40% not prepared
for kindergarten

A task force study recommends
more funding for preschools

Only about 60 percent of Hawaii kindergartners enter public school mentally prepared for formal classroom instruction, according to a study that calls for greater public funding for early childhood and preschool education.

The inaugural assessment by the public-private Hawaii School Readiness Task Force released yesterday also said only 20 percent of the 201 public elementary schools that participated in the study had "well-established" programs to help such kids get on track.

"Many of those without the same jump on their education may never catch up," said Liz Chun, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance, a partner in the task force. "This is where the achievement gap begins."

Task force members say the annual assessment is the first in the state to measure the readiness of incoming kindergartners. They hope to use it as a lever to increase the public commitment -- and funding -- for early childhood programs, a segment of the learning process they say is underfunded.

The task force was established in 2001 by the state Legislature to examine ways to prepare children for the stringent school achievement requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, beginning with an annual assessment of preparedness.

The assessment, conducted last year, received input from 483 kindergarten teachers and 148 principals across the state and found that in only 19.3 percent of kindergarten classes were at least three-fourths of the students prepared to begin learning basic literacy concepts and skills. The figure was 18.8 percent for math.

It said only 5.6 percent of the kindergarten classes met the benchmarks in all categories, which also included readiness for the behaviors expected in schools, physical well-being, social-emotional readiness, and approaches to learning.

Task force members said the long-term impact on Hawaii's public education system could be great, citing research indicating that learning habits and attitudes are determined in the crucial early years of brain development.

Task force members said not enough families can afford a good preschool, and the parents of such kids often do not provide -- or do not know how to provide -- the mental development activity required to prepare their children for the first day of kindergarten.

"That's just not fair," said Gov. Linda Lingle, who has introduced bills in the Legislature to help families who cannot afford formal preschool. "It's not fair to the children or the parents."

The types of stimulation that helps prepare kids can be as simple as reading regularly to them and familiarizing 3- and 4-year-olds with different colors and basic counting.

"They need exposure to learning and to the world, to different things. They need to go to the zoo, to the beach, to pet animals, things like that," said Dr. Stephanie Feeney, a University of Hawaii professor of education specializing in early childhood.

"Those who don't have that are at a great disadvantage, and there are a whole bunch of kids like that coming into the system," she said.

The task force includes representatives from the Department of Education and other state agencies, early-childhood experts, Kamehameha Schools and the Good Beginnings Alliance. The main goals will be to improve preschool quality, educate parents on how to prepare their children, and ease the transition into elementary school.

Several early-childhood education bills are before the Legislature, but House Education Chairman Roy Takumi said an insufficient number of preschools in Hawaii will slow efforts to improve the situation.

"It's one thing to say we want to do this but another thing to find the space" for these children, said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).


Kindergarten benchmarks

The percentage of kindergarten classes (out of a total of 483) in which at least three-fourths of students displayed readiness for key skills:

Approaches to learning
25.5 percent
Literacy concepts and skills 19.3 percent
Math concepts and skills 18.8 percent
School behaviors and skills 26.9 percent
Social-emotional behaviors 36.6 percent
Physical well-being
46.6 percent
Met benchmarks in all dimensions 5.6 percent

Source: Hawaii School Readiness Assessmen

Good Beginnings Alliance

E-mail to City Desk


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