Effective Systems

Kindergarten: An Overlooked Educational Policy Priority


The Foundation for Child Development Working Paper Series

Kindergarten serves as many children’s introduction to the public education system. It is a time to enhance children’s early learning by fostering their love of learning and independence through the teaching of foundational skills and developing knowledge necessary for academic success in the early grades. Considering this important role, it is therefore surprising how often kindergarten is overlooked when educational research and policy agendas are formed.

Americans commonly understand children’s publicly funded education to begin with the kindergarten year and to end at the twelfth grade. To the contrary, kindergarten is not mandated in all States. Of States that offer kindergarten, only a handful require attendance. Moreover, the typical kindergarten program runs for only part of the regular school day. Half-day kindergarten itself has not been fully accepted or implemented in the public education system across all fifty States, let alone full-school-day kindergarten. The State or school district in which a five-year-old child resides or the local school that a child attends ultimately determines the extent, and probably the quality, of the kindergarten experience. Therefore, a child’s kindergarten experience is highly dependent on local initiative and resources.