Why did Governor Newsom veto mandatory kindergarten law? – Pasadena Star News

By SOPHIE AUSTIN | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Beyond what they learn academically in kindergarten, students learn everyday routines: how to take care of class materials and how to be kind to their peers, according to Golden Empire Elementary School kindergarten teacher Carla Randazzo.

While developing those skills became more difficult for students going to school online during the pandemic, occasionally, a student entering first grade at Golden Empire didn’t attend kindergarten at all, Randazzo said. Nearly two-thirds of students at the Sacramento school are English learners.

“Those kids just started out having to climb uphill,” she said. “They need a lot of support to be successful.”

Randazzo always thought it was “peculiar” that kindergarten is not mandatory in California. For now, though, California won’t join the 20 other states with mandatory kindergarten.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed legislation Sunday night that would have required children to attend kindergarten — whether through homeschooling, public or private school — before entering first grade at a public school.

As he has with other recent legislative vetoes, Newsom cited the costs associated with providing mandatory kindergarten, about $268 million annually, which he said was not accounted for in the California budget.

Newsom has supported similar legislation in the past. Last year, he signed a package of education bills, including one transitioning the state to universal pre-K starting in the 2025-26 school year. But the state’s Department of Finance opposed the mandatory kindergarten bill, stating it would strain funds by adding up to 20,000 new public school students.

Proponents of mandatory kindergarten say it could help close the academic opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color, as well as helping children develop important social skills before the 1st grade. The bill was introduced after K-12 attendance rates dropped during the pandemic and some students struggled with online learning.

Kindergarten enrollment in California dropped nearly 12% in the 2020-21 academic year compared to the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationwide, public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year, with preschool and kindergarten enrollment dropping at higher rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Samantha Fee, of Citrus Heights, said her 7-year-old son could solve practically any math equation during the 2020-21 school year, while he attended kindergarten online. But by the end of the school year, he still couldn’t read and didn’t know all his letters.

She said the family made the difficult decision to have her son, who attends Golden Empire, repeat kindergarten to prepare him for first grade.

“They learn a lot in that first year — how to sit at their desks, and how to raise their hands and all that they’re expected to know in the first grade,” Fee said. “Without kindergarten, they don’t have that.”

Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that disparities in academic opportunity begin as early as kindergarten. Children who develop their social and emotional skills as they reach kindergarten age can be more likely to go to college, according to a 2015 study by the American Public Health Association.

San Diego’s 4-year-olds to get transitional kindergarten ahead of state rollout

State leaders have approved a rollout of universal transitional kindergarten over the next few years, but San Diego Unified will jump ahead and offer it to all 4-year-olds this fall.

Meanwhile at least five San Diego County districts do not offer transitional kindergarten and say they don’t plan to change.

San Diego Unified officials said they will offer at least 2,800 transitional kindergarten spots to families this fall. Any child in the district who turns 4 by Sept. 1 will be eligible for the program, which is being offered in 54 schools, district officials said.

“Regardless of where you live, regardless of where you work, we want you to come to school,” said Stephanie Ceminsky, director of early learning for the district.

The state promised in July it will begin funding universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in public schools by 2025. Children will be eligible if they turn 4 by Sept. 1.

But not all 4-year-olds will be able to get access to the early childhood education program; it may depend on which school district they attend.

At least five small, elementary-only school districts in some of the wealthiest parts of San Diego County — Cardiff, Del Mar, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach — do not provide any transitional kindergarten, even though state school officials say they have to.

Leaders of those districts have said they will not offer it unless the state gives them the money to do so.

They are called “basic aid” districts, meaning they get most of their money from local property taxes rather than from the state, unlike most public school districts, which get much of their funding from state per-pupil funds.

The five basic aid districts are North County, coastal districts, ranging in size from 547 students in Rancho Santa Fe to 4,900 students in Encinitas.

Most of those districts receive thousands more dollars in general revenue per student than the average California district — which some parent advocates have argued is all the more reason they should offer transitional kindergarten, like most other school districts do.

District leaders have said they can’t afford to offer transitional kindergarten without compromising other programs they find more important, such as smaller class sizes and science, technology, engineering and math programs at Del Mar, for example.

When reached by email recently all five superintendents of the basic aid districts said they had no plans to change or update their stance on transitional kindergarten.

The California Department of Education, which helps carry out state education laws, has said that state law requires all elementary school districts and charter schools to offer transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children.

Transitional kindergarten is an extra, optional grade that precedes kindergarten.

Child advocates say such early education opportunities are crucial to child development, bringing with them such benefits as higher academic achievement and a greater likelihood of graduating high school for students — and some much-needed child care for working parents.

Not only does transitional kindergarten teach academics, it also teaches young children how to act in school, said Valencia Park Elementary Principal Lori Moore, whose school helped pilot an expanded transitional kindergarten program in the San Diego Unified district.

In transitional kindergarten, kids learn the basics of school behavior, such as how to stand in line and how to keep your hands to yourself, she said.

“If you go into a kindergarten room, you can tell who has never been in a school right away,” Moore said.

But early childhood education is expensive and inaccessible for many families.

The state offers free preschool or child care only to families who meet narrow income requirements. Families who don’t qualify have to pay for preschool, which on average costs more than $15,000 a year in San Diego County, according to the YMCA Childcare Resource Service.

Transitional kindergarten, on the other hand, has until now been available to some children depending on when they were born.

Currently, only children throughout California who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 are guaranteed transitional kindergarten at their public school, a rule that many education advocates have said is arbitrary.

A state budget trailer bill passed in July will gradually expand state-funded transitional kindergarten to all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1.

It’s unlikely the five districts that do not offer transitional kindergarten will change their minds, because the new state budget trailer bill mirrors the same state law language that the five districts have used to justify not offering transitional kindergarten.

The budget trailer bill says school districts must provide transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children as a condition of receiving state funding — a condition that the basic aid districts have claimed does not apply to them.

San Diego Unified piloted its full-day, transitional kindergarten program last school year, opening it to 4-year-olds regardless of birthdate.

The program combines a transitional kindergarten teacher and a preschool teacher in the same classroom. The idea was a preschool teacher would bring expertise specific to developing younger children, such as using play-based learning, while a transitional kindergarten teacher would bring expertise on curriculum and educational standards.

Because it was a pilot program, it had limited space — it served about 1,000 4-year-olds in classrooms only at Title I schools, which serve low-income families.

There wasn’t enough room to meet demand; about 2,500 families originally applied and 480 were placed on a wait list, Ceminsky said.

This school year, Ceminsky said, the district can serve at least 2,800 transitional kindergarteners.

San Diego Unified does not know yet how many 4-year-olds there are in the district, she said, but the plan is to serve those students at 54 elementary schools where it offered the pilot program, then expand it across the district in the 2022-2023 school year.

Families living in San Diego Unified who want to enroll in transitional kindergarten can email [email protected] or apply directly at school sites starting Aug. 16, Ceminsky said.

If there is enough interest and school sites fill up, San Diego Unified will expand to accommodate every family, Ceminsky said.

California’s $2.7 Billion Plan to Expand Transitional Kindergarten Is Off to an Uneven Start

In Salinas, about 400 students were eligible by age to enter transitional kindergarten, but less than half were enrolled when school began last week. It’s a sharp drop-off from pre-pandemic years, when nearly all children who were qualified for kindergarten showed up, according to Jim Koenig, superintendent of Alisal Union School District.

Meanwhile, the superintendent of the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, estimates that more than 10,000 school-age children weren’t enrolled for the school year that began Monday. He believes many of them are concentrated in the earliest grades, from transitional kindergarten through first grade.

“We’re very concerned about that loss of enrollment because we’re not seeing a spike of enrollment in other school settings,” Alberto M. Carvahlo said at a recent news conference, referring to private and charter schools.

Carvahlo said school administrators went into neighborhoods to track the missing students, and found that many of their families moved out of state or shifted to homeschooling. In some cases, older students were staying home to care for their younger siblings.

Participation in kindergarten was rising statewide before COVID-19, but dropped by 23% for the 2020-21 school year. The largest decline was among Black and Native American children and children from lower-income families, according to an analysis of enrollment data by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The lingering toll of COVID

In the Salinas Valley, the coronavirus hits the working class hard — and the toll has taken its toll.

The Alisal Union district serves about 7,500 students, mostly children of immigrants and farmworkers in East Salinas, 70% of whom are English learners. Koenig thinks some of these working parents are still worried about COVID. Salinas, about 85 miles southeast of San Francisco, is the most populous city in Monterey County.

“I think they’re just still concerned about enrolling these very young kids in school and possibly exposing them to the virus,” Koenig said.

The rate of COVID infection among farmworkers in the Salinas Valley was four times higher than in the rest of the local population during the later half of 2020, according to a study that suggested crowded housing as a contributing factor.

a banner hangs on a school fence against a blue sky
A banner hangs on the fence outside Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary School in Salinas, encouraging parents to enroll students. The area is home to many migrant workers who were hit hard by COVID, and some educators think low enrollment is due to fears about exposing kids to the virus. (Daisy Nguyen/KQED)

Only 5% of children under 4 in Monterey County have gotten the COVID vaccine, although it’s not clear whether that is driving under-enrollment. Nationwide, children are behind on routine immunizations against illnesses such as measles, mumps and pertussis, which are required to attend public school. In California, the COVID vaccine will not be a requirement for students until at least the 2023-24 school year. Many school districts have relaxed masking rules.

School is not mandatory in California until kids turn 6, but years of research have detailed how pre-kindergarten shapes young brains and advances children’s development.

How can a one-minute kindergarten test help teachers tackle the ‘COVID slide’?

One by one, Michelle Davis brings her kindergarteners over to a special spot in her Dallas classroom. After a student settles in at the colorful, U-shaped table, Davis taps his Apple watch, setting off the one-minute timer.

She carefully observes as each kindergartener sounds out the letters and words in Spanish on a worksheet, reading through as many as possible over the next 60 seconds.

“Just tell me what you know,” she urged the students, who are learning English, at FP Caillet Elementary.

When time runs out, Davis’ watch vibrates against her wrist. She doesn’t explicitly broadcast to her students that she’s testing them. But the act of closely monitoring how the child goes through the page — how many letters the student gets to in time, which sound combinations lead to stumbles — provides Davis the kind of information he needs to formulate a plan for boosting literacy skills. She’ll do the same thing every few weeks, tracking her students’ improvement.

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It sounds simple, but literacy experts say these kinds of quick, low-key assessments — if done right — can be an important tool for teachers as they work to get Texas’ youngest learners on track after the pandemic ended their very first experiences with school .

More children were unaccounted for in the early grades than in any other grades across the state. Roughly 75,000 fewer pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners enrolled in Texas public schools in January 2021 vs. 2019. While students often come into elementary school classrooms with a wide range of early literacy skills, the pandemic likely made those gaps even more uneven.

Making time for one-minute tests is one way to help to pinpoint what a child is struggling with so a teacher can map out a specific and personalized plan to catch the student up.

But teachers need training on interpreting the data and using it to implement fixes, educators say, especially because they have to balance so many other tasks in their classrooms.

Those early grades are critical for laying the foundation to ensure students become strong readers.

“When children are missing skills, it usually boils down to something very specific,” said Diane Gifford, an education professor at Southern Methodist University. “If we can address what specifically is going on, we can get them for sure.”

Both pre-K and kindergarten are optional in Texas. This year many parents chose to keep their young children out of school, fearful of the coronavirus or elements about how virtual learning would translate with a wiggly 5- or 6-year-old.

Kindergarten teachers — and some first-grade educators — are used to welcoming classes where some of the kids may not have attended school the year before, meaning they have to bring them up to speed and introduce them to fundamentals. But the number of students requiring a more intensive orientation will likely be higher next year in many classrooms.

At the same time, there could be an increase in parents who are holding their children back to repeat pre-K or kindergarten to make up for the abnormal COVID-19 year. Currently, the Legislature is considering a bill that would make it easier for parents to do so, though it’s unclear how widespread that choice will be.

Teachers will face “all kinds of situations in the classroom,” Gifford said.

Insights from quick tests would then help inform them on how to “group” students for lessons and what type of help might be most effective for each child.

To make the best use of the results, though, Gifford said teachers must receive training in how to administer and analyze them. She’s working on that through her education courses at SMU, but wants to see these methods taught and demonstrated at a more widespread level.

“In some schools, it’s part of their culture,” she said, “and in some schools, it’s not.”

The Texas Education Agency is in the midst of a multiyear effort to expand intensive teacher training on early literacy. Part of that will include how to use assessments to inform teaching.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk includes the use of informal diagnostic assessments and frequent progress monitoring among their recent key practices for reading intervention.

“The most important thing is they have to be careful to use it to make instructional decisions, not just to put it in a file,” said Sharon Vaughn, the center’s executive director.

Davis is one of Gifford’s students at SMU. A longtime educator, she says the techniques she’s learned during graduate school have changed how she approaches early literacy. (SMU supports the Education Lab at The Dallas Morning News.)

“We don’t know where a student is in their literacy development if we don’t assess them,” she said. “We won’t know how to drive our instructions.”

Davis recalled one student who, during a quick screening, was able to identify letters but struggled with blending them. She kept missing the middle or ending sounds of a three-letter word.

“It told me I needed to practice with that student on segmenting the sounds,” Davis said.

She sees this strategy paying off in her classroom. For one of her struggling students, Davis set an objective of mastering two letter sounds a week. The quick assessments help her track the student’s progress as the child works toward her goals.

She assesses her students with the Spanish-version of a series of tests, widely used across the country, called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, from the University of Oregon.

By running the assessments often, Davis says she is able to carefully graph student progress and intervene when a student falls behind. She stays after school with a handful of kids — those who are struggling the most — to provide an extra hour of instruction to zero in on what’s holding them back. She watches as some kids advance from being able to read no letters at all to several.

If a student stalls, Davis looks inward: How can I change the way I teach this child?

The need for reading intervention is serious in many schools. Amplify, a digital learning company, released a February analysis based on DIBELS data from 41 states, comparing middle of the school year scores from the 2019-’20 and 2020-’21 school years.

The company found a 68% increase in the percentage of kindergarten students identified as being at “greatest risk for not learning to read.” The decline in readiness was similar in first grade.

Black and Hispanic children were particularly hard hit, it was found.

Texas education officials are eager to see what state standardized tests show about how students are doing after two school years ended by COVID-19. But the data stemming from the STAAR test will come with significant caveats and results won’t be available to parse for months.

Quick assessments like the ones Davis uses are helpful in that they can be analyzed right away. Plus, amid so much testing fatigue among families, teachers hope that one-minute tests don’t trigger as much stress in kids as multihour assessments.

Still, there’s been criticism among some academics that these kinds of tests encourage students to think that, in reading, faster is always better.

Gina Biancarosa, of the University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning, acknowledged this, but said teachers should make it clear to students that they want them to do their “best reading.”

While Oregon’s model is built upon years of research indicating that it can yield helpful information, Biancarosa cautioned that neither it — nor any other kind of screener — is built to help students themselves. The data it generates must be used in the right way by the teacher.

She also said that it’s meant to be one of multiple data points used to draw conclusions about where a child stands.

And although it takes time to individually test each child, Biancarosa said the model fosters one-on-one attention between the student and teacher — something that many kids missed during the pandemic.

Davis, for example, ends the quick assessment with a fist pump, her smile and excitement about her students’ work evident from behind a mask.

Kindergarten teacher Michelle Davis administers a quick literacy diagnostic test to Briana...
Kindergarten teacher Michelle Davis administers a quick literacy diagnostic test to Briana Vargas, 6, at FP Caillet Elementary in Dallas on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. These bimonthly, quick diagnostic assessments give her the info she needs to plot out how to get her students on track amid the pandemic. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News)(Lynda M. González / Staff Photographer)

When the Texas Legislature passed its landmark education bill last session, it included an emphasis on these kinds of assessments. All kindergartens must go through a beginning-of-year literacy screener, using one of two approved tools, which are made available to districts for free. This year is the first that requirements were kicked in, but waivers were available because of COVID-19.

Teachers are supposed to screen students in three waves, at the beginning, middle and end of the year. When — and how often — teachers ultimately use the tools are local decisions.

Also part of the education revamp is the creation of so-called HB3 Reading Academies, designed to help Texas educators understand how to effectively monitor the progress of a student’s literacy skills based on assessment data. All kindergarten through third-grade teachers were to get this enhanced training by the end of the 2023 school year — but that could be extended because of the pandemic.

That training is key, experts say, for teachers to understand how the results translate into helping a student who stumbles over naming their letters or blending the sounds.

“It’s not a panacea,” Biancarosa said of quick screener tests. “Teachers need to have professional development in how to use the data.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.