Ninety-five percent of the first transitional kindergarten teachers in California had previously taught preschool, kindergarten or 1st grade, but said they could have used more training on how to teach 4-year-olds, according to a new report by the American Institutes for Research.
Transitional kindergarten is a year of public education offered to children who are not eligible for regular kindergarten, but who turn 5 in the first three months of the school year. In the program’s inaugural school year (2012-13), more than half of transitional kindergarten teachers reported receiving no training specifically aimed at this age group.
The report released today is the second in an ongoing study that will track the academic and social progress of California students who attended transitional kindergarten. The study will also continue to examine how schools and districts manage the daily details of running a publicly funded pre-kindergarten program.
When the study began, in 2012, funding for transitional kindergarten was uncertain and only one-twelfth of the then-incoming kindergarten population was to be affected. Now, funding for the program is secure and a quarter of next school year’s incoming kindergartners will be eligible for the program. Moreover, Senate leaders are supporting a bill to expand transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds by the 2019-20 school year.
Supporters believe offering transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds will reduce the number of children who need special education or who repeat a later grade and will boost graduation rates and college attendance. The report does not directly address the question of making transitional kindergarten universal, but Karen Manship, the study’s lead co-author and a senior researcher at American Institutes of Research, said lawmakers should know that there will be challenges in bringing the fledgling program to scale.
“Legislators should keep in mind the challenges that teachers and district administrators reported (in 2012-13), which inevitably still remain in such a new program,” Manship said in an email. “If (transitional kindergarten) becomes a program for all 4-year-olds, the program’s curricula, guidance, and focus will necessarily need to shift.”
Districts will need to continue to secure funding, find facilities, hire the right teachers, provide additional professional training and select a useful curriculum, among other steps, Manship said.
Only about half of administrators surveyed in spring 2013 agreed that their districts would have “sufficient resources to effectively implement transitional kindergarten in the next two to three years.” This finding corroborates concerns outlined by Adonai Mack, the legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators before the Senate Education Committee earlier in April. Mack said many of his members felt they would not be able to expand transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds without more money than the current bill, SB 837, would provide.
Researchers found that transitional kindergarten students closely resemble kindergarten students in terms of gender, ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch and English-learner status. Parents surveyed mostly said they were “pleased” with the program and were glad their children were enrolled.
Teachers reported spending less time on reading and math than kindergarten teachers in the same schools and more time on social-emotional skills, child-selected activities and non-tested academic subjects. By comparing time spent on various subject areas over the years, the report’s authors wrote, “California’s (transitional kindergarten) classrooms…looked more like kindergarten looked 15 years earlier with respect to time spent on science, social studies, art, and music.”
Overall, Manship said her research found that most transitional kindergarten programs in the state seem to be different than traditional kindergarten and developmentally appropriate for younger students. She also said she was pleasantly surprised to find that many teachers had been directly involved in developing the new programs.
Still, researchers concluded that there was room for improvement. The report recommends that schools receive more guidance in choosing an appropriate curriculum, supply additional training for teachers and conduct better outreach to enroll more eligible students. The report also stated that securing sufficient funding will be critical to the success of the transitional kindergarten program as it expands.