Change proposed in kindergarten starting age

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Proposed legislation would move up the kindergarten cutoff date, allowing only children who are 5 years old by Sept. 1 to attend school.
Senate and House bills would change the current cutoff, Dec. 1, to give children more time to develop, said Ryan Wenburg, the director of legislation for Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart.
Supporters say that with a Sept. 1 date, every child would start school at age 5, which could help them be more prepared for kindergarten.
The changes would begin for the 2011-12 school year for public and charter schools.
Wenburg said it’s a lot for 4-year-olds to go to school, especially with all-day kindergarten and tougher curriculum.
Michigan is one of the only states allowing children to begin school at 4. Thirty-eight states have pushed back their kindergarten birthday deadline.
Lindy Buch, the director of early childhood and family services at the Department of Education, said Dec. 1 has been the cutoff for at least 100 years.
The department has no stance on the legislation.
Buch said the proposal would allow districts to make exceptions.
However, problems develop when schools individualize, she said, and it would be better if all districts were required to follow one date.
The legislation, would allow parents or legal guardians to apply for their children to attend kindergarten early if they won’t be 5 by the time school starts.
A committee of a school administrator and two teachers would interview the child and parents or guardians to evaluate a child’s readiness.
But Buch said there is no reliable test to evaluate a child’s readiness in a few minutes during an interview.
She also said it would be unrealistic to change the date on short notice for 2011-12 because parents must apply by May to send their children in the fall.
But Wenburg said the legislation could take effect for a future school year.
“We just want to get this accomplished so we can help kids quicker. It’s the right thing to do for them.”
Joan Antle, from Empire, is a former teacher who helped Ohio change its cutoff date to Dec. 1.
She said teachers agree it would be better to move the cutoff to May or June, but something is better than not moving it at all.
Antle approached Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, and Booher about changing the cutoff in Michigan.
Stamina is the biggest issue for young children, she said.
Antle said every month in a child’s life makes a big difference and the youngest ones have a harder time integrating socially, emotionally, physically and academically. With an extra year, children can mature immensely in each area.
Early childhood education would remain important with a new entrance date change, she said.
Antle said many parents try to get their children into school early, but kindergarten should not take the place of quality day care or babysitting.
Her motto is, “when in doubt, hold them out.”
Cheryl Bloomquist, the child development program coordinator at Northwestern Michigan College, said similar legislation proposals have failed before.
She said changing the date would save tax money. That’s because 10 to 15 percent of children end up in developmental programs or have to spend two years in kindergarten, so the state pays more.
Reducing the number of children repeating kindergarten may be a good fiscal decision, she said, as long as districts don’t change their curriculum and create another learning gap.
Under current curriculum, kindergarteners are already learning what used to be first-grade material.
Bloomquist said schools need to provide developmentally appropriate curriculum to fit a child, not have the child fit the curriculum.
The House bill is in the Appropriations Committee, and the Senate bill is in the Education Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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