In the education-reform shopping mall, the product moving fastest off the shelves appears to be early-childhood programs. Florida voters were so eager for pre-kindergarten classes that they passed a statewide ballot measure they could not afford. Similar measures have done well in other states. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has made preschool a key part of his agenda.
Of course, when government raises expectations and then fails to deliver, parents complain. Here is an exchange of e-mails between a Fairfax County parent and a Fairfax official over the issue. Who is right?
I am a parent of a child who will be going into kindergarten in the fall at Stratford Landing Elementary School. We have been lucky enough to have him enrolled in an excellent private preschool in the area. He has excelled in pre-K and is eagerly looking forward to attending kindergarten. Of the 44 children who will be graduating from his preschool, only two will be going to Stratford Landing. But this is the only school in our county cluster that does not offer a full-day kindergarten program.
Research from the Alexandria public schools clearly demonstrates that children in full-day kindergarten, across socioeconomic and ethnic groups, perform better on the Cognitive Ability Test than their peers in half-day kindergarten programs. Also, Fairfax County prominently promotes the benefits of full-day kindergarten, including a video clip on its Web site.
As a taxpayer and voter in Fairfax, I feel that it is unfair that children who live less than a mile away will be getting the equivalent of two times the education our son will be getting next year. I learned that the cost to implement full-day kindergarten at Stratford Landing for the 2009-10 school year would be $260,000. After meeting with the teachers at the Stratford Landing kindergarten orientation, I learned that because of the half-day situation, music and movement meet only once a week (in first through sixth grade, it is every day). Art is offered once every two weeks. Recess is the first to be dropped if the teachers feel pressured to keep up with the curriculum. A full-day program would easily remedy these issues.
Although there are other programs that need funds in the county, I believe one of the most equitable, and certainly the most important, would be to get the full-day kindergarten in place at Stratford Landing.