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Making the Right Decision

Obsessed with thoughts about education...Last night, the Grosse Pointe schools voted after a two-hour discussion to make all-day kindergarten available for the 2010-2011 school year. No big deal, right? Well, I've got a son who will be in that class, and I'm on the fence about whether he's ready for such a challenge.

Education is a top priority for Detroit and the whole state of Michigan -- at least, it should be. We all want our children to succeed. Yet the worried Mom in me wants my barely 5-year-old son to enjoy a half-day program. At such a young age, is he ready to take on a full day of school?

Detroit Schools last week declared via Robert Bobb that there will be no more "social promotions," or boosting students up a grade when they are not ready for it. Another story in The Detroit News highlights one mother's fight to keep her daughter in kindergarten for a second year -- her teacher wants it, the family wants it. But the district is set to push her up to first grade just to keep her moving forward.

Who makes the best decision for students: parents or the district?

According to my school board, only 330 of Michigan's 781 districts have all-day kindergarten right now. They range from Huron Valley to Highland Park, so all demographic and economic areas. Nationwide, some 75 percent of kindergartens are all-day programs in 2008, the latest data presented to us. That is up from about 55 percent of the nation's 4 million kindergarten students in 1998. In other words, Michigan needs to get on the bus now or face falling behind even more.

In the DPS all-day Pre-K and Kindergarten classes, "the curriculum is structured to keep the young child engaged in learning with a rigorous yet developmentally appropriate curriculum that includes mathematics; science; language and literacy development; art; and social studies," according to the district. "When the students complete the DPS Pre-K and Kindergarten programs and begin regular school, they are prepared to succeed-ready to embrace learning as a life-long adventure."

My local school board member said it best, perhaps: Grosse Pointe could offer all-day kindergarten now and get on top of it. Or the district could wait until the state mandates it in a few years. Either way, the kindergarten teachers and elementary school principals were in total agreement: Kids are best served by stretching the curriculum across the full day rather than trying to pack it into a three-hour, half-day program. The board voted 7-0 to approve the switch to a full-day program, which will be free (as opposed to the structure now, which costs parents almost $4,000 to add a half-day of day care to the kindergarten day).

I was thrilled to see so many parents at the meeting who were as passionate about the topic as I am. It felt great to be involved in the decision-making process and to hear the board's thoughts as they made this change. I am disappointed with the final decision, I admit. But I am realistic -- if the program will make my son a better student and offer him greater success throughout his educational career, I just may have to swallow my concerns and do it.

Michigan is at a turning point right now. We need to have a strong, educated population to make this state move forward. Like I've said before on this blog, I want my son to stay in Michigan and make it his home. So I'm happy the school districts are trying to maintain the national standards here to keep us competitive.

So this Mom likely will send her son to a full day of school in the fall with the knowledge that it is best for him. But I'll be wondering in my gut if it is the right decision for us for a long time after that.

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  • 1

    Hey, I'm ok with whatever you do except if you take your son down to lakeshore and point up at those hideous houses and coo and bray and say pretty, pretty!


    • 1.1

      That's funny! I haven't seen too many ugly houses on lakeshore ;) Jealousy is never an attractive quality. Some of the nicest, most generous and well-mannered people I have every met live in this community.

  • 2

    What proof is there that kids are best served by expending the curriculum all day? What data should we rely on? The self serving data of school officials? The life realities of those who did and did not have all day kindergarten?

    I find it interesting that in G P and other districts respect is given to school boards and parents..Yet in the DPS an elected school board is ignored and the dictates of a state governor who appoints a headhunter ( read Robert Bobb) has more clout..

    FInally what do we know of the graduates of these districts that have full day kindergarten?..From my last review the majority of the state leaders and workers in the private and public sector did not graduate from DPS and yet our state is in a free fall meltdown..

    One could argue the allege outcomes of students educated in so-called better districts has produced decay and failure.... How do we know what is best for students??

  • 3

    Michigan needs to get back to the basics, for re-structuring and sustainability. Perhaps the curriculum decision is not bad. It may even be effectual, considering its potential. Our current and next generations need as much education as possible in order to ensure that the state, and nation, will be in good hands within the next 30+ years.

    The only way to obtain this surety is by taking advantage of now. The most learning and growing that humans possess is within the first 5 years of life, correct? When we learn to handle business effectively and early, then we're better off later!

  • 4

    I was one of those students that went to half-day kindergarten in GP schools when I was young (Go Kerby Cougars!). I wonder what the thinking is in having a mandatory all-day program. I understand that for some children it's a non-issue and for others it's a benefit to have all day instruction. For me however, I remember how daunting it was being away from my stay-at-home mother. Some children need to be eased into change rather than be forced to sink or swim and that's where the option for either track worked best. The benefit of being home with a parent for a large part of the day far outweighed the beginnings of basic institutionalized instruction. I turned out ok (at least I think I did) and it certainly didn't handicap my social or instructional development.

    Parents know their children at that age far better than the school district so why not leave the decision in their hands?

    p.s. I think some of the homes on Lakeshore are fantastic, sometimes it's a matter of taste

  • 5

    BTW I seldom do business in GP's it has a legacy of racism towards Black Detroiters which is insane of course given most folks there make a living off the city..

    The schools as well have never welcomed Black students most do not have choice enrollment I imagine the kindergartens reflect the same. The parks have always made Black folks feel like we are germs and in the deep south now to observe the Lakeshore homes in a meltdown is karma .

    It is amazing how these venues GP & Dearborn's of the world get payback finally for their ugly legacies..

    • 5.1

      Just for the record, if you live in the district you can go to school in the district. While the past might have been ugly the present is as open as your bank account is - which the last time I checked is the case in many school districts. I don't wish bad luck on anyone - now that is bad karma!

    • 5.2

      I must say- I am disappointed. I became a stay-at-home Mom so that I would not have to put my son in daycare. Many moms here feel the same and choose half-day K so which still allows them to have educational and social time at school, while allowing proper rest time at home. This may be a great option for working moms that have to pay extra for extended daycare- but maybe not for us that are available to our children to come home after a half-day program. This is only Kindergarten!

  • 6

    I have experience with this from both sides, as my son did all day kindergarten and my wife taught both half day and full day. At that age, school isn't the chore we think of it as being as adults. Kids by and large enjoy it, even with increased academic standards, as most of the teaching is done through play. I see parents worrying about this far more than their children.

    From a teacher's perspective, trying to accomplish their goals in half a day is very challenging. At four or five, it takes children a while to settle in and get their brains moving in the right direction. By the time that happens, the morning is half over.

    By the way, if a school district does switch to all day kindergarten, it's a higher financial burden on them, so they're not making that decision out of self interest.

    While I support all day kindergarten, it doesn't get to the crux of the issue as I see it. Young children in most districts work to higher standards and get a better education than I did at that age. At the secondary level, though, things are exactly the same as when I left (around 18 years ago). History is still taught as names and dates, math is given no practical application, and critical thinking skills aren't developed. That's the heart of the issue for me.

    • 6.1

      I agree. Kids are more adaptable than we give them credit for. I have news for those that don't like the all-day option - the majority of children have been away from their parents for the bulk of the day since they were babies. The % of stay at home parents has continued to dwindle. Not to get into a debate on stay-at-home vs working, I respect that each family has to make the right decision for their family. My district is one that does have a all day program (since 2008!) and my daughter is already looking forward to being a big girl and going to school this coming September.

  • 7

    I serve on the Grosse Pointe Board of Education and advocated for the approval of All Day Kindergarten. What is being misunderstood is that we approved ADK as the standard, no-fee offering. We did NOT mandate that all students be in Kindergarten all day. While I suspect over time many, if not most, will take advantage of ADK, it is not a forced march.

    Significant to the discussion is knowing that Michigan public schools are funded mainly by the state on a per pupil basis. Kindergarten students who attend for just half a day generate as much revenue as full day 1st through HS seniors. The policy previously had been that we would charge families $4,000 to send their children to the extra half day of kindergarten. Many of these families rightly argued this was unfair - and I agree with them.

    The state knows of this issue as well and have long been warning that public schools will sacrifice funding and/or the state themselves would mandate ADK. I believe with the state of things in Michigan, this is inevitable.

    As was correctly stated by djtrudeau above, this move does come at an adverse financial impact to the district, so it was not a financially motivated decision for the district, but rather for the taxpayers we represent. Above all, I believe it will deliver better academic and support options for our familes.

    Brendan Walsh

  • 8

    My third child is in half-day kindergarten right now. For her, and my older two children, we utilized the school of choice program to enroll them in the neighboring district that offered half-day kinidergarten since our local district only offered full day kindergarten or a bizarre version of half-day that amounted to:
    M - full
    Tu - off
    W - full
    Th - off
    F - half.

    We thought that seven hours a day was excessive for 5 year-olds. Having sat in on some full-day kindergarten classes it seemed part of the day was just glorified daycare. Now, there was a lot of support for this from parents in my district who both work, or who just prefer a little more "me" time, and who believe that their child will benefit from seven hours a day in school but we thought three was enough.

    And it has been, all our children only attended preschool for one year (three half-days per week) and half-day K but all were ahead of where they were supposed to be academically. That I attribute mainly to doing the right things as parents -- lots of books in the house, working with the kids on learning the alphabet, colors, numbers etc. The older children continue to do very well despite their minimal "time in seat" early on.

    Now, if we'd just left it up to the school to get our kids ready to learn, they'd probably benefit from two years of preschool and full-day K. If the first time they'd see a book or visit the library was their first day of school, then lots of school would probably help overcome the parents' neglect of their duties. But for average kids with responsible parents it really isn't necessary IMO.

    I know I'm in a small minority though. In our area I'd guess the split is 10% half-day/90% full-day. Oh well, as a work-at-home Dad I like having my kids around a little longer.

    Karen, you've obviously thought about this which shows you care about your children's education so I think you'll make a great decision for your children not matter what you choose. I just wanted you to know that not every parent is in agreement that lots of seat time at an early age is necessarily the only "right" thing.

  • 9

    I think the Board's decision is great news! My son is in half day program at GP primarily because it didn't make sense to me to pay $4000 for the full day program when there was no difference in the curriculum for the additional cost. Now that he's in the half day program, he has shared that he wished he had more time in school. As most area schools do offer the all day program at no additional charge to the parents, it puts Grosse Pointe in line with those districts and so we are no longer at a disadvantage. His younger sis will be starting kindergarten in a couple years, so glad to know that will not be the case for her. Cheers to the School Board!

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