Kindergarten debate reignites old battles

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

The recent debate over full-day kindergarten in the Solana Beach School District had the same emotional ferocity I remember from 10 years ago when Del Mar Union School District parents and teachers tackled the issue.

I recall one Del Mar parent standing up at a school board meeting to argue in favor of keeping half-day kindergarten, shouting, “It works! It works! It works!”

This argument was also used, if more diplomatically, by some Solana Beach parents who asked SBSD trustees why they want to fix something that’s not broken.

These “broken-fixed” sound bites, intended to maintain the status quo, trivialize meaningful discussion of innovation in education.

This simplistic approach also creates a false dichotomy by presenting the situation as either nonfunctional or perfect. Some things are working, yes, and some things aren’t. But everything, whether broken or not, can be made better. And there are shades of gray.

But what’s really wrong with this argument in this particular case is that it misses the point completely. Solana Beach got it; Del Mar never has.

Full-day kindergarten provides equity in educational opportunities for all children, regardless of background and family income. It’s above all else a social justice issue.

Solana Beach trustees voted to make the last of all the district’s kindergarten programs full day because of the need for all children, no matter cultural or socio-economic status, to have equal access to the highest quality education possible. Equity was the over-riding factor.

In past board-level discussions in Del Mar about full-day K (which was rejected), the issue of equity barely came up.

Alison Wishard Guerra, a researcher and assistant professor in the Education Studies department at the University of California San Diego, has studied whether full-day kindergarten is in the best interests of children.

She said half-day kindergarten programs should not be available only to parents with the means and inclination to pick their kids up midday, or for parents who can “negotiate additional child care arrangements and augment their children’s academic learning through out-of-school enrichment activities and structured learning activities in the home.”

As the mother of an incoming Solana Beach kindergartner, her findings were written for SBSD, but her points apply equally to Del Mar and other communities.

Does every Del Mar family have the means to provide learning and social opportunities for their kindergarten children each afternoon after early dismissal? Does every Del Mar student have enriching vacations and frequent outings to museums and concerts? Does every Del Mar student speak fluent English? Does every Del Mar student attend pre-school before coming to kindergarten?

If not (and the answer is obviously not), then Del Mar needs to address the inequity inherent in its kindergarten half-day program, a schedule that only benefits families able to afford the time and money to enrich their children’s afternoons with social and intellectual stimuli.

One might argue that Solana Beach has more low-income and English learner students than Del Mar. But if Del Mar has even just one, isn’t that reason enough?

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