Economist sees little benefit from f . . .
Economist sees little benefit from full-day kindergarten
Academic gains for children who attend full-day kindergarten programs compared
to those who attend half-day programs are so short-lived that policymakers
should take a hard look at whether the additional cost of full-day programs is
worthwhile, concludes an economist in a recent issue of Economics of
"My findings suggest that, on average, the academic returns associated with
full-day kindergarten are quite low or non-existent," writes Philip DeCicca from
the Department of Economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
DeCicca analyzed kindergarten and 1st
grade reading and math test scores for children
from 714 schools who attended half-day or fullday
While children in
full-day programs scored higher in reading and
math than their half-day counterparts at the end
of kindergarten, those gains had evaporated by
the end of 1st grade, the researcher reports. This
was true for both girls and boys and black and
Hispanic children. In fact, Hispanic children who
attended full-day kindergarten programs performed
worse at the end of 1st grade than children
who attended half-day kindergarten.
"The estimated pattern of results suggests
that full-day kindergarten substantially raises the
math and reading achievement of children of all
races," the economist writes. "However, these
gains are much smaller in magnitude when measured
via similar tests just one year later. In other
words, the short-run impact of full-day kindergarten
has depreciated considerably by the end of
For black children, the short-run gains
seem to be gone by the beginning of first grade,
indicating that the loss is due to "summer fallback",
the economist writes. For white and
Hispanic children the gain seems to erode gradually
during 1st-grade. The declines are shallowest
for whites, he says.
"Given existing socioeconomic
differences between the races, it is possible that
differences in home environment contribute significantly
to the larger losses for Hispanic, and
especially black, children," he writes.
Half-day began during WWII
The history of kindergarten dates back to
the 1800s when it began as a full-day program,
DeCicca writes. During WWII, schools across the
country began to cut their kindergarten classes
back to a half-day in order to free up additional
Full-day kindergarten reappeared in the
1960s as an intervention to help disadvantaged
children catch up to their peers through additional
schooling. But, now it has gained popularity
among middle class families. Over the past 30
years, the percentage of children in full-day programs
has grown from 10% to just over half of
The push for full-day kindergarten has occurred at the state level, DeCicca
writes. Currently, nine state governments mandate full-day kindergarten and 26
provide financial incentives to encourage school districts to provide it.
The rationale for full-day kindergarten is that the more time children spend
in school, the more they will learn, the researcher writes. But, detractors warn
that an early emphasis on academic learning, at the expense of play time, could
harm children emotionally and academically.
Economists have taken little interest in the half-day vs. full-day
kindergarten debate, which is surprising, DeCicca says, in view of the enormous
attention paid to Head Start and its possible effects on outcomes.
Beyond academic benefits, policymakers also need to consider socialization
issues and kindergarten's role as a child care subsidy in evaluating full-day
kindergarten vs. half-day kindergarten, he notes.
"Does full-day kindergarten matter? Evidence from the first two years of
schooling" by Philip DeCicca. Economics of Education Review, Volume 26, Number
1, February 2007, pp. 67-82.