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On The Issue

Is Older Better for Entering Kindergarten?

May 06, 1997|ED BOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A freshman state assemblyman from Lancaster has proposed changing the cutoff date that determines when children enter kindergarten in California.

The proposal by George Runner (R-Lancaster), would require that prospective kindergartners be 5 by Sept. 1 instead of Dec. 2. However, the Legislature has put action on the bill on hold pending further study on the impact.

While supporters argue that such a change would bring California in line with other states and further ensure that students are ready for kindergarten, critics maintain that the plan is unfair to poor families who cannot afford child care and preschool and that it unduly delays some students' education.

Should the cutoff date for kindergarten be changed to ensure that new students enter at an older age?

Assemblyman George Runner:

"One of the main reasons we're concerned is we do not believe the current curriculum is a match for the current entrance age that we have for California kindergartners. . . . The youngest children who go to kindergarten are now a disproportionate amount of those who fail kindergarten. . . . On top of that, by making a shift, we are able to free up $600 million a year for public education that would go a long way toward taking care of huge facility needs. . . . The maturity level of the child when they are 4 and 5 is the issue."

Julie Korenstein, Los Angeles Unified School District board member:

"I tend to want to be able to have children have an early experience in school. . . . If a family has the opportunity to put the child in a preschool, that's different, but if they can't and aren't able to afford it, I'd rather get the child in earlier than later. . . . I don't think this is a well-thought-out plan. . . . It means a lot of lost time for little kids, a very critical time for children when they should also be getting to know other children."

Bette Simons, founder of First Step Nursery School and Child Development Center in Woodland Hills:

"They could keep the date where it is, if the teachers would work with the children where they need to be, but people put pressure on teachers, saying, 'Let's have them do well on tests.' . . . A lot of pressure is put on parents and children that they are not ready for. . . . Kindergarten should not look like second grade. In my opinion, you don't need to change the date, but change the teaching. . . . And if parents want to get their children ready for school, never mind teaching them to write their name. How about teaching them to listen when someone is talking, paying attention, looking at their face and not fighting with other children. Being ready socially is almost as important as being mature."

Larry Gonzales, principal of Pacoima Elementary School:

"I don't agree with that proposal if it's going to take children out of the school. . . . I understand that he's trying to save money, but what's the cost of saving that money? . . . The reason we've got hundreds of children dropping out of school is simply that they are not getting into the program early enough."

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