OP-ED: Full day kindergarten should remain a local decision

OP-ED by Representative Victoria Sullivan

The New Hampshire State Senate added an amendment to Senate Bill 191, a bill targeting education adequacy funding, in a move to support full day kindergarten funding.

The time at which a child begins formal, full day education should be a decision made by the family.  Parents have the constitutional right to guide the education of their children. It has been made clear that once full day kindergarten is funded, the next step will be mandating full day kindergarten for all children.  Parental choice, when it comes to full day versus half day kindergarten will be a thing of the past.  The financial impact will certainly result in the closing of many private kindergartens, leaving fewer choices.

Several comprehensive studies have shown that placing children in full day programs, prior to age six, provides the participants with limited educational benefits, while increasing behavioral issues in young children.  Even at age six, education experts around the world agree that learning should be play based and not the sit in your chair for six hours education that the U.S. has adopted.

In addition to these studies, HeadStart, the most widely studied early educational program in the country, revealed that any benefits to early childhood education had leveled off by grade three.  In other words, there was no significant advantage to early childhood education.  All children were on grade level by the end of the third grade, regardless of whether they attended pre-school or not.

In contrast, a study conducted by Stanford University showed that delaying full day formal education for one year (age six) resulted in children self-regulating their behavior resulting in a 73% reduction in inattention and hyperactivity for an average child at age 11.  Professor Thomas Dee, the study’s co-author, stated that delaying formal education by one year, “virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal,’ or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioral measure.”

The arguments in favor of full day kindergarten are largely economic.  The arguments range from state funded full day Kindergarten will ease the tax burden on local communities who have chosen to have full day kindergarten, to full day kindergarten will put stay at home parents back into the workforce.   None of the arguments consider the child.  Not all children are ready for full time school at age five.  In some cases, such as early September birthdays, the children aren’t even five years old when they are eligible to begin school. The study showed that parents play a role in the education and raising of their children that cannot be replaced by any early childhood education program, even if it is of the highest quality.

State funded full day kindergarten is just a stepping stone to full day, universal pre-school.

Senator Kahn stated in last Thursday’s state senate session that full day kindergarten was just the beginning.  He stated that he would be pursuing education beginning at younger ages.  The NH DOE under Virginia Barry declared their intention to have universal (taxpayer funded) pre-school in an advisory regarding ESSA.

Education should be about meeting the needs of our students and providing the education that will support them and help them to discover their individual gifts, talents, and abilities.  It is the job of educators to help students rise to meet their individual potential.

Decisions regarding early childhood education should be kept between parents, teachers, and local school boards. State funded and, eventually, mandated early childhood education has no lasting benefits. In fact, it can actually have a negative impact. It is time that we turned our attention back to the needs of the child.  Society needs to reaffirm the importance of the role that parents play in the nurturing and education of their children. We need to step away from the one size fits all learning and provide the opportunities that will encourage each child to spread his or her wings and become the amazing individuals they were created to be.

Representative Victoria Sullivan
House Education Committee
Hillsborough District 16