Chicago Harris Study: Kindergarten too easy

Staff Writer

Offering more advanced content to kindergarteners regardless of their economic background can save school systems money, according to a new study from the Harris School of Public Policy Studies.

Past policies such as smaller classroom sizes and extended school days, which can be expensive for cash strapped districts such as Chicago Public Schools (CPS), can all be alleviated if teachers introduce more advanced content in kindergarten, said study co-author Amy Claessens, assistant professor of public policy at Chicago Harris.

Claessens, who is the mother of a kindergartener, and her co-authors Mimi Engel and Chris Curran, who are both from Vanderbilt University, examined the reading and math content covered in kindergarten classrooms and how they relate to later changes in children’s academic achievement. The results indicate that adding four more days per month on advanced topics in reading or mathematics is associated with moderate test score gains.

“We are not saying that children need to stay at their desks all day,” Claessens said. “We’re suggesting that kindergarteners are prepared for more advanced content and should be exposed to it in a developmental way.”

Their study, “Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects,” was published in the American Educational Research Journal and is based upon a large, nationally representative sample from the National Center for Education Statistics representing more than 15,000 students who started kindergarten in 1998 and 1999. 

Claessens said teaching an advanced curriculum at the kindergarten level will have a lasting affect on the way children learn going forward and it is an easy and low-cost way to improve student achievement.

“At a time when education programs are facing budget constraints, this is a more viable option,” Claessens said.