A child completes an art project meant to help teach how to count to 100 in a transitional kindergarten classroom in Los Angeles earlier this year. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

After a year’s delay, many charter schools will begin offering transitional kindergarten classes in the fall. There had been some disagreement with the California Department of Education over whether charters were required to offer the new program for children who turn five in the first few months of the school year.

While school districts rolled out the transitional programs at the beginning of this academic year, many charters did not. The state’s two largest charter advocacy groups said last spring that the law does not explicitly require schools to offer the program as long as they don’t request state funding for transitional kindergarten students.

“We continue to be of the opinion that it’s an option, albeit a very attractive one for most schools,” said Eric Premack, the executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, which supports and advocates for California charter schools.

The California Charter Schools Association, a larger charter advocacy and support network, concurred and also advised its members that they were not legally required to offer transitional kindergarten.

The California Department of Education, however, does not consider the program optional. “Each elementary or unified school district must offer transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes for all children eligible to attend,” the state posted on a web page answering questions about transitional kindergarten. In July, the State Board of Education again indicated that it did not consider the program optional when it rejected waiver requests from nine school districts and one charter school hoping to delay implementation of transitional kindergarten, EdSource Today reported.

“The California Department of Education maintains that if a charter school offers kindergarten, then it must offer transitional kindergarten,” department spokesperson Tina Jung said in an email. “If any charter school has questions about this, they can call our Charter School Division.”

However, the board of education has not taken action against any of the large charter networks, including Aspire Public Schools, KIPP and Rocketship Education, that chose not to offer transitional kindergarten this school year. Jung said the department had not received any complaints about charters not offering the program.

The three large charter organizations will roll out transitional kindergarten programs in fall 2013.

graphic explaining transitional kindergarten

Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

“I think this is a great program. I love that we can serve our students even earlier,” Elise Darwish, the chief academic officer of the Aspire Public Schools charter network, wrote in an email.

The transitional programs are offered for children who turn 5 after Sept. 1, the state’s new kindergarten registration cutoff date, but before Dec. 1, the previous registration deadline. Transitional kindergarten is being rolled out over three years on a staggered schedule based on when children turn 5.

Darwish said her 12,000-student program did not offer transitional kindergarten in the 2012-13 school year because of confusion regarding funding and program requirements. The future of transitional kindergarten was in question as late as last spring for both charter and traditional schools because Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal did not contain funding for the program. Ultimately, funding was provided on a per-student basis.

Aspire will offer the program at its 24 elementary campuses in the form of multi-age classrooms for both kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students, with age-appropriate instruction for each. This is a route many smaller school districts have followed when too few students qualify for the transitional kindergarten to justify a stand-alone classroom.

KIPP Los Angeles will also offer transitional kindergarten in multi-age classrooms next year. The national charter network has four elementary schools in southern California and last year none of the program’s enrolled kindergarten students had birthdays that qualified them for transitional kindergarten services.

The Redwood City-based Rocketship charter schools, also offering transitional kindergarten for the first time, will offer a half-day, stand-alone class at two of its San Jose elementary schools for the children who qualify for transitional kindergarten – those who will turn five in October and November 2013.

Many smaller charter schools, such as Cornerstone Prep Academy in San Jose, did provide a transitional kindergarten option for qualified students, though they had to be creative in figuring out how to do so. The K-6 school enrolled its students in the Franklin-McKinley school district’s transitional kindergarten program with the understanding that they would move to Cornerstone the following fall.

“Partnering with our district was the best choice as we could offer a TK option to our parents without making drastic changes to our facility or enrollment,” Cornerstone Executive Director Shara Hegde said in an email.

In the end, Premack said, many of the charter school leaders he works with weren’t sure what was so special about transitional kindergarten, a program many public school leaders have hailed as a key intervention for children who would otherwise start kindergarten behind their peers.

Many charter schools were already offering highly differentiated instruction for children at different academic levels within the same classroom, Premack said. “A lot of them when they look at (transitional kindergarten) they think, ‘What’s the big whoop?‘”

Filed under: Early Learning, Featured, Reporting & Analysis, Transitional Kindergarten · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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  1. Lillian Mongeau says:

    Hi Kevin,

    El is correct – with the agreement of the school, your daughter can skip TK. I’ve found that different districts have different levels of flexibility on this.

    I would add that the research shows no downside to an “extra” year of school. In this case, that year will be taught by a certified teacher in your district, so most schools offer a strong academic curriculum. When you settle into a district here, you might ask your local school if they can recommend other TK parents to speak to about the specific program your child will attend.

    I’ve also spoken to teachers who recommend considering the effect of this choice on the other end of your child’s public school career: Would you like your daughter to start college having not quite turned 18? Or would you prefer she be one of the older 18-year-olds leaving home to live in a dorm and tackle her undergraduate studies?

    I’m sure your daughter is tops in her preschool program, but she’s got lots of years of school ahead of her to get great grades. Is there a particular rush?


  2. el says:

    IIRC, the language of the law does allow your child to be placed directly into K just like skipping any other grade if the parents and school agree.

  3. James E says:

    I’m the parent of a four-year old (as of 10/24). By California law, my daughter will have to enter TK next year because she will not be five by Sept 1, 2014. We are moving from New York, where our daughter has been in a private Spanish immersion school for both nursery and PK. If we stayed in NY, she would enter K for the 2014-2015 school year. We are now stuck with having to consider private schools again or go down this path of TK which I’m not convinced is worth our time based on where our daughter is from an emotional, psychological and physical perspective. Are there any Spanish immersion schools in West LA that have the option to make a local/individual decision and enroll a four-year old in K? or Is TK our only option for public schools?