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Greta Heinke and Kenneth Cisneros, both in transitional kindergarten, play a memory match game together during free choice time at Bishop School in Sunnyvale Elementary District.

In the wake of the pandemic, which shined a spotlight on the essential nature of early childhood education and care, universal transitional kindergarten is poised to become a reality in California.

Championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and several lawmakers, the $2.7 billion universal transitional kindergarten program will be gradually phased in over the next five years, until it includes all the state’s 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year.

Currently, transitional kindergarten, or TK, serves about 100,000 children, primarily those who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. How the expanded TK program will be rolled out is detailed in SB 130, the TK-12 education trailer bill Newsom signed Friday, clarifying policies related to the state budget for 2021-22.

Although some of the state’s largest districts already offer expanded transitional kindergarten, experts say making a year of pre-kindergarten available to all is a watershed achievement in early education.

“After lagging behind other states, California suddenly leads the nation in expanding quality preschool,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley.

In keeping with the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care and President Joe Biden’s vision of universal preschool, this expansion of the program will create more equity in early education, experts say. They cheer increasing access to early education, which they say is pivotal to closing achievement gaps because about 90% of brain growth happens before kindergarten. 

“With this budget, Gov. Newsom and legislators have transformed the lives of young children, their families and their teachers,” said Scott Moore, head of Kidango, a nonprofit organization that runs many Bay Area child care centers. “Simply put, California will become the best state in the nation to raise a child. Every child will get one year of pre-K, most low-income children will get at least two years of pre, plus a historic increase in infant-toddler child care.”

Currently, California, which has almost 3 million children under the age of 5, trails behind other states in terms of access to early education, with only 37% enrolled in transitional kindergarten and the state’s subsidized preschool program.

“It took 20 plus years and countless others pushing hard, and I’m beyond thrilled that California will now offer universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds via our transitional kindergarten program,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, a longtime champion of TK. “This action will change the trajectories for our youth for generations to come.”

That’s pivotal to early education advocates because research shows that children who attend preschool are more likely to take honors classes and less likely to repeat a grade. 

“California has among the largest achievement gaps in the country, and research has shown those gaps are present before children enter kindergarten, so it is imperative that we provide high-quality early learning opportunities for kids,” said Samantha Tran, s​enior managing director of education policy at Children Now, an advocacy group. “Those options have to be high quality if we are going to have the intended impact and not create greater disparities. So issues like effective planning, teacher training and recruitment, and developmentally appropriate ratios and curriculum have to be at the center of the rollout.”

Right now transitional kindergarten targets largely those children who narrowly miss the cutoff for traditional kindergarten. This bill outlines a plan to add children in two- or three-month increments over the next few years until all 4-year-olds are eligible for the program. 

Advocates stress that for transitional kindergarten to best nurture young minds, it must have small teacher-to-student ratios and a developmentally appropriate curriculum as well as before- and after-school services available beyond the program’s three instructional hours. The bill provides many of these quality assurances, such as starting with a ratio of 1 adult for every 12 children in the 2022-23 school year and segueing to one adult for every 10 children by the 2023-24 school year.

“That is fantastic. If we were able to accomplish those ratios, it would be wonderful,” said Gennie Gorback, president of the California Kindergarten Association and a former TK teacher. “Lower teacher-to-student ratios that allow for personalized attention are incredibly important. So much of a TK teacher’s job requires the teacher to individualize the education for each student. You get to know each child’s personality and developmental needs in a much deeper way.” 

Making sure the program offers children a high-quality educational experience is crucial, advocates say. After all, TK did not get good grades in the “State of Preschool Yearbook,” an annual report on state-subsidized early learning, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) based at Rutgers University. While California’s State Preschool Program met six of the study’s 10 benchmarks of quality, the transitional kindergarten program met only three of them. Class size and specialized teacher training were the key concerns. Raising the consistency and quality of the programs, experts say, must go hand in hand with increasing access, if children’s needs are to be met. 

“Quality is the critical dimension that together with duration determines effectiveness,” said W. Steven Barnett, senior co-​director of NIEER. “Rigorous evidence of strong effects has been obtained only in studies with very high quality.”

Low-quality programs can actually have negative effects on children, some experts say.

“Studies of universal programs sometimes find harm, negative effects that persist for many years, when quality is low,” Barnett said. “The most obvious way in which a universal program can have negative effects is when parents of children who would have received high-quality experiences at home or in nonparental care switch their children to a free universal program that is of lower quality because it is poorly funded or rapidly expanded without high standards beyond the existing capacity to maintain quality, so that quality falls.”

Another critical aspect of the transitional kindergarten plan is that it allows parents to choose whether to participate in TK or some other preschool or child care option if they prefer. That’s a big relief for many subsidized child care providers who feared TK would undermine their business model by taking away all the 4-year-olds amid the aftermath of the pandemic, which greatly strained the child care sector.

However, many are anticipating ongoing challenges ahead. One area of concern is teacher recruitment and training amid teacher shortages. Teacher training is key, experts say, because when it comes to small children, preserving the joyful nature of learning is imperative.  

“Standards and accountability have value, but we must make sure they do not get in the way of child-centered, developmentally appropriate, playful learning,” said Deborah Stipek, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education and an early education expert. “All learning, including content learning, should be playful.” 

Learning through play is the sweet spot for early education, experts say. Teachers must have the skills to be able to put natural childhood curiosity to good use. 

“Playtime is the most important part of a TK student’s day,” Gorback said. “They should have ample opportunities for open-ended play both in the classroom and outdoors. Great TK teachers plan intentional play opportunities that address their students’ specific needs. There is no such thing as ‘just play’ in the TK classroom. Play is where the learning happens.”

TK teachers are currently required to have 24 units of early childhood education, but some say they need more specialized training to be truly effective in the classroom. There is $300 million in the bill tagged for transitional kindergarten planning and implementation, including teacher recruitment and training.

“I have concerns about teacher preparation because right now TK teachers need a multiple credential, which doesn’t typically prepare teachers to work with young children,” Stipek said. “Some of us are pushing for a new P-3 credential, which would focus on young children, but we’re a long way off from that.” 

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  1. Denise 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Thank you for highlighting the difference in credentialing and understanding of younger children’s needs; any program that prepares teachers to teach TK must include some basic child development coursework. Our students 5 years and under deserve our best and teachers with knowledge of child development are part of that equation.

  2. Sandi 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten (TK) are different programs. Preschool teachers do not require a bachelor's degree to be issued a child development permit. Permits are not credentials. TK is a two year kindergarten program for 4 and 5 year olds. Preschool is for 3 year olds and 4 year olds that are too young for TK. Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten are funded differently, so AB22 still exists. The difference in pay is … Read More

    Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten (TK) are different programs. Preschool teachers do not require a bachelor’s degree to be issued a child development permit. Permits are not credentials. TK is a two year kindergarten program for 4 and 5 year olds. Preschool is for 3 year olds and 4 year olds that are too young for TK.

    Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten are funded differently, so AB22 still exists. The difference in pay is due to the fact that more education/training is required to obtain a multiple subject teaching credential.

  3. Javier H 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Many parents have given up in the educational system. Over 30% of students got moved to home schooling, up from 11% in 1 year.

    With lower budgets, less children, extremely angry parents, mismanagement at all levels, and activist teachers, good luck to you sheep and your teachers lol

  4. Teresa Sargent Maiden 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This posting was very informative. Keep the good work up, we all need to be aware of change.

  5. Racquel Lopez 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Our ECE state preschool program is no longer allowed to accept TK children. Parents cannot choose; the state already chose for them. Over the past couple of years as a preschool teacher, some parents choose us over TK. That is no longer an option. We were told as of this coming school year no TK students in our program. Elementary schools in our area have only 1 TK classroom per Elementary school. There will be … Read More

    Our ECE state preschool program is no longer allowed to accept TK children. Parents cannot choose; the state already chose for them. Over the past couple of years as a preschool teacher, some parents choose us over TK. That is no longer an option. We were told as of this coming school year no TK students in our program.

    Elementary schools in our area have only 1 TK classroom per Elementary school. There will be a lot of children with no access to early education.

  6. J Roberts 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The readiness for kindergarten at 5 is at an all time low and state funded preschool has been around for a very long time. Was wondering why this is breakthrough news when the State has provided free state preschool for many years – e.g., TITLE 1 GENERAL EDUCATION CODE PROVISIONS [1. - 32500] ( Title 1 enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010. ) DIVISION 1 GENERAL EDUCATION CODE PROVISIONS [1. - 32500] ( Division … Read More

    The readiness for kindergarten at 5 is at an all time low and state funded preschool has been around for a very long time.
    Was wondering why this is breakthrough news when the State has provided free state preschool for many years – e.g., TITLE 1 GENERAL EDUCATION CODE PROVISIONS [1. – 32500] ( Title 1 enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010. )
    DIVISION 1 GENERAL EDUCATION CODE PROVISIONS [1. – 32500] ( Division 1 enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010. )
    PART 6. EDUCATION PROGRAMS—STATE MASTER PLANS [8006 – 9004] ( Part 6 enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010. )
    CHAPTER 2. Child Care and Development Services Act [8200 – 8498] ( Heading of Chapter 2 amended by Stats. 1980, Ch. 798, Sec. 1. )

    ARTICLE 7. California State Preschool Programs [8235 – 8239.1] ( Heading of Article 7 amended by Stats. 2008, Ch. 308, Sec. 2. )

    8235. (a) The Superintendent shall administer all California state preschool programs. Those programs shall include, but not be limited to, part-day age and developmentally appropriate programs designed to facilitate the transition to kindergarten for three- and four-year-old children in educational development, health services, social services, nutritional services, parent education and parent participation, evaluation, and staff development. Preschool programs for which federal reimbursement is not available shall be funded as prescribed by the Legislature in the Budget Act, and unless otherwise specified by the Legislature, shall not use federal funds made available through Title XX of the federal Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1397).
    (b) Three- and four-year-old children are eligible for the part-day California state preschool program if the family meets at least one of the criteria specified in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 8263.
    (c) Notwithstanding any other law, a part-day California state preschool program may provide services to children in families whose income is no more than 15 percent above the income eligibility threshold, as described in Sections 8263 and 8263.1, after all eligible three- and four-year-old children have been enrolled. No more than 10 percent of children enrolled, calculated throughout the participating program’s entire contract, may be filled by children in families above the income eligibility threshold.
    (d) Notwithstanding any other law, after all otherwise eligible children have been enrolled, a part-day California state preschool program may provide services to three- and four-year-old children in families whose income is above the income eligibility threshold if those children have been identified as “children with exceptional needs” pursuant to subdivision (l) of Section 8208. Children receiving services pursuant to this subdivision shall not count towards the 10-percent limit of children from families above the income eligibility threshold as specified in subdivision (c).
    (e) A part-day California state preschool program shall operate for a minimum of (1) three hours per day, excluding time for home-to-school transportation, and (2) a minimum of 175 days per year, unless the contract specifies a lower number of days of operation.
    (f) Any agency described in subdivision (c) of Section 8208 as an “applicant or contracting agency” is eligible to contract to operate a California state preschool program.

  7. April Bellmyer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is nothing new, plans for this has been in the works for over 25 years. I have been teaching TK for over that long and know that, without creating a natural play arena for these children to learn in, you could be creating more problems than solutions. If you're not careful you will have young children shutting down and not exploring and learning through the actual natural process they should be. Yes their minds … Read More

    This is nothing new, plans for this has been in the works for over 25 years. I have been teaching TK for over that long and know that, without creating a natural play arena for these children to learn in, you could be creating more problems than solutions. If you’re not careful you will have young children shutting down and not exploring and learning through the actual natural process they should be.

    Yes their minds are at an optimal stage for growth, but the whole child needs to be nurtured; emotional and social growth needs to be gently guided at this age. Is a public classroom really the right forum to achieve that? When will society ever realize they will never be able to be four again; each stage of life is so important!

    Society wonders why there are so many teens becoming suicidal, do you ever wonder if it’s the pressure that has been put on them? Please consider allowing them to be the young 4-year-old toddlers they are. Stop pushing them to perform as 5 year olds. Let them be 4 because they are!

  8. Joyce Robinson 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I’m in favor of the state’s investment in TK, (although I would like a better name) if it is rolled out as a mixed delivery system (as described in the Master Plan), including the private pay preschool sector, the state contracted CSPP centers, family child care and school districts with pay parity for staff. We had such a plan for 10 years with LAUP in Los Angeles County.

  9. Gregory Lipford 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Sigh. The first sentence is an opinion. No reason to read further. This happens with distressing frequency.

  10. Patricia Sullivan 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The California Department of Education has never done a good job of educating Black, Dual Language or children with Special Needs. Studies have made assumptions about the reasons for this failure without recognizing the inequities baked into K-12 education in California. Rather than reaching down to younger more vulnerable children, CDE should focus on improving academic outcomes for the children currently served. Experimental programs on young children, most of whom will be of color, … Read More

    The California Department of Education has never done a good job of educating Black, Dual Language or children with Special Needs. Studies have made assumptions about the reasons for this failure without recognizing the inequities baked into K-12 education in California.

    Rather than reaching down to younger more vulnerable children, CDE should focus on improving academic outcomes for the children currently served. Experimental programs on young children, most of whom will be of color, are wrong and will force parents to make expensive and difficult choices to ensure their children thrive.

  11. Angelica 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    A lot of the ECE workforce will still unfortunately be put out by this bill. Like mentioned, TK requires a multiple subject credential, something that most ECE professionals do not have (because it’s something we’ve never been required to have, we have child development permits instead, issued by the same agency as the other credentials). So the people who have the knowledge and experience of teaching young children are going to be excluded from the … Read More

    A lot of the ECE workforce will still unfortunately be put out by this bill. Like mentioned, TK requires a multiple subject credential, something that most ECE professionals do not have (because it’s something we’ve never been required to have, we have child development permits instead, issued by the same agency as the other credentials). So the people who have the knowledge and experience of teaching young children are going to be excluded from the new, higher-paying jobs created as TK expands. Unless they can afford to pay tuition and take a year off from working to get a credential, which given the pay in ECE, is unlikely. There needs to be a pathway for current ECE professionals to become eligible for these positions, or it’s not really a win for teachers in the field.

    Replies

    • Andrea 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Angelica, I agree !! I’m a PreK teacher co-teaching in a TK/4 classroom in California. TK teacher has her multiple subjects credential and I have my Child Development Permit plus my Bachelor's in Child and Adolescent Development. We both do the same amount of work and teaching, however she gets higher wages. I’m scared that my job will be taken if I don’t pursue my multiple subject degree. I’ve been teaching for 21 years with … Read More

      Angelica, I agree !! I’m a PreK teacher co-teaching in a TK/4 classroom in California. TK teacher has her multiple subjects credential and I have my Child Development Permit plus my Bachelor’s in Child and Adolescent Development. We both do the same amount of work and teaching, however she gets higher wages.

      I’m scared that my job will be taken if I don’t pursue my multiple subject degree. I’ve been teaching for 21 years with our school district. I can’t afford to go back to school with the little pay we get and time off to attend school let alone student teaching without pay. Pretty scary!!

  12. Laurie Gallagher 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I am confused, what happened to AB22? I had read it was sent to the Appropriations committee. Does what the Governor signed supersede or incorporate AB22? Student to teacher ratios and being developmentally appropriate are concerns. I am a TK teacher in Modesto.