Simitian: Kindergartners should be 5 years old | April 16, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 16, 2010

Simitian: Kindergartners should be 5 years old

Requiring earlier cut-off date for kindergarten is better for education, finances, senator says

by Chris Kenrick

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has joined a chorus of child-development experts in calling for California children to be 5 years old before starting kindergarten.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Simitian's proposal requiring that students starting kindergarten turn 5 by Sept. 1 of the school year. The current cutoff date is Dec. 2.

The new age requirement would be phased in over three years, beginning in 2012. Its effects would be positive both educationally and financially, Simitian said.

Last year, some 289 Palo Alto teachers sent a petition to Simitian requesting the change, saying many of the younger children they see simply are not ready for the increasingly academic rigors of kindergarten.

California has one of the latest kindergarten cut-off dates in the nation, with about a quarter of children starting kindergarten before age 5. Past legislative proposals to change the date have been unsuccessful.

Now, Simitian believes, the state may have reached a "tipping point," with both the educational and financial arguments for the change looming large.

Removing the approximately 100,000 children who would no longer be eligible to start kindergarten would save about $700 million a year, according to the independent Legislative Analyst's Office. Those savings would continue through the 13 years the children would have been in the system, adding up to $9.1 billion, Simitian said.

He proposes to take half those savings and put it toward preschool programs.

One financial concern with the bill could be that savings would not be realized in the first year because of California's longstanding policy of giving declining-enrollment districts one year's worth of revenue even though they've lost the kids to cushion the blow.

"So for the first year, we're still funding those kids without the net savings. And if we take half of those 'savings' and use them for preschool, it's a net cost. So we'll have to sort that piece out," Simitian said.

Simitian's bill allows parents of younger children to request exceptions from their local school board if they want their child to begin kindergarten at an earlier age.

When he received the petition from the Palo Alto teachers last spring, Simitian said he was struck by the fact that it was signed by more than just kindergarten teachers.

The petition was initiated by Walter Hays kindergarten teacher Diana Argenti and Palo Verde reading specialist Natalie Bivas.

"Almost every child who comes to me for reading support has a fall birthday. They don't catch up somehow down the line," Bivas said. "By third grade, teachers start asking me why we didn't hold these children back. By then, we're discussing special-education intervention."

Research indicates that beginning school at an older age improves children's social and academic development, Simitian said.

A 2005 study by the Rand Corporation found a "significant boost" to test scores, especially for children from low-income families, he said.

Based on these benefits, California's non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, the California Performance Review and the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence have each called for an earlier kindergarten cut-off date.

In Wednesday's Education Committee hearing, Simitian's bill was supported by the Association of County School Administrators and opposed by the California Teachers Association.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at


Posted by happy, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2010 at 11:18 am

Thank you Joe! I remember this was attempted and rejected when my kids were in preschool 10-15 years ago. I just hope we have the wisdom to push it through this time.
By the time middle school came around, many friends regretted not putting their children in Young Fives.
One of the arguments at the time was that keeping the Dec 1 cut-off would benefit low income families because they could save on day care. I bet that didn't work out well in the long-run for those families.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2010 at 2:09 pm

We kept our son with a fall birthday out of kindergarten until he was almost 6. We looked at this as giving him the gift of another year of childhood. We have never regretted it. Now that he is in high school, we feel even more strongly that we made the right choice.

Posted by no one size, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm

It's difficult to generalize for all children; they're all so different. You could even make a case for starting boys at an older age than girls - the Young Fives program seems to be favored by parents of boys. I had two late fall children. My daughter did fine, and sometimes seemed like she was a year older than her grade rather than a year younger. My son did fine until high school, and then the difference in age and maturity really began to show, exacerbated by the fact that many fall kids had gone through Young Fives, so he was more than a year younger than many of his grade - at that point I regretted he hadn't been in the Young Fives program too.

Posted by May, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

It would not have been good for my daughter to stay out of kindergarten although she had a November birthday. She has always been mature enough and has never struggled in school. My son with a december birthday was started in Kindergarten when he was 5 -- it worked great and he never struggled in school academically or emotionally. I like the flexibility that has been allowed by the later start cut off for parents to individually decide what is best for their children. Exceptions are hard to get and require all this maneuvering and testing etc. I feel that most parents may not be aware of the additonal academic burdens place on Kindergarten kids and if that were adequately explained, parents would make good decisions for their children.

Posted by a concerned taxpayer, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 13, 2010 at 3:58 pm

The article is incorrect. The current cut off date is December 2. I think it is wrong to generalize. I like it the way it is. People can choose what is best for their children.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

My child, now a senior at Gunn, went through the Young Fives program and has never regretted it. I agree with the parent above who said it was an extra year of childhood, an extra year to grow.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Thank you Joe Simitian for this thoughtful bill that will help young children and get CA in line with other states.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I am opposed to the cutoff changing to September. Every single child is different. Parents should have the option to choose. Some kids are incredibly smart and talented, and not only would do well in a challenging environment, but really need something that stimulating. Other kids are slower and should have the option to wait.

I was 4 when I started kindergarten, and I did extremely well both in and out of school. In fact, I stood out on a number of levels. I went to a great college and have a demanding job. I had friends that were almost a year older, and they did not stand out. They did not do any better socially.

It was also great to end high school at age 17. I had a bit more flexibility to take time off before college, and I like that I finished college at a younger age.

Posted by Lena, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm

In Russia cut off is September 1, and children start school at the age of 7. They spend 10 years in school and graduate at 17.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I highly recommend parents of boys with fall birthdays not to rush and wait a year. This extra year of maturity will be so important when they are in middle and high school, will give them much needed confidence and stronger social status.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Here's a thought... how about keeping the cutoff right where it is and reminding ourselves that Kindergarten is:

kin·der·gar·ten (kndr-gärtn, -dn) KEY
Abbr. K
A program or class for four-year-old to six-year-old children that serves as an introduction to school.

Posted by Read please, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Apr 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Those of you saying you still want a parent's choice should read the article again. Simitian's bill makes a provision for parents to request an exception if they believe their child is ready for Kindergarten but doesn't make the cutoff.

This move of the cutoff date is badly needed and will help with the age gap of sometimes almost a year in the classrooms. At the age of five and six, that's a huge difference in social development.

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm

This is Palo Alto, where people like to game the system to get an edge for their children.

All this will do is change who holds their kids back. Instead of kids with fall/winter birthdays being held back, it will just mean that kids with summer/fall birthdays will be held back.

And the song remains the same....

Posted by Kids Vary, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2010 at 1:22 am

In an ideal world, every child would be professionally assessed at various points when at preschool age, and suggestions made to parents about appropriate placements at those times. Of course, that will never happen, so I guess I'd vote to leave the age where it is.

In my own case, I started kindergarten at age 5 (in another state), and lasted one day until the teacher suggested I be moved up to first grade, since I could read, write, count, behave, etc. A more flexible system might have had me in kindergarten even earlier than age 5.

One of my sons has a November birthday, and although he seemed ready for kindergarten as a "youngie", we parents were unsure. So we went ahead and started him off in kindergarten, and told his (wonderful) teacher to let us know if she thought he wasn't ready and would be better off at home or in Young Fives. After a few weeks, we checked back with her, and she said he was doing fine. I do think he's been a little immature both academically and (in some ways) socially all the way along the line (he's in college now), but I don't think waiting a year would have made that much of a difference in his case.

People might also ponder what the ramifications would be if PAUSD ever decides to cut Young Fives for budgetary reasons. Given the way things are going, that wouldn't surprise me.

Posted by Am I missing something?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2010 at 6:12 am

"Those savings [about $700 million/year for 100,000 children] would continue through the 13 years the children would have been in the system, adding up to $9.1 billion, Simitian said."

How so? CA must still educate the children with Fall birthdays K-12 so the cost per student remains the same. Aren't the savings generated during the phase in years spent the students' senior year when, under current law, they otherwise would have been working or off to college? If whatever "savings" there is funds pre-schools for these kids, won't it actually cost more per student for 14 years of public education instead of 13?

Most definitely some kids will be more ready for school if they wait a year and better behaved and engaged in class. With the amount of material kids are expected to learn in kindergarten, that is a good thing. But advanced kids who enter kindergarten a year later will make the skills gap even wider, which means making it harder for teachers to challenge and engage everyone in their classrooms. That is where the waiver could come in handy.

Another problem with a delay is for a lower-income kid who doesn't have/take advantage of free and easily accessible high quality pre-school (or doting caregivers at home) while they wait; the extra year out of school will worsen their education outcome. It will also delay IDing learning differences, many which can be addressed if caught early enough.

Fewer kids to educate during the phase in years also means fewer teachers aka layoffs/reassignments.

Posted by stop the "absolutist" thinking!, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2010 at 6:15 am

What you all have to realize is this is typical of a basic philosophy of the left. "THEY" know what is best for all of us, because "THEY" are smarter than all of us. Thus, "THEY" know that ALL kids are better off waiting until they are 5 to enter kindergarten. WE, the parents, simply don't know enough.

Good grief. I, a full blooded liberal, live and let live, trust individuals to work out their own lives, never thought I would see the day when "liberal" meant "tell everyone how to live, group everyone based on factors outside themselves such as age, color, religion" etc.

How about letting parents have their kid evaluated, and if an educational psych says they are ready at 4 years old, they go in?

AS a taxpayer, I am all for setting it up that the dollars are used most effectively, but at the same time, as a classic liberal, I also am all for individuals choosing their lives. So, let the parents who believe their kids are ready "show it" with testing results, don't make a blanket rule that rules out the kid who are ready.

Stop giving ever more power to our governments!

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2010 at 6:42 am

"In an ideal world, every child would be professionally assessed at various points when at preschool age, and suggestions made to parents about appropriate placements at those times."

That's called "private school."

Posted by Reymundo, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2010 at 7:26 am

So what is required for this proposed change to actually be approved and implemented? They mention that it's a bill, so does it just have to be passed by a majority in the state legislature and then signed by the governor? They also say that the Senate Education Committee is reviewing it now, so I guess that means they have to vote on sending it to the entire legislature for a vote? Does anyone know what the odds are for this actually being passed and implemented, and what a realistic timeframe for carrying this out would be?

Posted by Reymundo, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

I found the answer to my own question. Here's an excerpt from an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

"Simitian's kindergarten bill, known as Senate Bill 1381, will be heard by the Senate Education Committee today [April 14]. It will need to be passed with a simple majority by the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Assembly before being sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk by Aug. 31.

The new age requirement would be phased in over three years beginning in 2012. Parents could request exceptions from their local district."

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 14, 2010 at 8:05 am

If you talk to the teachers who have written this petition they'll tell you that it's much more than just four year-olds not being ready for Kindergarten. They'll tell you that the Kindergarten standards are geared toward six year-olds and those come from the state. They can't change those.

Do you really think parents hold their kids back to get an edge? Everyone I know who has held a child back, including myself, has done it because their four year-old is not ready to learn the Kindergarten curriculum. Their brains are not ready. Good Kinder teachers and reading specialists will tell you that most children's brains aren't properly functioning to learn to read until the age of 7 or 8.

We are pushing our kids so much these days. If your four year-old doesn't make the Kindergarten cut-off, why not let him or her just be a kid with no pressure for just one more year?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2010 at 9:40 am

The cut off date is really immaterial. Whenever it is, there will still be those who think that their kid with a birthday within the last couple of months of the year are not ready to start "big school" since there will be some kids there a year older. There will still end up being a 14 month difference between the oldest and youngest in the class.

Posted by happy, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2010 at 10:52 am

Los Altos Elementary School District does assess every child before entering kindergarten. They make a recommendation on readiness and have information on options.

With the current cut-off date, there is a stigma to keeping children out of kindergarten. Parents who are not aware of the current standards or aware of child development issues are blind-sided because the recommendation is skewed towards those who develop more quickly.

Posted by Reymundo, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The bill made it past its first hurdle yesterday (the 14th) with a 8-0 vote:

Web Link

"The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday by a vote of 8-0. It's now headed for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee."

"Simitian's proposal is not unique. The non-partisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Governor’s California Performance Review have also called for an earlier cut-off date."

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm

We moved from a state with the Sept. 1 deadline. My son is born in early November so he had to wait another year to enter kindergarten. Had we lived in CA, with the Dec. deadline, he would have started kindergarten a year earlier. The extra year for him has been helpful. Most people follow those deadlines because the thought of "holding them back a year" doesn't sit well. Changing the CA deadline to Sept. is a good thing and makes common sense.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

We lived in Texas for quite a while and although the cut off there is Sept 1, most kids with summer birthdays waited a year so it was common for most of the kinders to be around 6 when they started. There are a lot less 6 year old wiggle worms than 4 year old.

And most of the high school and middle school kids who are on the young side - summer and fall birthdays - struggle more in school. For the most part, they are succeeding, but they have to work much harder than their older peers.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2010 at 10:02 pm

anonymous, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, writes:

"Here's a thought... how about keeping the cutoff right where it is and reminding ourselves that Kindergarten is:

kin·der·gar·ten (kndr-gärtn, -dn) KEY


Abbr. K

A program or class for four-year-old to six-year-old children that serves as an introduction to school."

Right on. Unfortunately, K has standards now that look exactly like the old first grade standards. So, naturally, we need to gradually raise the age because many kids can't do 1st grade work at 4-5. Ridiculous. I say, bring back real Kindergarten- for Kinder.

Posted by W L, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I think the assessment in the public school system (LASD) is weak at best. They ask the child to do motor skills hopping, some writing such as their name, etc. But it is no indication of success in elementary school or readiness. The decision needs to be made at the parent and teacher level and sometimes, you just don't know until you try but kinder is a good year to 'repeat' as future repeating will be a stigma.

Posted by early years teacher, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2010 at 9:54 am

As a preschool teacher who has an education in early childhood I see every day the trouble children face. All parents want what's best for their children but are not always willing to do what's best. I have had children who need another year in preschool and I inform the parents but they only see the dollar signs of no more child care payments. Most 4 1/2 year old children are not socially ready for the big changes of school. I feel that someone need to stop the madness. Come out of your offices and get to know what is really happening to our future leaders. If you are not taking time to know the facts how can you judge/vote on what our children need and what is best for them.

Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I think W.L. has a good point that the Kinder year is the least painful to repeat. I asked at my school if children are ever held back in 4th or 5th grade. A teacher said not. When my children were in school, one 4th or 5th grade child was held bac

k by his (very brave) mother. He transferred schools to repeat. I am also glad to hear "early years teacher" point out that another year of child care payments can also push the decision to send a young child to school. Also the fatigue of full-time mothering will do it. Neither of these should be factors in sending a younger child to school prematurely.

Waiting until children are at least 5 to enter kindergarten gives all of them a better edge at things like holding a pencil correctly, and being able to listen and respond to a person speaking from the front of the room. Many younger children simply don't comprehend that a person 20 feet away from them, who has not called their name specifically, can still be saying things they should listen to. Constantly "ignoring" the teacher is fatiguing for the teacher and can stigmatize a child as a handful. That child goes on to the next year knowing that behaving well in school is a confusing struggle.

The youngest children can also get tired more consistently toward the middle of the day, making the time they spend at school after lunch less productive for them.

Finally there are the challenges, as many parents have pointed out, that come to younger children in middle and high school. By 2012 the state will start testing 8th graders in algebra. Currently only the students who have been placed are in classes that might prepare them for this exam at all. More abstract math in earlier years is coming.

My own daughter (Sept 4) went to Young 5s because she was not emotionally ready for school. She speeded up in her development later on. I got the grief of, "Mother, if you had just kept me with my peer group...." Nonetheless, she snagged dates to the prom not once, but twice with an older student body president. She took awards in student writing as a freshman, and did all her own applications to college. And when she went through a troublesome adolescent phase, she didn't have a lot of bosom buddies suffering and amplifying her misery. I heard a lot of, "Mom, my friends just don't understand. Maybe it's just me." And, she soldiered on.

In short I am perfectly at peace with having held her back a year. The regret of dragging her through school she wasn't ready for would have echoed through all her school years.

Posted by Librarian, a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Although I agree that changing the cutoff date makes sense from an educational standpoint for most children, the point of the original article and the bill is to save money. It might indeed save money for one year - the first year it is implemented - but it will not save that money over the whole course of those children's education. It would be a one time savings with a onetime much smaller class. After that all those children would still be in school and the state is committed to educating them.

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