In June, the watchdog publication Catalyst Chicago published an In Depth report showing that Chicago lags behind other large urban districts in providing full-day kindergarten. (Full disclosure: I used to write for them.) While New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco routinely provide full-day kindergarten to all their students, Chicago does not. The recent official data on kindergarten programs in the Windy City is inaccurate, saying that all kids get full-day kindergarten when a minimal amount of reporting finds that they don’t. The state data from fall 2007, however, does show that Latino students were more than three times as likely as African-American students to be in half-day kindergarten programs.
Chicago schools with high numbers of English Language Learners were also more likely to have half-day programs (Not surprisingly, many young Latino students here are ELLs). The Catalyst article cites recent research on Los Angeles ELLs showing that those who attended full-day kindergarten were much less likely to have been held back by second grade than those who attended half-day programs.
The issue here in Chicago is population distribution. Latino neighborhoods are bursting with kids and schools are overcrowded; meanwhile, schools in African-American neighborhoods are being closed because of low enrollment. Preschool programs are in high demand in Latino neighborhoods, which also crunches kindergarten programs there. In an effort to meet the demand, some schools serving Latinos (notably on Chicago’s northwest side) run three shifts of preschool: morning, afternoon and late afternoon. But these programs use kindergarten classrooms, making it difficult to lengthen the kindergarten day.
The article also notes that kindergarten attendance in Chicago is weak and suggests the prevalence of half-day kindergarten might be a factor. If a working parent can’t arrange for dropoff and pickup within the short day, the child is likely to stay at home with a caregiver and miss school. Even children who enter kindergarten well-prepared can backslide academically if they miss substantial amounts of school.
What is the state of kindergarten in your district? Has it been affected by budget cuts? Which kids have access to full-day programs, and are they reaching the kids who need them the most, Latino and otherwise?