of the largest charter operators in California, Aspire Public Schools, has decided to hold off a year and offer TK next fall. Aspire has 12,000 students in 34 public charter schools in California; the majority of which are elementary or K-8 schools.

“Aspire’s understanding is that Transitional Kindergarten is not currently a requirement for charter schools in California. We plan to offer a Transitional Kindergarten program in 2013-14 and look forward to the opportunity to partner with students and families even earlier as we work together to prepare each of our students for college,” said Elise Darwish, Aspire’s chief academic officer, in an email.

Vielka McFarlane, the president and CEO of Celerity Educational Group, which operates eight schools in Southern California, said their legal department concurred with the California Charter Schools Association’s reading of the law. But Celerity is offering TK at all of its schools. “We’re choosing to do it because of the community we serve,” said McFarlane.

Celerity is the group that successfully took its petition for a charter school in Compton, one of the worst-performing districts in the state, to the board of the Los Angeles County Office of Education after the Compton school board rejected it. At all but one of its schools, between 98 and 100 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a measure of economic hardship. It’s about 90 percent at the other school. “If we didn’t offer it those children would have to wait another year. Some kids need as much exposure to school and school standards as they can get, so this would be detrimental to them,” McFarlane said.

Last year, there were nearly 30,200 kindergarten students enrolled in 514 charter schools throughout the state. The Department of Education doesn’t have figures on how many of those children would have been candidates for TK, or how many charters are offering TK this year, and the department isn’t aggressively monitoring the situation. Jung said that unless someone files a complaint, the Department can’t address it. “It’s unfortunate that they’re not offering it,” she said.  “This is an issue that may have to be resolved by a judge.”


Filed under: Charter Schools, Featured, Kindergarten and Preschool, Legislature and Bills, Poverty, Reporting & Analysis, State and Federal Policies, Transitional Kindergarten · Tags: , ,

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  1. Rachel Dewey Thorsett says:

    Transitional kindergarten is such a dumb idea (why would you give the only kids who will be the oldest in their K year an extra boost of pre-school??) that I have a certain sympathy for the charter schools, but it just highlights the unsustainability of a system where some fraction of “public” schools feel able to opt out of aspects of pubic education they find inconvenient.

  2. el says:

    There are public school districts that I know about that are running schemes like K-1 on one campus, 2-3 on the next, and so on. It’s an interesting alternate strategy to our traditional K-5 or K-6 model, obviously with its own advantages and disadvantages. Of course in those cases, the district is still take all comers and is covering a full range of grades when you take all the schools into account.

  3. Kathryn Baron says:

    Bea,
    Charter schools may set their grade levels. But traditional public schools also have variation. There are K-3 and K-8, etc.

  4. el says:

    How much flexibility are charters normally allowed in setting their grade levels? Can they have a school that is just grades 1-3 for example?

  5. Bea says:

    Once again, charter schools are public schools only when it is convenient or serves their agenda.

  6. CarolineSF says:

    The long-term solution is dialing back the craziness that hits kids with “rigorous” academics when they’re unlikely to be developmentally ready for them.

    I just read a commentary by some non-educator Master of the Universe calling for increasing academic “rigor” in preschool.

    I have a freelance editing job for a child psychologist/writer and am currently editing a draft of some work about the issue of increased academic rigor in kindergarten. My client doesn’t know from education policy debate and is hazy on where this pressure comes from, but she treats it forcefully as a given that all early childhood educators (and, she claims, parents) know it’s a bad idea to set unrealistic academic goals for young children.

    It’s eye-opening for me to realize to what degree this craziness comes (as with so much in education) from the people who know the least about children and education, over the objections of the people who work with children every day.

  7. el says:

    I don’t really get the point of TK either. I think maybe it’s meant to solve a problem in large districts where teachers feel that inconsistencies in Kindergarten readiness are directly tied to age… and probably to be a foot in the door to a year of free preschool for all kids. IE, a convoluted political solution to nibble away at a problem.

    That said, I don’t see why charter schools should be exempt or why they are fighting this. No doubt they have noticed that their enrollment may include only one or two TK eligible kids. Fun times. Guess what, that’s happening to public schools too, and the solution ends up being pretty simple: combine with kindergarten.

  8. Navigio says:

    To be honest, I don’t really understand the point of TK. If we think excluding those kids from the school environment is a bad idea, why are we moving the date up in the first place? The only thing I can think of is that the goal is eventually to expand the program to offer a full TK year to every child (not just a small subset). But then the question should be how that meshes with other ECE programs.

    1. Kathryn Baron says:

      Navigio and others,
      You all have it right, TK was created because kindergarten has become first grade, and kindergarten teachers (and many parents and early child educators) feel that four-year-old children are not ready for that degree of academic rigor. Districts now require their kindergarteners to be able to read simple sentences by the end of the year. You can imagine how kindergarten teachers feel knowing that they may be evaluated based on whether they can teach such young children how to read. Plus, for many children, kindergarten is their first experience in a classroom and it takes a while just to learn the social skills necessary to get along with other kids and to sit still for more than 15 minutes.

      1. el says:

        I think expecting 4 year old… or even 5 year old boys to sit still for 15 minutes is a recipe for failure, myself.

        No doubt if they created standardized tests for kindergarten, that will be on it.

        Kindergarten teachers teach EVERYTHING, all kinds of skills needed for school and life, like how to cough, how to put your jacket on, how to line up, etc etc, lessons that only get taught in a situation where there are many more kids than adults. It’s okay if they’re not learning algebra. :-) Finland doesn’t teach algebra or even reading to its 4 year olds.

  9. Paul Muench says:

    This is from the digest, does it have no legal standing? It uses much stronger language that says students who would have been eligible for kindergarten are required to be offered transitional kindergarten.

    This bill would change the required birthday for admission to
    kindergarten and first grade to November 1 for the 2012-13 school
    year, October 1 for the 2013-14 school year, and September 1 for the
    2014-15 school year and each school year thereafter, and would
    require a child whose admission to a traditional kindergarten is
    delayed to be admitted to a transitional kindergarten program, as
    defined. The bill would require pupils who are participating in
    transitional kindergarten to be included in computing the average
    daily attendance of a school district in accordance with specified
    requirements. To the extent those changes establish new
    administrative duties on the governing boards of school districts in
    implementing the changes, they would impose a state-mandated local
    program.

  10. CarolineSF says:

    That account of the Celerity charter in Compton certainly leaves out an enormous amount of the story, since it’s all entangled with the failed parent trigger in Compton. One point is that other coverage has reported that a large percentage of the students at Celerity’s Compton school is from outside the Compton district.

    That’s off the topic of the report about charters and pre-K. (But so is the line in the original post stating the Celerity got approval from the county BOE after the local board rejected its charter app — which is a common situation.)

    1. Kathryn Baron says:

      Caroline,
      The story isn’t about the parent trigger, it’s about TK and charter schools. The information about Celerity and Compton was included simply to provide background and context.