Full-day kindergarten = literacy


On Nov. 16, 2016, Adam Goodman, president & CEO of Goodmans Interior Structures in Phoenix, co-authored an op-ed piece titled “Make full-day kindergarten an optional grade in state” in The Arizona Republic with Phil Francis, retired chairman & CEO of PetSmart and John O. Whiteman, president of the Whiteman Foundation and former CEO of Empire Southwest. Adam states, “We wrote the piece because third-grade reading is one of the most important indicators for academic and lifelong success. Before third grade, students are learning to read. After third grade, students are reading to learn. Without proficient reading skills by fourth grade, students are ‘on a glide path to poverty,’ according to Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.”

Results of the 2016 AzMERIT showed that only 46% of Arizona’s third graders score “proficient” or “highly proficient” in third-grade reading. “There are even more ominous achievement gaps among minority and at-risk populations,” says Adam. “As someone who cares deeply about Arizona’s future, I find this to be unacceptable.”

“The most impactful investment Arizona can make to improve third-grade reading attainment is full-day kindergarten,” says Adam. “We don’t have to implement it all at once; that would be fiscally irresponsible. We propose to gradually introduce funding by starting in the areas with the highest need first. Thanks to Expect More Arizona’s Arizona Education Progress Meter, anyone can clearly see that there is an alarming discrepancy from county to county in terms of grade reading proficiency. We’d prioritize the most urgent regions first and phase in the others over time.”

Kindergarten as an optional full-day grade will help to improve literacy, a key goal of the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which is endorsed by more than 30 education and business groups, including Expect More Arizona, the Center for the Future of Arizona and the Governor’s Office of Education.

The following article by the co-authors previously referenced appeared in The Arizona Republic on Nov. 16, 2016.

Arizona has never treated kindergarten as a full-day grade. State Senator Steve Smith recently described the history of kindergarten in Arizona: “Former Governor Janet Napolitano’s ‘All-Day K’ was simply a funding scheme to double-fund a 2.5 hour program, without standards for accountability or achievement.”

Today’s energy and commitment to early literacy have given Arizona’s business and education leaders the courage and strength to coalesce around making kindergarten an optional full-day grade.

Calvin Coolidge once said, “There is no dignity quite so impressive and no independence quite so important as living within your means.” We agree.

We propose a five-year phase-in of kindergarten as an optional full-day grade, beginning with a $20 million investment in 2018, $40 million investment in 2019 and measured increases annually through statewide implementation in 2022.

By investing first in schools with the highest free/reduced-price lunch populations, we will make the greatest impact, early, while being fiscally responsible, measured and expanding the opportunity annually to align with available resources.

There is agreement that high-quality kindergarten as an optional full-day grade is the best investment Arizona can make to produce third-grade readers and position students for success.

From Expect More Arizona’s commitment to Arizona’s third graders being proficient in reading and math to The Arizona We Want’s goal of high school students who are “college-career” ready, we know that Arizona’s first education priority must be making sure children are able to read by third grade. The best way to accomplish this goal is by making kindergarten an optional full-day grade for Arizona, and a choice for every family.

Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Arizona Business Education Coalition and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery have all shared that kindergarten as an optional full-day grade is a critical component for improving literacy and education. ASU’s President Michael Crow recently said, “[Full-day kindergarten] is a high-priority investment that can pay clear and powerful dividends for decades to come.”

Kindergarten as an optional full-day grade will provide Arizona’s youngest, most-ready learners with the investment from our legislature and standards from our State Board of Education that are required in our 21st-century economy and globally competitive environment.

Last year, a coalition of superintendents wrote, “While school districts have a myriad of needs ranging from aging school buses and outdated text books to ever-growing student-teacher ratios and STEM education aspirations, there is no greater priority than kindergarten classroom time to develop effective social skills, teach the fundamentals of English and math, and set trajectories for future success.”

For those who feel focused, measured investments are “not good enough,” we’d urge them to not let perfect be the enemy of better. For those with billion-dollar wish lists, one thing is certain: If everything is very important, then nothing is important.

There are many big conversations taking place around education funding in Arizona, from expanding Proposition 301 to a full cent when it expires in 2020 to Greater Phoenix Leadership’s “Project 456.” The first question that must always be answered is, “How will any new dollars be spent?”

We respectfully ask all Arizonans to join in supporting the call, as reflected by Tolleson Elementary Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hightower: “It’s time for Arizona to make kindergarten a fully-funded grade so that every child, no matter where they live or how much money their family makes, is positioned for literacy by third grade and lifelong success.”

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