- While there is research to support the benefit of full-day kindergarten programs, only 14 states and the District of Columbia require school districts to offer it, with most others offering only half-day programs, and only 17 states and D.C. require kindergarten attendance, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Kindergarten programs have become increasingly more academic in recent years, and the full-day model allows more time for learning through play, which used to be a focus of kindergarten programs.
- Full-day kindergarten programs are especially beneficial for low-income students, who are often unprepared for kindergarten, and for ESL students and those with learning disabilities
The idea of mandating a full-day kindergarten program has some research to back it, especially as some low-performing schools have found that extending elementary school hours overall has boosted performance. In fact, from 1977 to 2013, the percentage of kindergartners enrolled in full-day programs, as opposed to half-day, has increased from 28% to 77%. But the idea of mandating kindergarten — especially a full-day model — has long met resistance from states, and there may be reasons for that in conflicting research that has shown the model as not effective.
For instance, the same review of kindergarten research that this article cites as finding “that children who attended for a full day had better academic outcomes the following year, more self-confidence, and were better at playing with others” actually is far less favorable. The abstract states that the small academic benefits noted disappeared by 3rd grade.
Another 2012 study on “Full-Day Kindergarten Effects on Later Academic Success” showed similar results, instead it stated that “there were no significant differences in students who attended the all-day kindergarten program and students who attended a traditional kindergarten program.” Within the past decade, Canada also reportedly spent $1.5 billion a year on a full-day kindergarten program that failed, by many accounts.
The research does seem to consistently support that full-day kindergarten programs do offer advantages to low-income families and students who need extra support as they approach 1st grade. For these students, the availability of a full-day kindergarten program is important and may help level the playing field.