Where is the case for full-day kindergarten? - Macleans.ca

Where is the case for full-day kindergarten?

More tough questions from Charlie Gillis about the benefits of ‘FDK’


AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a magazine feature on full-day kindergarten, a concept that is gaining traction across the country, and is about to cost Ontario a lot of money it doesn’t have. The story drew a great deal of feedback, and today there are a couple of notable developments.

First, Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office has issued a report that seems to buttress claims by FDK proponents that nearly a third of kindergarten children in the province are “vulnerable” or “at-risk” of falling behind their peers. Ergo, say FDK fans, we need universal full-day kindergarten to ensure all those kids get a lift.

But the Globe puts an interesting spin on the new numbers, suggesting this measure of “vulnerability” in kindergarten is a lousy predictor of how kids fare after a few years of school:

“…almost half of Ontario children who were considered in kindergarten to be at risk of falling behind in later grades were actually doing well by Grade 3. At the same time, among those deemed ready for school in kindergarten, 25 per cent failed to meet provincial standards in Grade 3 reading.”

So, if my math is right, we’re talking about one in seven kids who qualifies as at-risk or vulnerable (according to a “tool” their kindergarten teachers use to test them) and fails to gain ground by Grade 3. Then there’s the quarter of those who seemed to be doing all right in kindergarten yet go off the rails over the next four years. That might be the more intriguing number.

Either way, it’s hardly a case for full-day kindergarten. Maybe the program as previously constituted is doing a crummy job for some kids, and a great job for others. Maybe the re-invented curriculum will change all that. Or maybe children’s academic performance down the line is determined by factors that don’t have a whole lot to do with kindergarten.

For the sake of Charles Pascal, one hopes that’s not the case.

After our story ran, the architect of full-day kindergarten in Ontario penned an acidic response that he fired off of to people in education and government accusing us—me— of “cherry-picking” studies, comparing apples to oranges and other failures for which there are no fruit-related metaphors.

Pascal sent a copy of his critique to Maclean’s, asking that it not be published; he merely wished us to know his displeasure. But we thought Canadian parents might be just as interested as education officials and academics, so we persuaded him to boil his thoughts down to a letter to the editor. His key complaint: that we featured studies on full-day kindergarten derived from U.S. data, which came from programs that don’t use Ontario’s new model.

“The U.S. data cited note that short-term gains for young kids don’t hold. Unfortunately, the U.S. kindergartens studied more than a decade ago were more likely to include instructional drill rather than Ontario’s inquiry-based curriculum. This U.S. study focused only on five-year-olds and did not control for two years of high-quality early education. The real story in Ontario is that preliminary research results are very promising; ongoing research and evaluation will continue to make the program better over time. After just three years, it is more than a bit premature to use largely irrelevant U.S. research to imply that Ontario’s program will not have the long-lasting social and economic impact that a mountain of good evidence predicts.

Anyone who cares about this issue really should look at the evidence Pascal prepared. But if he’s suggesting the only relevant studies would involve four and five-year-olds schooled under Ontario’s new curriculum, “controlled” for inquiry-based learning, then I’d argue he fails to rise to his own standard.

What he does cite is a panoply of studies drawn from programs around the world—especially the U.S.— that vary widely in curriculum, philosophy and duration, many of which make the case for lasting benefits of early childhood education. It’s worth noting that several of these studies raise their own questions about the longevity of the gains for disadvantaged kids.

I guess this is the “good” evidence, but it doesn’t much matter. It’s not early childhood education that’s on trial here. It’s the idea that an extra three hours a day of schooling at a cost of some $1.5 billion per year is going to yield the lasting benefits claimed, and on this question, the study we highlighted was very much on-point. It compared academic outcomes between kids who attended kindergarten for a full day with those who went for a half-day. The sample size was much greater than anything done using Canadian data.

It was also right under Pascal’s nose—authored by a Canadian-based academic who, it happens, holds a Canada research chair in public economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.; Philip DeCicca wrote his paper because FDK was becoming a public policy issue across North America (when I interviewed Pascal, he told me he wasn’t familiar with the study, or with DeCicca).

Bottom line: this was a hell of a cherry to leave on the tree.

To be sure, support for FDK and programs like it doesn’t come from nowhere. Working parents in dual-income families need quality child-care that in later years entails early-childhood education. Concern for kids from tough backgrounds is genuine and well-placed, and we ignore it at our peril.

But the question remains: is the solution to these problems really an expensive, universal program based in our schools? Or are we in fact engaged in a grand, expensive and potentially misguided experiment?

Filed under:

Where is the case for full-day kindergarten?

  1. Is there some reason you’re anti-education?

    You don’t want PhDs, and now you don’t want Kindergarten?

    You going after high school next?

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      • You guys are out early this year eh?

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          • Students and booze = instant Ignoranti.

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          • Oooh super-Ignoranti eh?

            Gawsh, I’m all upset. LOL

  2. Generally, I think the benefits outweigh the cost.

    But, I think it totally depends on the curriculum applied which may explain why there is such ambiguity from these studies. Social education rather than academic education at that age group is key in my mind and a better indicator of success mainly because everyone (kids and adults) learn at their own pace (i.e. kids that are slow starters can excel later and kids that start early can crash and burn).

    I also believe that sometimes parents do not have the skills or patience to raise children effectively (and I consider myself as part of that group), and having that external communal influence broadens the horizon for children.


  3. Jesuits – Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man

    I know many teachers and they can be evangelical in their belief that everyone can be above average intelligence, and have winning personalities, if The State could just get kids away from their parents early enough.

  4. When debating the merits of funded preschool, I’ve often heard that the early benefits disappear by around Grade 3 – but then reappear later, making kids who attended formal preschool programs more successful in high school and post secondary. Does the same apply to full-day kindergarten?

    • It does in Finland, which has the highest level of student achievement on earth.

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    • Full-day kindergarten would be at the very least neutral and quite possibly beneficial if this were a path Canada were to increase it’s focus on.

    • Had he stayed in school he’d have known inheritance has been studied for a century.

    • Because software (environment) can be written to make any hardware (genes) work effectively. Likewise, bad software will not make good hardware perform well.

      And more importantly, some things and people are better at certain tasks than others, so deriving a truly objective universal metric of IQ/performance is utterly impossible.

    • Studies show that at least half of the variation in intelligence quotient, or IQ, is learned. While we have no control at all over children’s genes, we have complete control over the learning environment. Why concentrate on a factor we cannot control?

  6. Ha. If you want a cost-benefit-analysis the education industry is the LAST place to go. They believe that money grows on trees, and you just need to always spend more, results be damned.

    The fact is, you’ll never have an honest conversation about education in this country until the teachers’ unions are removed from the equation. They’re not the least bit interested in the welfare of the children, which is what the education system is supposed to be about. Not about making sure teachers feel good about themselves.

    • Do they have teachers’ unions in Finland?

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    • I see summer vacation is early this year.

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        • Larry Silverstein, a Jew, openly admitted he pulled down WTC building 7.


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          • Sad when these folks don’t even know who it is they hate….anybody will do I guess.

      • Wow. Just… Wow. What a complete, utterly racist fool you are.

        • No, only a student having a giggle.

          You just made her day.

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  8. It’s not an experiment. An experiment runs its course and then stops. If FDK starts, it will be very difficult to stop.

    • Good

      • If it truly has the effects its proponents believe, then it will be good. If, however, it turns out that the resources would be better expended on students in the primary grades to ensure they learn to read (G1) and start to develop arithmetic skills (G2), then it will be bad, because the resources will be wasted.

        Every dollar expended will do “some good” for “someone”. However, dollars are finite and “opportunity cost” is real. Narrow-minded zeal can screw you up in ways you can’t imagine, because you never try.

        • It’s simply education…..not a radical departure from life as we know it. I can’t believe people are arguing about half a day.

          • You again missed the point. It’s not about half-a-day; it’s about the finite limit of government revenue versus the practically unlimited demands of people.

          • In other words it’s about you being both cheap and shortsighted

            If you want Canada to survive and prosper in the Knowledge age……we need educated people

          • In that case, what you want to do is take the $1.5 billion and put it into programs to develop exceptionally gifted children to their full potential.

          • You figure everyone else is too stupid?

          • No. It’s just the logical way for technocrats/progressives to achieve their perfect society. If you believe in handing much of the control of your life over to an elite caste of government functionaries, you should want them to be as highly educated and ethical as you can possibly train them to be.

          • Again you have no idea what the words mean.

          • I agree that Canada needs to thrive in the Knowledge Age. There are various ways to have educated people.

            There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate how important rest is in real learning. A good foundation for child development includes making sure children feel secure. There are also plenty of other ways to bring marginalized children up to speed that also works when their older.

            So, there are other options. Having a financially sustainable method might just make sure that we’re doing what’s best for children rather than flip-flopping programs and continually attempting new, expensive experiments.

          • Um….getting ahead in the Knowledge age requires….having knowledge.

            It does not require naps and toys or security-hugs.

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        • AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….an Ignoranti with a sense of humour!

          • Only stupid, ignorant people believe in the inherent dignity of all human beings. The best way to show your intelligence and high level of enlightenment is to express disdain and disgust for Jews, or Arabs, or Blacks, or Orientals, or the Roma, or Native Indians, etc. etc.

  10. Want to improve education outcomes while at the same time saving money? Then make all-day kindergarten an outdoor affair, as in an experiment in Finland, where children spend the entire day outside.

  11. I think Full Day Kindergarten is too much for the child. My friend’s child started full day kindergarten at the age of 4 (this is the first year it has started) and at first it was a lot. The poor kid was so tired. They don’t have nap time like they used to. They are learning so much too with the extra time they have now. So that at the same time is good but a 4 year old shouldn’t have to be so tired at their age.

  12. What about a place like http://jellybeanpark.com? Don’t the benefits outweigh the costs?

  13. I have read both of your articles relating to FDK and quite frankly I am disappointed that such a noteable magazine would publish such drivel. Dr. Pascal is quite correct with his concerns from the original article where you compared Ontario’s curriculum of Full Day Kindergarten to that of the United States. Our model is quite different and consists of a play-based learning environment deveolped by the natural inquiry of the child. Yes there have been some learning curves over the last couple of years, mostly trying to deliver the curriculum the way it is intended to be delivered. However, when it’s done correctly with the Early Childhood Educator and Teacher team it can be quite a magical thing! I urge you to spend some significant time in a Full Day Kindergarten classroom and see the true vision in full effect. I believe full day kindergarten is the best innitiative in education over the last few decades. The fact that the government is finally funding a worth-while program that will inturn become an investment for Canadian society as a whole proves to me that we are preparing for a brighter future for our children! And that, my friend, is priceless!

  14. Excellent article. As a teacher I have first hand experience with this program and I can say it does not work. The children from the FDK inquiry based program arrive in Grade 1 noticeably less equipped with the basic reading/writing skills than previous students. At any rate students begin FDK at 4 years old but many are still 3 years of age. A full day is too much which is why the old program had a half day for Junior Kindergarten. By the afternoon these kids are tired and need a nap more than an inquiry based science lesson. The new program strongly resembles a day care program as it is developed by the Early Childhood Educator in the room and not a professional teacher. The teacher is there for assessments. The government could have introduced the inquiry program as part of the FDK but they threw out the baby with the bath water. (Inquiry was always a part of the old program.) To make this even more of a academic nightmare they are putting it into all of the elementary grades. The student assessments are poor for those children from this new program which defeats the initial reason for it. Of course, as usual, the boards and government are blaming the teachers and promising the public they will make them attend more professional development courses. When will parents hold the government accountable; we are just the messengers. I have taught Kindergarten and Grades 1-3 over the past 12 years.

  15. Conservatives don’t want government to do anything. In fact, if they could, they would want to do away with government completely. It is the self-interest motivation that drives their ideology. It is always ME and damn the others. FDK seeks to level the playing field for all but that is totally against Conservatism because they rather have a society where an elite group dominate the rest.