Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

All-day kindergarten – boon or boondoggle?

Steven P. Thayn

I wish to offer a caution to the supporters of universal all-day kindergarten.   Also, to offer suggestions to make all-day kindergarten successful if that is what Idaho choses to do.

First, there is a negative correlation between time spent in kindergarten and fourth grade NAEP reading scores.  Students in New Mexico have average scores of 208 on the NAEP with 1,000 hours in kindergarten while Idaho students score 223 with 450 hours in kindergarten.  States that have all-day kindergarten include Louisiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia that all have scores below Idaho.  (Prove this to yourself and go to the NAEP website.  It holds true for Ohio and many other states with all-day k.)  The quality of parental involvement is more important than all-day k.

Students in states with ½-day kindergarten (Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, Utah, and Wisconsin) tend to do better on the fourth grade NAEP than states with all-day kindergarten.  There is a negative correlation between time spent in a structured kindergarten and reading outcomes in the fourth grade.

Income and college attainment levels of the parents is a stronger predictor of fourth grade reading scores than more hours in kindergarten.  The key to early education (birth through third grade) is contribution of the parent.   If we want to improve reading scores in the fourth grade, we expand the contribution of parents, not spend more money on every child.


Early education is mainly about language acquisition.  Language is best learned through one-on-one interactions.  When a parent spends 10 minutes a day reading and talking to their child one-on-one, it is equal to one day of school because teachers don’t have time to give young students the individual attention they need.

When a state moves to all-day kindergarten, some parents think the school system has it covered, so the parents do less because the kids are tired.  If parents do less, the net impact is less one-on-one time per student thus reading scores drop by the fourth grade.

Other Issues

All-day kindergarten will require at least 200 more new teachers.  Idaho is experiencing a teacher shortage.  Why are we doing this?  Where will they come from?

Many school districts don’t have facilities for all-day kindergarten.  They will need to build new buildings, and this will require more bonding which will place added burden on property taxpayers.

Finally, if some school districts offer all-day kindergarten and others don’t, this is inviting a lawsuit.


If we are to do all-day kindergarten, I have several suggestions to avoid new buildings, hiring new teachers, and avoiding a lawsuit.

First, there must be a deliberate outreach to parents letting them know it is their responsibility to see their child succeed and provide resources if needed.

Second, all-day kindergarten is more appropriate for students that are behind or learning a second language.  All-day kindergarten should be provided to these children first.  If all children, both those with the greatest needs and those that are doing well, attend kindergarten, the classes will be too large for high-need children to have the one-on-one time they need.

Third, respect the choice of parents that only want ½-day kindergarten by giving them access to resources. Fourth, respect the choice of parents that don’t want to send their child to kindergarten by giving them access to funds to buy their own curriculum.

I would like to see an overall paradigm shift.  The next level of educational success requires us to invest in parents rather than exclusively in the education system.


Steven Thayn

Steven Thayn

Sen. Steven Thayn represents District 8. He served three terms in the House of Representatives (2006-2012) until his election to the Idaho Senate. Sen. Thayn is a graduate of Emmett High School, Treasure Valley Community College and Boise State University (B.S. Political Science). He and his wife Sheryll have eight children.

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