The kinder conundrum in Palo Alto

School district aims to close the achievement gap, but is full-day kindergarten for all a good idea?

While many 5-year-olds in Palo Alto spend most of their week-day afternoons in day-care programs, after-school activities or at home, kindergartners at Barron Park Elementary School are still in school.

On a recent afternoon in Athena Foley's kindergarten class, small groups of four students rotated through different activities: While some read a picture book with Foley, others independently played an interactive word game that teaches sight words (frequently appearing words, like "the" or "and"), colored or listened to a recording of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog!" Multiple days a week, there is plenty of time in the afternoon for art, play, music and other activities.

This flexible time in the afternoon is made possible by a full-day kindergarten model in which students stay until 2:25 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, which is an early dismissal day at all Palo Alto elementary schools. Palo Verde is the only other Palo Alto elementary school to operate a very similar program, in which kindergartners stay until 2 p.m. four days a week (though it is technically considered an "extended" rather than "full" day under the teachers' contract, to accommodate a different teacher prep time than the Barron Park teachers have).

Kindergartners at the other 10 elementary schools attend for fewer hours each week. In what is called an extended half-day model, one half of the class leaves around noon while the other half stays for about two hours twice a week. This model provides students with targeted and often one-on-one time with teachers. At Escondido, El Carmelo, Juana Briones, Duveneck, and Walter Hays elementary schools, students who need extra support are also tutored by an instructional aide two days a week.

All schools transition to their respective schedule, whether full- or extended-day, in October to allow kindergartners and parents time to adjust.

Now, the school district is considering the expansion of full-day kindergarten to all 12 elementary schools. In February, Superintendent Max McGee convened a kindergarten "think tank" group, made up of 13 kindergarten teachers and administrators, to collect feedback from the school communities and develop potential models.

Full-day kindergarten offers a multitude of benefits to all students, both academically and in social development, say proponents of the model. It has been shown to particularly help minority and low-income students, a fact that has some supporters hoping it can be used to stem the achievement gap that occurs in later school years between these students and others.

The kindergarten think tank, led by McGee, has proposed three models for the district: One, maintain the extended-day model with two days of additional instructional aide time, but also bring in a certified reading specialist for one-and-a-half hours a day, two days a week to provide extra support in literacy and language development.

A second option would be to expand the Palo Verde or Barron Park model throughout the district, but cap class sizes at 19 students or fewer. Currently, kindergarten classes range from 17 to 23 students, according to the district.

A third proposal is to expand the Barron Park model, but add additional trained instructional aide time so there are two adults in the class during key instructional time blocks. Music and physical education, taught by specialists, would also be added to the weekly schedule in the last model.

Reaction to the new kindergarten proposals has been mixed. Teachers of full-day kindergarten say the extra time makes for a more balanced and enriching school day for both students and teachers. Magdalena Fittoria, former principal of Barron Park, said the school's shift to the full day in 2011 brought a "sense of relief" for teachers worried that the half day meant sacrificing play time and less-formal learning activities in order to fit in all required academic learning. Likewise, teachers at Palo Verde felt so time-crunched that they lobbied the teacher's union for a waiver that allowed them to move to a 2 p.m. dismissal time in the 2013-14 school year.

Yet extended-day kindergarten teachers oppose the shift, saying that the afternoon time they spend with groups of about 12 students is the "gold standard" of Palo Alto's early-education model. To move away from that would be a "serious loss" and would "weaken our already strong program," several teachers told the school board at its March 22 meeting.

Palo Alto parents are similarly divided. Some say they're happy with the current extended-day model and believe any financial investment in closing the achievement gap would be better made in interventions and programs specifically designed for students who need extra support.

Other parents worry that their 5-year-olds are not ready to attend a full day of school, and that more hours in the day opens the door to an increasing academic creep in kindergarten that sacrifices play and downtime for academic rigor.

One Duveneck Elementary School parent started a petition that asks the board to keep the extended-day model, which "most directly addresses helping those of our learners who would benefit from additional, targeted support get what they need, without depriving them and all other kindergartners of the priceless, progressive small-groups experience currently enjoyed by children at all but two of our elementary schools."

Others support the full-day model: They say it gives their children needed structure, more hours in the day with a certificated teacher (preferable for some to being in daycare for the afternoon) and better prepares them for later years of elementary school.

Similar arguments were made for both sides in 1998 in Palo Alto, when then-Superintendent Don Phillips proposed full-day kindergarten as a means to reduce class sizes. After the proposal sparked some controversy among parents, the plan was reworked, and the extended half-day model — small groups staying after lunch two days a week — was put in place.

What the research says

Research has found that the full-day model offers kindergartners strong short-term academic and developmental benefits, and particularly so to disadvantaged children, but research is less conclusive on the long-term impacts.

According to a policy brief on full-day kindergarten prepared by WestEd, a San Francisco non-partisan education-research nonprofit, a full day better prepares kindergartners for primary-grade learning, eases their transition to first grade, leads to higher academic achievement and better attendance rates, reduces transitions or potential disruptions throughout the day, supports literacy and language development and benefits children's social and emotional development.

A 2004 analysis conducted of a national study of first-time public school kindergartners, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that children in full-day classes made greater gains in reading and mathematics during the kindergarten year compared to those attending half-day classrooms, after accounting for other child and classroom characteristics.

A later study of that same data found, however, that these academic gains did not last through third grade.

Studies of Palo Alto's full-day kindergarten students seem to counter the later study: Both Barron Park and Palo Verde kindergartners maintained higher end-of-year reading scores through second grade than their peers at other schools, according to data provided by the district.

Full-day kindergarten has also steadily been becoming the norm rather than the exception across the nation. Since 1977, the percentage of kindergartners enrolled in full-day (in contrast to half-day) programs has nearly tripled, increasing from 28 to 77 percent between 1977 and 2013, according to Child Trends, a national research nonprofit. More than 10 states now require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten programs.

Locally, several nearby districts offer full-day kindergarten. Ravenswood City School District provides full-day kindergarten and transititional kindergarten. Kindergartners at Menlo Park City School District's three elementary schools are in school until about 3 p.m. (except for a school-wide early dismissal one day a week). The Woodside Elementary School District has long offered the full day; kindergartners get out at 2:30 p.m. Portola Valley School District has since 2003 taken a staggered approach: The year starts with half-day kindergarten, then shifts to the full day in February.

What matters most in any kindergarten classroom, regardless of its length, is the teacher's ability to manage the class time, said Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and early-childhood education researcher.

"There are full-day kindergarten teachers who really fritter away the potential benefits of the additional time," Stipek said in an interview. "Really good teachers not only take good advantage of it, but they also know how to organize the pace of the day so that kids ... have time to play, they have time for rest — they know how to organize the day so that it works for 5- or 6-year-olds."

"If you care about your kid's experience, then you need to care about the training and support that teachers receive because that's going to matter more than anything else," Stipek said.

Leveling the playing field

The primary driver for moving to a full-day model in Palo Alto is the school district's longstanding achievement gap. The district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee — a group of teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members who convened last year to probe the underlying reasons that many students of color in the district have fallen behind their peers — came to see full-day kindergarten as a means to level the playing field at the earliest point possible.

The group was alarmed to find that many of the district's high school students of color who did not meet the state's so-called "A-G" graduation requirements had also not met benchmark reading requirements by third grade. They saw a link between low numbers of students of color in advanced high school classes and the students' achievement in elementary school.

Looking at a "significant" body of research that indicated students with access to full-day kindergarten ended up better prepared academically, socially and emotionally, the committee "strongly" recommended the district implement full- or extended-day kindergarten for all students who need the extra support, Superintendent Max McGee said in an interview.

Even at the start of kindergarten, Palo Alto students from poorer and minority families can already be at a disadvantage: Though most students enter kindergarten with some kind of preschool experience, many in full-day programs, those who have not tend to come from historically underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged families. (It is a myth, though, that students who come to Palo Alto through the district's Voluntary Transfer Program have had no preschool experience; about 66 percent of those students have, according to Judy Argumedo, who oversees the VTP, or Tinsley, program.)

The district does offer one semester of transitional kindergarten to children who have not attended preschool through its Springboard to Kindergarten program, but not all families take advantage of it, according to the minority-achievement committee.

Other factors that create a disparity in school readiness: Some Palo Alto students have been reading at home from an early age and attending preschool at places like Stanford University's Bing Nursery School, where a year of care can cost as much as $15,750.

Adding to students' disadvantage throughout the school year, is the fact that with a half-day model, affluent families are more likely to be able to fill the afternoon with high-quality after-school care, activities and enrichment opportunities, at home or elsewhere. Minority and low-income students lack those opportunities.

Kim Bomar, a parent-member of achievement committee and co-chair of Parent Advocates for Student Success, which supports families of color in the district, raised the issue of full-day kindergarten with the committee. She had discovered that kindergartners at her son's elementary school, Nixon, were not meeting state benchmarks for reading by first grade. Parents on the Nixon site council became concerned that the shorter school day was contributing to low reading achievement. Her own son, who had started reading at age 3, started to regress when he got to kindergarten, she said.

Bomar, for her part, made up the reading slack at home. A stay-at-home mom who worked from home, she was also able to take care of her children in the afternoons, often taking them on educational excursions to places like the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo, or to other children's houses for playdates.

For some, a 'sense of relief'

Fittoria was principal of Barron Park when the school moved to a full-day model with the goal of closing the opportunity gap. Given Barron Park's population, with high percentages of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, students of color and English-language learners, teachers and school leadership saw a full day as one way to better support these students.

The longer day ultimately benefited all students, Fittoria said — and teachers.

"I would describe it as a sense of relief," she said of teachers' reactions. "You just kind of breathe because now you can get in the academics, but you can do so much more that's enrichment and social skills."

With the full day, the school was able to add physical education and music, taught by specialists, into the kindergarten curriculum for the first time. There was more time for creative play, art, dance, student choice time and extra lessons brought in through collaboration with outside organizations like the Junior Museum & Zoo and Living Classroom, which provides hands-on experience in school gardens, Fittoria said.

The school even added Spanish instruction for several years, though it was too costly to sustain.

Barron Park kindergarten teachers Tina Franceschi, a member of the district's kindergarten think tank group, and Athena Foley said they haven't had to sacrifice small-group work in the full-day model; in fact, it allows for more of it. They have plenty of time to teach two 35-minute reading and writing lesson plans that require whole-class instruction, small group work and one-on-one conferences, as well as rotate students through math-focused stations for an hour and then art, science and choice activities later in the day. While the class is doing different activities, they can also seamlessly bring in specialists to work with those students who might need extra help.

Last year, all but one Barron Park kindergartner went to first-grade reading at grade level, according to Principal Anne Brown.

Another merit of the full day, its supporters say, is that struggling students don't feel singled-out by being asked to stay extra time after school.

When Palo Verde moved to a longer kindergarten day, Brown, who was then the principal there, said she saw an immediate impact. Students' stamina for reading and writing improved.

Palo Verde parent Nanda Garber said she chose the school specifically for her first-grade son because of the longer day. He had already attended a full-day preschool and does well with structure, she said. Being among other children for more hours in the day under the supervision of a certificated teacher helped him "thrive."

"It really helps him — and I don't mean just educationally speaking," she told the Weekly. "Socially, it just helps him. At school he is much better able to self-regulate."

She said she also saw a healthy balance between academics and play in her son's kindergarten classroom.

Another mother who wrote in during a webinar on kindergarten that McGee held earlier this year said she saw the full day make an academic difference between her daughter, who went to the part-day model, and a friend who attended full day.

"Her current year in first grade seems to be a catch-up year where the teacher has to work extra hard and intensive to get incoming kindergartners up to speed," she wrote of her daughter's experience. "Our daughter attended after-school care for the second half of her day. That time would be much better spent in a classroom environment with a credentialed teacher."

She does not want that for her son, who will enter kindergarten in 2017, she wrote.

'A serious loss'

At the March 22 school board meeting, a small group of kindergarten teachers who said they were representing the voice of many of their peers decried moving to the full-day model.

The primary "loss," they said, would be the low teacher-to-student ratio they can achieve when half their classes stay twice a week in the extended half-day model. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the ideal ratio for kindergarten classes is one to 11 for a group of 22 students and 1 to 12 for a group of 24 students.

"We are concerned about the fuzzy logic that proposes we eliminate the gold standard, the 1 to 12 small group instructional block, and replace it with 22 students all day," one teacher told the board. "In our professional opinion, this is a serious loss."

Hoover kindergarten teacher Corey Potter, also a member of the district's kindergarten think tank, said: "For a teacher, being able to work with a small group of students requires the rest of the class to be able to sustain on task independently, to be able to problem solve when the teacher is otherwise engaged and to self-regulate. These are just a few of the essential skills my students learn in those afternoons with fewer distractions, with fewer peers competing for their teacher's attention."

They also questioned the driving force behind moving to the full day, with one teacher calling it a "misguided belief" to think that a longer day will close the achievement gap.

"In fact, children that need special and individualized attention would be less likely to get it given that all the children will be present all day," said Duveneck kindergarten teacher Barbara Susco, also a think-tank member.

The teachers who spoke at the board meeting did support one of the district's three proposals: to maintain the extended day with two days of additional instructional aide time, but adding additional time with a certified reading specialist two days a week to provide extra support in literacy and language development.

Specialists shared among the schools are currently spread too thin, and the full-time assignment of a reading specialist to a single school would directly benefit the students, Susco said.

How many teachers are opposed to full-day kindergarten is a matter of debate, with one teacher, Escondido's Debbie Scalero, saying at the March board meeting there is "unanimous" opposition among kindergarten teachers from nine elementary schools (all except Barron Park, Palo Verde and Nixon) while others saying that teachers with a minority opinion at their schools may fear speaking out.

At Barron Park, the first year of full day was a "challenging" transition, Fittoria said. There was an unanticipated spike in kindergarten enrollment that fall, which meant the school had to scramble to bring in a part-time teacher; the school was in the midst of rolling out new inclusion practices, which was hard with a larger group in a new schedule; and there was a "mindset" shift teachers themselves had to make, she said.

Doubling the school's hours of instructional aide time made a huge difference and still does today, teachers said. Franceschi said aides are critical to a successful full-day program, but Potter questioned whether enough aides could be hired to make the proposed program work effectively.

Teachers also noted at the board meeting that the model they prefer is also the least expensive, with an estimated cost of $300,000 for additional reading-specialist time. To expand the Palo Verde model to the other elementary schools could cost between $275,000 and $325,000, according to the district, and even more to expand the Barron Park model ($525,000 to $600,000).

The most costly option would be to expand the Barron Park model with additional instructional aide time (about $650,000).

McGee has said that all of these costs are "not just doable this year but also sustainable." The funds needed to make any change would come out of the district's own budget.

The 'new first grade'?

Parents who oppose full-day kindergarten, for their part, worry about its contribution to an early-education trend being studied, observed and reported on across the country: kindergarten becoming the "new first grade."

Researchers say that accountability pressures from the federal government's No Child Left Behind, despite the fact assessments started in the third grade, trickled down into the lower primary grades. A 2016 University of Virginia study that compared public school classrooms from 1998 and 2010 saw an increase in time spent on math, literacy, reading and other academic skills at the expense of music, art and play.

In Palo Alto, parents worry that a culture of high achievement and academic stress could even be reaching the district's youngest students.

An anonymous mother wrote in to the kindergarten webinar last month that her "compliant" son, a current kindergartner at Palo Verde, comes home after the longer day "angry, stressed out, upset, and it takes him a couple hours to settle down.

"The idea may be presented as more free time for children in class, but I see mostly more seat work for children who at 5 years old aren't developmentally ready to sit for so many hours doing so much fine-motor work."

Another parent, Renee, wrote that she is "alarmed that the warning bells are not ringing."

"We need to allow our kindergartners a shorter school day. I do not want my incoming kindergarten to attend school full time. This is a backwards approach," she wrote.

Full-day kindergarten is a "huge mistake," and "is not in the best interests of these young children," Liz Price wrote in a letter to the editor to the Palo Alto Weekly.

"To increase the pressure on children in kindergarten, and dramatically decrease the amount of time they have after school for recuperation, will only lead to even more stress and burnout — in kindergartners!" she wrote.

McGee and other school officials have stressed that more hours in the day will not translate into more academic work, but rather more time for teachers to strike a better balance between academics and play.

"We do not want kindergarten to become the new first grade, or the new second grade," McGee told webinar viewers on March 16. "We want more time for play; we want more time for interaction; we want more time for singing; we want more time for music, for being outdoors, more time for student choice of their activities."

But some parents say it should be up to them how their children spend their unstructured time. Jenny Dixon, the parent of an incoming kindergartner, first- and third-grader at Duveneck, said her older children benefited from having downtime at home in the afternoon.

School officials have reminded parents that kindergarten itself in California is optional, and they can also opt out of the longer day if it was implemented. (Their children would only attend in the morning.) No parents opted out at Palo Verde, Brown said. Only one family did at Barron Park, according to Fittoria, and the child ended up coming back.

Other parents in the district, happy with the current extended-day arrangement, think support should be need-based, tailored to the children who need it the most.

"Not all children need to stay," Hoover parent Indira Priyadarsani said in an interview.

A fall start

Palo Alto families with young children could be facing a new kindergarten model as soon as this fall. McGee has said the district hopes to roll out a new, unified schedule for the 2016-17 school year.

The school board will fully discuss the proposals on Tuesday, May 10, as part of a larger budget discussion. They will vote at a later date.

School board President Heidi Emberling, who works in early-childhood education, said in a district with a history of paying "lip service" to closing the achievement gap, the kindergarten proposal is a concrete investment worth making.

"I think in our district we've often done pandering around our achievement gap and opportunity gap and because it's so challenging, have done less actual piloting of innovative techniques for minimizing the achievement gap," she told the Weekly. "Everyone does a lot of lip service to 'you have to get in early; you have to start early; 0 to 5 is the best time where you can really influence a child's development,' and yet we haven't put the resources behind the lip service."

Full-day kindergarten is no panacea for a problem as deep-seated as the achievement gap, but McGee offered this refrain to those who oppose changing the current model: "If you do things the way you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got," he said during the webinar.

"(That's the) definition of insanity. It's also the definition of restricting opportunities and access for a large percentage of our population," he said. "Something has to change."

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8 people like this
Posted by Skeptical
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:54 am

Adding PE and music to the Kindergarten day is going to close the achievement gap? I just don't buy it. There's got to be a better way to spend this money to accomplish that.

38 people like this
Posted by What's the issue?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 10:50 am

What is wrong with extending the kinder day? Those parents that don't want their children to stay all day can pick up at 11:30? This gives children that are ready the opportunity to stay all day. My daughter is already in a full day pre-k program. I know she is ready for a full day kindergarten next year. I have a hard time with the board making a decision based on a small vocal group of parents and teachers. I know many parents/teachers/principals that support the extension of the day. If you don't like full day for your child don't have them attend all day.

39 people like this
Posted by Elaine Uang
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 10:59 am

I LOVE that the district is exploring an all-day kindergarten program - that is fantastic. One major challenge I see for working parents is the availability of options for their children after-school during working hours. After care spaces are minimal and parents often have to scramble to put their kids in private after care centers, or hire part time nannies. If you don't have the benefit of staying home, working flexible schedules or having extended family nearby, what are you supposed to do?

For the extended day kindergarten, I would hope that the program focus would be on play and experiential learning opportunities, NOT desk-bound academic activities. Extra time kinders spend at "school" does not need to be spent a desk with paper/pencil, but with freedom to explore activities indoors and outdoors through tactile and sensory based projects. Kids at that age can greatly improve their "academic" outcomes by being exposed to a whole range of activities. They can learn so much more by DOING and INTERACTING with their peers, not sitting at a desk doing worksheets.

33 people like this
Posted by Mom to 3
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:26 am

I hope the Board passed the all-day kindergarten proposal. It makes total sense too to keep class size at 19 or lower.

9 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:52 am

This will not close the minority achievement gap. Let's be clear. If SOME kids need catching up, how does giving ALL kids extra school time close the gap? The MATD did NOT recommend full-day Kindergartner for all - it just didn't. It recommended more time just for kids who need it.

This is another example of Max wanting what he wants, who cares what the data or the committee said? Enrollment declining - we need a new school! Minority achievement gap - full day Kindergartner for all! It is hard not to appreciate his enthusiasm, but this ready, fire, aim approach, left unchecked, will waste some serious time and money.

22 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2016 at 12:32 pm

[Portion removed.] Kindergarten is meant to be an introduction to the school system not a means for parents to use it as a baby sitting opportunity. Children need to be with their parents at least until they are 5 or 6. Then they are more bonded with their parents and confident about leaving them to take on a school day.

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Sadly this sounds as institutionalizing our 5 and 6 year olds rather than giving them time for free expression and creativity.

You can't just give a 5 year old a full day of scheduling regardless of how much time is spent on music and art. A 5 year old needs time to be on their own, to wonder and daydream, and yes to get bored so that they can find out how to amuse themselves and discover their own passions.

A full day will leave a 5 year old exhausted and whether they spend the extra time in day care, after school activities, or a longer school day, they will lose out on time to just be themselves doing exactly what they want to do and nobody to bother them.

We talk about sleep deprivation in teens, and now it seems that we are starting to put so much activity in the lives of kinders that we will soon need to talk about sleep deprivation for 6 year olds.

38 people like this
Posted by Pre-K is the Intro
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Actually, Kindergarten has become rather academic, with kids reading on their own and doing math before the end of the year.

Pre-K is the introduction to school and learning to sit quietly and listen, learning the basics like counting, alphabet, etc.

Most parents haven't the time or energy anymore; many work three jobs between them.

Kids today have aLOT more to learn in the same amount of time!

15 people like this
Posted by Support creativity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Parents: if you do not want to send your kids to all-day kindergarten, you do not have to. You can file what's called a private school affidavit with the state and that means you are a private school of one.

If you can afford it, you can pick and choose an ala carte menu of cool experential programs for your child even if both parents work. You do not have to choose expensive private school. If one parent doesn't work, you can form informal co-ops with other parents. Even if you can't afford much, there are so many resources now from homeschooling people who blazed trails, you don't have to invent the wheel. Having sent a child through the system, I do not think you have to worry about anyone being behind, because as kids mature, they pick up on the same academic stuff faster. But they don't recover so easily from having their creativity crushed or socialized out of them. If the opportunity to play and socialize with other kids in stimulating but non-academic programs is better for your child, you do not have to choose expensive private school. A friend from Finland was horrified at how academic our early grades have become. They don't teach reading until age 7 and the kids do just fine. If kids are not in school at that age, if they have support and resources, kids have more time and energy for continuous and deeper learning experiences in the real world if not in school.

The school district may come through with a good program yet, because elementary teachers here are pretty great, I think. But, even so, the experience was very hard on a very creative kid, and I hated constantly having to choose between school and supporting the creativity. School won, but I'm not sure I'd make the same choice knowing more. I don't know what the right answer is, I just know no one has to feel trapped by a choice that isn't right for their own child.

28 people like this
Posted by Take care of your own kids
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm

There are many kids diagnosed with ADHD when in fact, they are just exhausted and overtired. This idea that "daycare" should start in kinder is wrong. People shouldn't be forced to dump off their kids to full days at such an early age. To those who choose to work instead of raising their children, let them use after school daycare. I've seen super nurturing working parents raise wonderful children but the majority who go to daycare are missing love in their hearts, resulting in uncaring attitudes and rebellion later. Children need to be nurtured in the early years, not raised by others.

Like this comment
Posted by Not the downtime
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Menlo Park used to have 1/2 day staggered kindergarten. We felt the main benefit was the smaller class sizes, as opposed to the kids having downtime. This echoes what is in the article:

>>>>The primary "loss," they said, would be the low teacher-to-student ratio they can achieve when half their classes stay twice a week in the extended half-day model. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the ideal ratio for kindergarten classes is one to 11 for a group of 22 students and 1 to 12 for a group of 24 students.<<<<

But it looks like there will be an increase in instructional aide time regardless? Sounds like that can only be good for the kids.

9 people like this
Posted by green mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm

You could not have said it better. I totally agree with you. We need to learn from all the reaserch on childhood development, we need to listen to experience and observe the children themselves. This should not be about parents solving the afternoon problem while they work (I am one of those parents who work full time and had to find creative ways for my children to spend the afternoon when they were in kindergarden. I made my mistakes and learned from them).

21 people like this
Posted by Educated
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm

@A- you are reviving the antiquated age old guilt that moms are made to feel when they leave their kids in day care to contribute to the world of out of home work and career!! Just like sheer quantity of time with parents is not what matters but the quality of time is more important- similarly a full day K with thought put to how that will contribute to a child's problem solving, critical thinking, social - emotional development is critical. And yes, for full time working parents, with independent kids, a half day kindergarten also means a big child care bill.

15 people like this
Posted by kinder age is a factor
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 15, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Since it's currently fashionable in Palo Alto to hold kids back years and years to give them the "competitive advantage" it makes sense to go to a full day kinder. Perhaps the afternoon kinder curriculum could be to driver's ed.

Seriously, the age of the average kinder is much older than 15 years ago (not just the new state mandate, but the current redshirt trend). There are pros and cons, it's an individual decision - but those who hold their kids back and have them start kinder when they're nearing 7 are going to have a different view about the length of the kinder day than those who send their child to school when they are 5. And it's going to be the parents of the redshirted kids who are the loudest (as always). Not the parents who hold their kids back for an honest developmental concerns or health issue - the other, crazy competitive parents.

I hope PAUSD's decision is based on the developmental appropriateness of a 5 year old and not of a 6.5-7 year old.

Now that my kids are nearing the end of high school, I find great amusement in seeing how many 5'11" men honestly thought that by some miracle their son will be 6'4" if they held them back for kinder. Sure, the kid was huge in elementary and middle. But did they really think they could beat the genetics? Did they really think their son was going to play UNC hoops? They look so shocked and crest fallen when their son's growth slows while the kids with tall parents shoot past them. Suddenly, and cruelly, all those weekends spent in random hotel rooms at tournaments seem ill-considered.
Oh Palo unrealistic the parents can be!

7 people like this
Posted by Juana Heidi
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Heidi Emberling is for full day K? Does she known that the Juana Briones teachers are not? Neither is PAEA and they are calling the shots. Even Palo Verde had to get a waiver from the Almighty PAEA.

33 people like this
Posted by Unfair
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 6:34 pm

It is wrong and unfair to blame a working mother for an economic situation she did not create and has nothing to do with.

Most working mothers simply need the income because very, very, very few men can earn enough to support a wife, much less a wife and child(ren).

Most working mothers are trying to make sure everyone in the family is well-cared for, can afford after-school and summer activities, can have enough money to save for college, save for a rainy day, and generally have financial security. In almost all cases, one income, unless that one income is several hundred thousand a year, just can't go far enough.

24 people like this
Posted by pausd teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 8:24 pm

It's not is Teri Baldwin and her crew of kindergarten teachers that don't want to work full time, but take home a full time paycheck. Plenty of union members support full day kindergarten. The union as a whole has never been asked....please don't say that PAEA is against full day kindergarten because that is far from true!

17 people like this
Posted by SAHM
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2016 at 11:00 pm

"It is wrong and unfair to blame a working mother for an economic situation she did not create and has nothing to do with."

It's one thing for people to work out of necessity, but it is not necessary to live in Palo Alto. People who move to Palo Alto know the rent/mortgage payments, yet they choose to move to one of the most expensive cities in the nation.

People are so misguided and egotistic. Children want respect, love, support, and time with their parents, not a ton of extra activities or expensive camps (which working parents need to pay for because they aren't staying home, taking care of them). They would love to just hang out with friends and parents (separately). There are plenty of nearby family towns which are not as expensive as Palo Alto but people's egos lead them to live in Palo Alto. And when their children are stressed-out due to the academics, guess what? Good tutoring costs $50-$90/hour. Meanwhile, the parents want their children to attend good colleges. What does the child feel? Lack of support from their parents, lack of parents raising them and being there for them/spending time with them, and parents nagging them instead of caring how they are doing. And then the parents wonder why their children don't communicate with them, do drugs, overdrink, and are depressed. Think about what you are teaching your children through your actions. If you don't care about what they think, they won't care about what you think. All children want is attention from their parents and approval from their parents (and they can tell when the parent doesn't really care about them - they aren't stupid).

19 people like this
Posted by Teri is the union
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2016 at 11:55 am

Teri Baldwin speaks for the union, she is the president, just as Triona Gogarty was. They officially represent the union. They will tell you that. They do not represent our children.

3 people like this
Posted by Insanity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Max McGee: Insanity is telling us that since minorities don't have access to enrichment opportunities after a half-day of Kindergarten, then no one should. It's a lot easier to lower the top than raise the bottom.

7 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Back to the idea of kinder being older than in the past - when my kids were young (they are now in college) the VTP kids were almost always among the youngest in the class. Has anyone at the District compared age at the start of kindergarten to the student's achievement?

12 people like this
Posted by Sickening
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2016 at 4:17 pm

We didn't move one of the most expensive towns in the world with a supposedly excellent education system and pay the property taxes we do for decisions about education to be driven by the minority. Hire more aids and fix the reading levels by grade three but don't change that child teacher ratio in kinder. The reason Barron Park has this program may have to do with the student make up. If that is proven by validated research to have the best long term impact then implement it city wide, but don't expect all parents to comply. I'll certainly be taking my youngest on special outings in the afternoon or enroll her Ina mommy and me art class instead of leaving her at school for PE! Gimme a break! Most of reading challenges are because of what doesn't happen at home not at school! I'm a working mom too but force myself to read every day to my kids and they have all learned to read in kindergarten with the help of the great teachers at Duveneck without any trouble! The extended day arrangement works fine in most of the city for MOST of the kids!

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

I think there is more to this than meets the eye. Some parents obviously want a longer day because it is cheaper than paying for child care or for extra art or similar. Some parents think that their children will get an edge over others if they are spending longer hours in school. Then there are other parents who think that a longer day will help the achievement gap.

I am of the opinion that while all these topics are relevant to the parents and perhaps to the teachers, I don't happen to think they are in the best interest of the child.

A child needs the stimulation of school and other educational arenas. But a child needs to thrive in their own environment. For most children, there own environment is their home. It isn't because they have more time with parents at home (although they probably do), but it is because they are in the place that they feel most secure and familiar. In their own home they don't have the same rules and timetable as at school. They don't always have to stop doing whatever they are doing because the clock says it is time to change activity. They can play and leave something until later knowing full well that it will still be in the same place when they come back. If they are doing a puzzle before a meal time, they can go back to the puzzle after the meal and it will still be there. If they build a den with blankets under the table and want to come back when it is dark with a flashlight, then the den will still be there. If they build a wonderful lego contraption and want to play with it after school, it will still be there. If they build a brio train track all over the bedroom floor, it will still be there until they get bored and want to change it. All these things within reason are because they are at home, creating things that they are in charge of and for most kids the rules are not that after 30 minutes all the toys have to be put away.

A long time ago I heard a child development guy give a talk. One of the things that I remember most was that he talked about potty training. He said that as parents we wait anxiously for the child to perform in the potty and when the child produces the desired material and shows us with great pride, what do the parents do? The parents put the very thing they have been waiting for down the toilet and flush it away. Now obviously that is what has to be done with it, but how does the child feel about his wonderful achievement just being thrown down the toilet? Now this is an obvious thing to do with potties, but at the same time should we as parents be rewarding all our child's achievements just the same as the contents of the potty. If a child spends a long time doing a puzzle and wants to keep it there for a few days, shouldn't we let him? If a child has built a train track, a lego building, or a den under the table and wants to keep it there for a few days, shouldn't we let him? The answer is that as parents we can do that at home. At school that is not something that can be done. At school all toys have to be put away at the end of play session. At school if a puzzle is left half done, it will be finished by another child or expected to put away. How can a child really feel validated by their accomplishments in play if they are forever putting it away in storage before they are ready to let it go.

I feel very strongly that every child should be able to play at home without strict timetables. True that a piece of artwork can be put on the refrigerator when it is brought home, but a completed puzzle cannot. It belongs to the classroom and has to be left there for someone else to do tomorrow.

When we institutionalize our young children they do not see their achievements being validated the same way they are at home.

It isn't just about whether they are reading and writing and doing 'rithmetic, the three Rs, it is whether they are able to create and achieve what they themselves are passionate about. If they can't even complete a project they have started because it is time to put the components away, then their feelings of why should they start again from the beginning the next time are the obvious reaction.

Please let children have time at home at least most afternoons each week. The classroom is not their home. The classroom has rules and it is where they have to share everything. When they are at home they can follow their heart's desire in a way they can't at school or in any other similar after school environment.

Kids need to spend time at home, on their own, with their own stuff, with their own passions. Please don't over schedule them to the extent that they are never able to find out who they are and what they really like.

10 people like this
Posted by Parents Against This? Seriously?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Several people have mentioned that parents who don't like the idea may simply pull their child out earlier in the day. This is true. What should be added is this...Kindergarten attendance of any kind is simply not required by the State of California!

If parents don't agree with any aspect of kindergarten (the hours, the type of instruction, the school, the teacher...anything) then they are welcome to keep their child at home, place them in an alternative program, keep them in day care, or they can pull their child out of a PAUSD kinder classroom whenever they want! You want the day to end at 10:45am? That's great! Just go to the school and pick your child up!

Of course, this is only true for kindergarten. The flexibility ends with first grade at which point the state gets pretty serious about your child getting an education.

I have to ask...based on what I've read, I have to wonder if this small group of PAEA teachers are in favor of making any other grade levels "half day"? Goodness knows the bargaining unit employees at my company would be in favor of such an idea!

Palo Verde and Barron Park (and countless other high performing schools across the country) have proven the full day concept. A city such as Palo Alto should have made this move many years ago. While we might be late for the train, we don't have to miss it altogether. We should act now to make ALL of our kinder classrooms full day!

6 people like this
Posted by Support Creativity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2016 at 5:56 pm

@Be Positive,
The district will never look at the redshirting issue and its consequences because they were an active participant in creating it. They did not even leave spaces inYoung Fives for kids whose teachers thought they needed it after school started. It was, of all things, a lottery placement with sibling preference. People had to know to sign up in the previous January, so how would the VTP students have known? More to the point, how would the parents have known almost a year beforehand that their kid needed to be delayed?

In this district, they talk a lot about teaching kids to learn from mistakes, but they would sooner dig in on a mistake and hire expensive staff to tell everyone it was a good thing, hide the data, castigate anyone trying to fix things despite them, and let kids suffer because lessons are never learned, than ever own up, apologize, and try to do better.

3 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Saturday, April 16

Dear Onliners and other Shut-ins,

I was shocked to learn, in only the second paragraph of this story, that some of our kindergartners are being forced to listen to a recording of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog!"

These inappropriate lyrics suggest that the elderly do not make good self-feeding choices. Worse, they imply that elderly women do this at any even higher rate than their male counterparts.

Such as song also encourages the callous maltreatment of one of our finest amphibian friends. For nothing but human delight and pleasure, these creatures swim, leap, rivet, and serve as models for key characters on children's TV shows. We should be praising them, not gulping them down.

Most troubling of all, this sort of kindergarten indoctrination (whether it takes in small-group-learning situations or large-) suggests that our city and no doubt our nation are in danger of being overrun by The French.

When our very best schoolteachers are playing songs such as this, it suggests a developing cultural obsession with eating frogs' legs (by the way, they are very good with mayonnaise enlivened with a soupcon of paprika) and probably snails are next.

Playing this song for our impressionable kindergartners will lead not only to more grand operas and unfiltered cigarettes on our very shores, but also to labor unrest and the return of the guillotine.

I must tell you that all of this nonsensical debate over extended days, full days, instructional aides and small-motor concentration pales beside the more pressing issue of Coots Ingesting Francophilically.


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Justice Now for C.I.F.
(and also Save the 2,008)

17 people like this
Posted by Yes, please.
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:21 pm

My youngest of three was in first grade when Palo Verde Elem switched to "full day" K for 4 days/week. I was so jealous.
The crazy three different ending times over the course of the week was maddening. It also made it hard to play with friends in the other group. It created social segregation attached to achievement level segregation.

I spoke with the PV kinder teachers about how it is going with the longer days now.
They are pleased with it. It has given them breathing room during the days with the kids. They do not feel as pressured, transitions between activities can be less stressful. Fun activities that were being cut out (like a little class play, or cooking together) now have time to be included again.

Yes, the Palo Verde Kinder teachers have more working hours with the kids. They think it is worth it and valuable. I trust them. My family is past kindergarten now, but I would support this change.

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Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Dear Fellow Onliners,

Many of you may enjoy this essay, by Erika Christakis of Yale University, on the topic of early childhood education:

Web Link

Marc Vincenti
Gunn High English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008

11 people like this
Posted by Yes, please.
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:33 pm

@ Skeptical

Adding PE and music to the K curriculum CAN help with the achievement gap (and with all kids' education), because these young students are being exposed to quality enriching experiences in their afternoons as opposed to plopping in front of a TV. They are still hearing expressive, well-spoken language at school during the second half of their day. Music and PE both reinforce math concepts in a sneaky, fun way. Counting, rhythm, turn taking.

Even just more time practicing how to use self-control in a group setting, how to be kind to others, how to be patient when you are not the sole focus of attention, helps children be better prepared for their continuing school careers.

15 people like this
Posted by Offended
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 17, 2016 at 8:20 am

Please don't assume that kids who aren't in school are in front of a TV - that is just plain wrong! My daughter and I do art classes at JMZ, she attends a MyGym class (better supervision and activity than school PE) go to the park or (brace yourself!) she plays peacefully in her room doing creative play, "pretending" to read or even napping which many 5 year olds still need!
We should NOT be designing our system to accommodate the minority who can't or won't participate in those types of activities! Subsidize an after school program if needed. Other than the mixed bag hours, The current extended day program gives teachers extra time with small groups. Just fix the pick up time to match the rest of school.

2 people like this
Posted by parent of young adults
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2016 at 10:11 am

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
16 hours ago
"I think there is more to this than meets the eye. Some parents obviously want a longer day because it is cheaper than paying for child care or for extra art or similar. Some parents think that their children will get an edge over others if they are spending longer hours in school. Then there are other parents who think that a longer day will help the achievement gap."

You nailed it.

1 person likes this
Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley
on Apr 19, 2016 at 8:57 am

The push by Superintendent McGee should not come as a surprise. This has been the goal of Superintendent Torlaksen, Stanford Faculty Linda Hammond-Darling and other policy makers as seen in the blueprint of great schools:
Web Link -
Web Link
Web Link. Unfortunately there is a huge disconnect between the intended promises and the realized results. California experiences a crisis in stress. This administration refuses to acknowledge the issues and Instead demands more funding for new trials, new government funded programs and legal defense. We have a huge shortage of qualified teachers because 1) many left (because they do not agree with ideology and politics behind Common Core and prefer the flexibility and better paid jobs in tutoring) , 2) misuse of funding and lack of training for over 8 years 3) manipulation of accreditation and credentialing 4) silencing and cover up of abusive and illegal conduct.

Lynn Spalding Case reached 3 million settlement from UC Regents and San Francisco City confirming lack of training and negligence by medical staff and law enforcement.
Cruz v. State of California
California Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education (CDE)
Friedrich v. California Teacher Association (CTA
Caroll v. California Teacher Credentialing (CTC)
Vergara v. State of California
SFCity College v. Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC )

California has a huge debt ( )This is the second year California failed to repay its federal loans and employers pay the penalties (Web Link and
tax payers face the threat of increased parcel taxes without expiration date like the one proposed in Menlo Park: Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Yes, please.
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm

@ Offended

[Portion removed.]

I was answering the question that "Skeptical" proposed, who asked how adding PE and music can be useful to reducing the achievement gap for children who might not have the resources to participate in all the wonderful afterschool things you do with your child. Are you willing to acknowledge that not all families may have the same resources?

I did not assume that ALL children are in front of a TV. But I did explain why being in school even while not doing "school work" can be very beneficial.

[Portion removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 19, 2016 at 7:34 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Kelly
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 9:30 pm

I’d like to commend the Palo Alto Unified School District for addressing the needs of students who are in dire need of our support. Extension of the kindergarten school day is just one solution to the very complicated issue that is the achievement gap.

Familiarize yourself with the PAUSD’s Minority Achievement and Talent Development Advisory Committee May of 2015 report, which identifes five “problem clusters” that affect achievement in underrepresented minority students, English language learners, and families of low socio-economic status. You can read the full report by following this link: Web Link

I do not think we should focus so much on whether or not the extension of the kindergarten day is right or wrong; what we ought to focus on is a solution that has the potential to benefit ALL students. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I encourage you to consider the various benefits ALL children could experience if such an extension, or any new initiative were made. Some might argue that a longer kindergarten day would deprive children of the opportunity to pursue other interests and would give them less opportunity to explore the world in unstructured settings. Some express that a longer kindergarten day would be too stressful and developmentally inappropriate. For some of us these considerations make perfect sense. Not only do we have the privilege to spend our time thinking about these things, we have the privilege to be able to make a choice whether or not we would send our children to school a few more hours each week without it having and adverse effect on said child’s achievement. Not all of us have this choice, nor are we at an advantage to provide the same opportunities and experiences for our children. Does it really seem fair for those of us with an advantage to deny support to those who do not? Should not we instead be focused on how we can support each other? Imagine how we could all benefit! The kindergarten classroom seems all too appropriate of an environment in which to sew this seed.

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Posted by ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Since it is kindergarten, you can probably choose to attend the half-day. Your kids might feel like they are missing out, but it is something to consider.

3 people like this
Posted by It's a farce
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm

Certain kindergarten teachers at certain schools simply did not want to work the same hours as their colleagues. It's that simple. There is no conclusive research that an extra hour a day harms five and six-year-olds. Some of the highest-performing schools have full-day kindergarten. This is a unified school district and Gleen McGee should have presented a unified plan, not more disjointed implementation, thus more inequity.

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Posted by Caroline V
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 28, 2017 at 10:31 am

I just wanted to give parents an update in case you missed one of my comments;

As I reported there are many ongoing lawsuits against the administration controlling our education and healthcare systems - many of our stories continue to be ignored because as I mentioned earlier we, responsible American Citizens, responsible teachers, responsible healthcare providers are silenced by high litigations costs, lack of media reporting, and a huge network of government officials that failed to uphold their responsibilities, failed to ensure the safety for our kids, and instead covers up abusive, illegal and criminal conduct.
It is just a matter of time before the truth will be exposed
Kathleen Carroll, former CTC attorney and Darell Whitman, former OSHA attorney are among our anti-bully advocates and Whistleblowers.

Kathleen won her lawsuit against CTC again no media reporting; therefore I urge parents to watch these you tube videos
Web Link
Web Link Web Link

I hope you saw 60 minutes disclosing how American Citizens lose their job and are replaced by H 1B visa holders - this is the same in education,healthcare and the zillion non profit organizations promoting services in education and healthcare :

Web Link

It is only a matter of time before it all will be exposed.

4 people like this
Posted by Developmental awareness
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 28, 2017 at 11:44 am

I have no opinion about what should be done. But what's missing from this discussion is the issue of parents holding their children back until they are older to start school for a developmental advantage, and this could happen more when policies change and skew the data. I don't see evidence that the data were adjusted for the developmental advancement of older children. Sometimes so many children get held back that kindergarten becomes just the new first grade full of kids who were held back a year before starting K.

When policies create stratified age groups within grades, the effect can be devastating down the line when kids move into middle school and their two-years-older grade peers are turning into adults while others remain children as they should for their age. The difference affects children's cumulative opportunities, too. I have never seen a discussion ofhow that affects achievement gaps, too, as disadvantaged families might be less likely to hold their children back before starting school.

This is a long overdue discussion in Palo Alto in general. If there is a policy of full-day kindergarten, "redshirting" MUST be part of the conversation planning and evaluating it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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