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In Kids & Family

The new kindergarten law goes into effect for the 2010-11 school year.

Is mandatory kindergarten a good idea?


Last October, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a law that required Wisconsin children to complete kindergarten before being admitted to first grade. This law goes into effect this academic year.

Prior to the new law, kids were not required to attend school until age 6.

The law went into affect to stress the importance of early education and to allow school systems to identify kids who are not attending school as early as possible.

Mary O'Connell is the director of LifeWays Early Childhood Center, 3224 N. Gordon Pl. Lifeways provides child care and preschool programs for children up to age 6, but the new law does not allow parents to choose one of LifeWays' programs for their child after age 4.

"Over the years, we've had several parents choose to leave their children at LifeWays until they are ready for first grade, because they found it met their child's needs," says O'Connell. "An energetic child, for example, might be much better served in LifeWays' KinderForest program or at his own home than in a classroom setting. Parents should be able to choose."

O'Connell feels this new law is insulting to parents who wish to homeschool their kids for preschool and kindergarten.

"In effect, it's saying that a parent who chooses to keep his or her child at home until first grade couldn't possibly do as good of a job educating his or her child as a kindergarten teacher who has up to 20 children to look after," she says.

Angie Aranda teaches first grade for Milwaukee Public Schools, and she sees the new law as a mix of things.

"I think that because of the expectations for students entering first grade, it is very important that students attend kindergarten first. However, I think a kindergarten education can be achieved in a multiple ways -- not just through attending a traditional school, but also through homeschooling," says Aranda.

Aranda has taught in the public school system for eight years, but supports parents who choose to homeschool kindergartners.

"I believe that most kids do benefit from attending a regular kindergarten, but for those parents who feel they would like to wait an additional year before having their children attend traditional school, homeschooling is an appropriate option for meeting the kindergarten requirement," Aranda says.

O'Connell takes the issue a step further, suggesting that large, high-energy classroom might contribute to behavior problems.

"I don't think there's any coincidence that thousands of children (mostly boys) are being diagnosed as ADHD and put on Ritalin to cope with the demands of the academic environment. At least Wisconsin parents had a choice to keep their little guy home one more year and let him mature before putting him in that setting. Now that choice has been taken away," says O'Connell.

Meredith Philips has a 2-year-old son and she, too, sees the pros and cons to the new law. She believes some children benefit from a traditional classroom setting, whereas others are better suited in a smaller or private learning environment.

"I understand that privileged parents, such as myself, might want more wiggle room to homeschool or pay for smaller, more expensive programs, but let's not forget that this law is intact for the under-served population. There are a lot of kids out there who want and deserve to be in school, and aren't, and so if this law helps get them into a classroom, well, then, some of us might have to sacrifice just a little bit," says Philips.

Talkbacks

kriscollett | Aug. 3, 2010 at 11:51 a.m. (report)

The bill requires attendance for kids enrolled in 5-year-old kindergarten and makes kindergarten a prerequisite for first grade with a local option for exemptions. Previously, even if children were enrolled in kindergarten, attendance was not mandatory. The local option for exemptions allows parents who have the means and the desire to provide alternative education arrangements for their children. In Milwaukee, some children were missing many days of instruction in Kindergarten, which puts them further behind, and doesn't prepare them for first grade. In other cases, because Kindergarten was not a prerequisite, some parents were waiting to enroll their children in school until 1st grade, perhaps not realizing how much the kindergarten curriculum has changed over the years. Children are now learning in kindergarten what many of us weren't taught until first grade.

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curlysarah29 | Aug. 3, 2010 at 10:41 a.m. (report)

As an educator, I think this law is a good first step to improving the education system in this state of ours. Identifying children who need extra help as early as possible is the best thing that we can do for them -- it's not an insult to parents who homeschool; you are still able to homeschool your children with this law. This law is primarily for the children who do not have that option. It will help the students who need that extra help get it! Not to mention (hopefully) provide more jobs for teachers.

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stressqueen | Aug. 3, 2010 at 10:10 a.m. (report)

You still have the right to file an intent to homeschool by Oct. 15th of each year which would exempt any child from K5 or any grade in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has very liberal homeschooling laws so even though kindergarten is "mandatory", families still have choices.

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RDog1 | Aug. 3, 2010 at 9:49 a.m. (report)

I'd never heard of this! I'm 56, and we all went to Kindergarten, our parents did, our kids did, grandkids. We didn't have "home school" that I remember anyone doing. (Though I wish I had the cash to have sent my kids, and now my grandkids, to private school; or to homeschool them myself. The C__p they taugh my kids in public school made our skin crawl; and, was very hard to overcome. rdog1

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whiteguy | Aug. 2, 2010 at 8:35 p.m. (report)

just another example of the government trying to take away parent's rights to raise their children the way they want to. I personally believe that the government just wants to get your children into school as early as possible for two reasons. One, to get the numbers up, to get more funding. And two, to start indoctrinating our children earlier and earlier. My wife and I have homeschooled our kids for the past 3 years (we started year four today), for these reasons. We now have control over what our kids are taught, what they are exposed to, and we have the opportunity to make sure that they are getting the schooling that they need, and are preparing them for their lives.

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