MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Trying to reduce redshirting, a practice from college athletics, in kindergarten, one elementary school district is intervening in the parental decision of when a child is ready to start school.
Over the years, kindergarten has transformed from a play space to a buckle-down place with homework. As a result, more and more parents whose children would be the youngest in their kindergarten class have decided their kids need to spend an extra year in preschool.
Now, the Mountain View-Whisman School District has decided that it, and not just parents, will determine kindergarten readiness. If a parent wants to hold back an eligible child from kindergarten, the district will evaluate whether that child the next year should enter kindergarten or go straight to first grade.
That has thrown parents for a loop, including some who have been told their preschoolers will be put in first grade in August and skip kindergarten. "I have people who are rather alarmed and want to wait that extra year, but now feel like they'll be punished if they do," said Rachel Martensson, a preschool teacher in Mountain View.
Peggy Prendergast is trying to decide whether to sign up her son Sean, who will be 5 in late July, for kindergarten. She's leaning toward taking preschool teachers' recommendation that he wait a year. But "this new rule is throwing a wrench into the whole system," she said. She's afraid that if Sean attends another year of
It's not an easy decision, because it's hard to predict children's development.
District Superintendent Craig Goldman cites wording in the state's new transitional kindergarten law as virtually mandating older children start in first grade.
Section 48010 of the Education Code states that "A child shall be admitted to the first grade ... if the child will have his or her sixth birthday on or before" Oct. 1 of the 2013-14 school year.
The important word is "shall," Goldman said. However, he said that the district will consider parental preference and preschool recommendations when evaluating children for placement. "If it's appropriate for a child to be in kindergarten, they are going to be in kindergarten," he said. But for parents who simply want their children to be the oldest in their class, the district won't go along: "There's no place for giving a competitive advantage in kindergarten."
Joe Simitian, who as a state senator shepherded through the Legislature the change in kindergarten start ages, said his bill didn't change language to prevent older children from attending kindergarten.
Simitian's bill phases in earlier cutoff dates for the birthdays of kindergartners, to align with most other states. California used to require a child entering kindergarten to turn 5 by Dec. 2 of that year. For the current school year, that date moved to Nov. 1; for the next school year, a child must turn 5 by Oct. 1. The cutoff date will become Sept. 1 in 2014 and years after that.
Children with fall birthdays, who miss the new cutoff but would have made it under the old rules, may attend a "transitional kindergarten" class for a year before entering regular kindergarten. Those children will not be affected by Mountain View-Whisman's policy on 6-year-olds, Goldman said.
The state has no official position on the question, and the law is vague. But the cutoff dates "were meant to be minimum ages so we're not starting students too young," said Carrie Roberts of the California Department of Education. "It didn't say if a child was 6, they couldn't go to kindergarten."
California, however, allows school districts the autonomy to interpret the law.
Goldman said he fears that if the district didn't place eligible students into first grade, the state could hold back payments for that child.
Roberts dismissed that possibility. "We will pay" for students who attend, she said.
Other school districts are continuing past practices of allowing parental discretion on when children start school. The Sunnyvale and Cupertino districts are not changing policies. "Most parents make the right choices," said Claire Castagna, assistant superintendent of the Sunnyvale School District.
Bonnie Malouf, who teaches kindergarten at Stevenson Elementary in Mountain View, has mixed feelings about the district's change. It's true that kindergarten has rigorous standards and that some kids are immature, she said.
But, she said, "that's our job: to teach them and take them as the come."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.