Few sign up for new 'transitional' program

Law means fewer kids with late birthdays are in kindergarten this fall

Despite its origins in Palo Alto, a new law compelling California school districts to offer "transitional kindergarten" has attracted few students here.

Just 16 children signed up for Palo Alto's new transitional kindergarten program -- a number so small that the enrollment has been combined into the school district's pre-existing Young Fives program.

But Superintendent Kevin Skelly said some teachers have commented that the new law may be working because this year's kindergarten crop seems more mature than before.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, sponsored the legislation -- moving the fifth-birthday cutoff for kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1 -- after he was petitioned by a group of Palo Alto teachers who said too many late-birthday children were entering school unprepared for the increasingly academic demands of kindergarten.

Simitian estimates 40,000 California 4-year-olds -- kids with November birthdays -- are eligible for the new T-K program this fall. Once the law is fully phased in, 125,000 children -- those turning 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 -- each year will qualify for the pre-kindergarten year.

Statewide enrollment figures for the new T-K program will not be available until next summer, said Tina Jung, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education. Jung said the department collects enrollment data in October but that updates are not completed until the following summer.

Local school officials speculated that demand for transitional kindergarten could be low here because Palo Alto, unlike most school districts, already offers a "Young Fives" program and is rich in high-quality private programs.

In fact, the 16 Palo Alto children who signed up for transitional kindergarten "weren't even enough to run a class," said Sharon Keplinger, who directs a range of pre-school programs for the school district on the Greendell School campus adjacent to the Cubberley Community Center.

Instead, Keplinger accommodated the new students in one of three Young Fives classes.

For 37 years Palo Alto has offered the Young Fives program, emphasizing social-emotional and school readiness for children on the immature side of 5.

"The (transitional kindergarten) curriculum is easy for us -- kindergarten readiness is still kindergarten readiness," Keplinger said.

The new T-K offering did attract "some kids that probably wouldn't have come to us otherwise," Keplinger said.

The enrollment boost from T-K also means Keplinger has no space to accept last-minute referrals -- as she has in the past -- of children who begin the year in kindergarten but are found to be not ready.

Skelly told the Board of Education Tuesday, Sept. 18, that some teachers have remarked on positive effects from the new law.

"One unsolicited comment from a teacher at Escondido was the fact that teachers are noticing they have older kids in their classes, which has positively affected kids' readiness, maturity and ability to learn," Skelly said.

In addition to Young Fives, which serves more than 60 children, Keplinger in 2010 launched the pilot "Springboard to Kindergarten," aimed at kids about to enter Palo Alto schools with no previous preschool experience. Children are recruited when they register for kindergarten in January, and offered a five-day-a-week preschool experience from February to June.


1 person likes this
Posted by young?
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I think parents will still hold their "young kids" back, these kids will just have spring or summer birthdays instead of fall birthdays. Many parents do not want their child to be the youngest in the class. The red shirting will still happen, pretty soon kids will be 10 when they start school. As it turns out, the age advantage disappears pretty early on & the "young" kids do just fine. They might even learn to be more resilient, then their "older" classmates.

1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Due to the change in the laws, I suspect Palo Alto parents- most of which send their kids to preschool - elected to keep their children in their preschool for another year.

To young? - the disadvantage of being the youngest disappears for a bit in elementary school and reappears in middle and high school. Ask a middle school teacher if they can tell which kids are the youngest.

Anecdotally - my sons friends who are young for their grade have had to work much harder to keep up academically than those who are older. They have also experienced a challenge in sports and even PE since many are smaller than their peers. They went off to college at 17, often 18 months younger than their peers from other parts of the country. There is still a HUGE difference between a 17 year old and a 19 year old.

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Posted by young?
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Not true, Palo Alto mom. My son is one of the "young". He has many friends that are also "young". Not one of them is suffering. In fact they are all just fine. They are now in middle school. Certainly in kindergarten you could see the difference between the 4 year olds and 6 year olds. The age difference just does not mater in the long run. The new research also supports my claim! Of course if you ask a kindergarten teacher they prefer the older kids.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kindergarten Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

I wouldn't go so far as to say we, "prefer the older kids." I would say, if one is teaching Kindergarten one most likely prefers teaching Kindergarten because they prefer teaching Kindergarten over preschool.
Age does make a difference in the long run. Socially, physically, emotionally, all of it, it does matter. You're kidding yourself if you think it does not.

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Posted by young?
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Web Link

Look moms & teachers, someone HAS to be the youngest. Stop stressing about the fact. Your kids will do great!!

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Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I know of 3 PA kids who didn't make the cut off (born in September) who ended up in different private schools. I had strange conversations with these moms (about pros and cons, should I, shouldn't I, I'm in PAUSD - why do I have to pay for private school, but they were all girls, second children, born just after the cut-off and already reading. One year of paying for private Kindergarten and you have worked your way around the spirit and letter of the law. Sometimes, parents do know their children best.

1 person likes this
Posted by T. Lee
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Why the low numbers? Transitional kindergarten is 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, and there's no on-site option for after school care. So, unless you're able to make outside transportation arrangements, TK isn't a great option if both parents work. Many quality preschools in the area offer both kindergarten readiness program as well as full-day options. In many cases, the cost differential between full-time care versus part-time care is only incrementally more.

Also, if kindergarten means going to a different school the following year, it seems that enrolling in TK is just another adjustment for the short-term. Easier in many cases just to do an additional year in the child's existing preschool....

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Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Germany went through this issue about a decade ago. They also had a problem with kindergarten being extremely academic, and young 5's and older 4's were lagging. Their reform was to subsidize preschools for all children, and then make kindergarten less academic, as it had been forty years previously.

The results were astounding. Scores improved exponentially, and elementary school school kids were far better adjusted emotionally as well as academically. There has also been a big increase in the number of students qualified for college admission ( in Germany, as in much of the rest of the world, if you can qualify for college you get to go at government expense).

1 person likes this
Posted by No difference
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2017 at 3:21 pm

It's true. The NIH study showed no meaningful difference by age of starting K in academics or social development. Their report does a good review of other research too.

Web Link

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