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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 appears on course to full-day kindergarten

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 still looks to implement full-day kindergarten (FDK) across the district despite its own data showing that students who have gone through the limited availability in U-46 are behind their half-day counterparts.
  U-46 has offered FDK for a limited amount of low-income students since the 2005-06 school year and recently, in 2013-14, it opened a few more spaces offering it as a tuition-based program.
  Since several of those classes have already gone through second grade, Board of Education member Cody Holt asked to see the MAP test scores of students to see if there is merit in offering FDK district-wide.
  Although when the plan was proposed in September, Holt initially said he was unsure if he’d support it or not, he said at the Dec. 14 board meeting: “My issue is that our own internal data that our administration provided me, I just don’t see the academic benefit maybe right now.”
  Ron Raglin, assistant superintendent, provided a memo to the board with data on the SUPERA test for Spanish speaking students. From the composite scores down through the three subject areas (language, math and reading) the U-46 students who had gone through FDK did not meet the same level as the rest of the district on those scores through the four years of data that was provided.
  The composite scores on the SUPERA test in 2011-12 showed all U-46 second-graders scoring in the 70th percentile compared to the 63rd percentile for students who had gone through FDK on the composite score. The split was 69-62, 67-62 and 67-63 the following years for an average 5.75 point differential.
  The average point differential was 6.25 in math, 3.75 in language and 2.75 in reading. The closest difference came in 2013-14 when FDK students were one point behind the rest of the district in language and reading.
  On why the MAP scores were not provided, Raglin wrote: “The majority of students who have gone through the FDK program are Limited English Proficient (LEP) and the MAP test is in English.”
  Of the 2,601 students who have gone through FDK, 57.7 percent have been LEP still leaving a healthy 42.3 percent who are not. The fact that students who enter as LEP their kindergarten year and are still LEP by second grade could call to question how well U-46 is teaching English to those students.
  Despite that data, the district still feels there’s merit to offer it district-wide as Raglin wrote that those numbers are “very comparable to the district average.”
  What are facts on the merits of FDK, and what’s conjecture?
  The district has consistently claimed that research shows the benefits of FDK including in a “fact sheet” on the district’s website. That “fact sheet” does not provide any specific studies.
  The administration does cite in its proposal a study referenced in an edcentral.org story titled “Best Research Yet on the Effects of Full-Day Kindergarten,” but as The Examiner has reported, studies are unclear on the merits as there are multiple available from both sides.
  The study from the edcentral.org story only provides data for after the kindergarten year, and most of the studies that show FDK is not beneficial show that any gains made after the kindergarten year are lost, in some instances by first grade. U-46 still uses this study despite the edcentral.org story admitting “we will need further analysis to get a clearer picture of full-day kindergarten effects.”
  The board appears to be ready to support implementing FDK as Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith have all said they “fully support” the proposal. Jeanette Ward has been opposed to the proposal from the start, and Phil Costello has said he could support FDK “but it would only be if it was in a revenue neutral budget.”
  Ward publicly cited opposing research at the Nov. 16 board meeting, but the district has not offered an opposing research and apparently ignored Ward’s comments by not responding.
  The reasons for opposing FDK for Ward have been both on the merits and the costs. Ward believes children at that age are better served spending more time with their family, and she sees the government schools encroaching on “parental privilege and responsibility” as she has noted the district’s use of a disturbing group named the “Illinois Birth Through Third Grade Institute” to come up with a play-based curriculum.
  On the cost side, the majority will come from $9.3 million going towards the building of three additions. In the district proposal, it claims added revenue and savings will outpace expenses by 2017-18 and the initial cost will be paid back within six years, but that does not include the additions which the district has admitted makes the pay back 17 to 18 years.
  The majority of the added revenue comes from additional General State Aid, which is still tax dollars, at nearly 69 percent annually of the added revenue/savings.
  However, the state is facing a budget crisis currently which Ward noted during the Fiscal Year 2016 budget discussions the more than $8 billion deficit in Illinois. According to the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs website, the state “now faces a $9 billion annual deficit that will grow to $14 billion by FY 2026.”
  Holt noted during a recent budget discussion as U-46 plans for Fiscal Year 2017 that K-12 education was fully funded this year while higher education received no state funding.
  On an FAQ page on the district website, U-46 “believes that it will be able to operate FDK within its current levy.” The current levy plan, as presented during three scenarios recently, appears to be to support the maximum levy increase for at least the next five years.
  For those board members supportive of FDK, it comes down to emotional appeals as the district claims FDK is most beneficial for low-income students and Hispanics.
  “I’m in full support of all-day kindergarten, most notably for the positive benefits that we will be providing the students of our district,” Noland said at a September committee meeting. “Parents, we have a majority of working parents in our district, and not all children have access to that quality care after school.”
  Peggy Ondera, director of Early Learners, said at that committee meeting the district was “rallying the troops” in support of FDK and it appears the public is buying into the hype. The district recently held a FDK rally for parents to register their children, before FDK has even been approved by the board, and U-46 CEO said in his Dec. 17 weekly message that 1,346 of 1,428 families chose the full-day over the half-day.
  By law, the district must offer half-day which is 2.5 hours compared to six. Illinois requires districts to offer kindergarten but does not require that children attend kindergarten before being permitted to enroll in first grade. In August 2013 the age at which children are required to begin school in Illinois was lowered to 6 years old. 

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