94% of parents opt for full day kindergarten

This is somewhat old news, but given BloggingBelmont’s long running coverage of the push by parents in town for a  Full Day Kinergarten program, I thought it was worth calling readers’ attention to a little noticed factoid from a recent BCH article “Six hour day for 6 year olds.” Full day kindergarten is a runaway success in Belmont. I forgive you if you came away with a different impress. After all, you had to read down to the fourth paragraph to learn this:

“Enrollment is up compared to last year, and 94 percent of the kindergarteners are enrolled full-time, according to Interim Superintendent Dr. Patricia Aubin.”

Let’s pause a moment  94 percent of kids are enrolled in the (optional) FDK program!

What’s all the stranger is that you could come away with a totally different impression from the BCH’s below the fold take on the program. First of all there’s the headline – which suggests some kind of draconian program to chain six year olds to their desks.

Then there’s the lead that suggested the program was kicking off “despite concerned parents and budget woes.” Two things: if we’re talking about 94% enrollment in an entirely OPTIONAL full day program, who are all these concerned parents?? And, on the “budget woes,” it’s important to remember that this is a fee-supported full day kindergarten program that was implemented in a way that was cost neutral to the school system.

We here in the U.S. put a lot of emphasis on the power of markets and freedom of choice as good barometers of what works and what doesn’t. By both measures, we’d have to conclude that Full Day Kindergarten is enthusiastically supported and welcomed by Belmont families, who opted in to the program for their children, then reached into their pocketbook to pay for it.

Let’s keep that in mind next time we hear from the rumored “silent majority” of parents out there who we were told were opposed to FDK, thought it was too much for little Tommy or Sally (a discredited notion that the BCH headline reprises). Like so many things: FDK is something working families in Belmont were ready for – no…desperate for, and something Belmont kids will benefit from tremendously.

And its not the only thing. If we’re going to improve the town, we’ve got to point out the problems that are staring us in the face and, of course, take note of and appreciate our successes. FDK is one of those and kudos go to outgoing Superintendent Peter Holland and the Belmont School Committee for sticking to their guns in the face of stiff opposition and making it happen!

  • Hey Paul.

    Why so tense guy? I have some questions for you:

    During the discussion of FDK, were parents concerned or not concerned about the costs?
    After the FDK proposal was floated, when the taxpayers were expected to shoulder the entire cost, was there concern?
    Was the budget an issue?
    Was it woeful?
    After the FDK proposal was changed to a grant/fee-funded system for at least the first two years [with $60,000 in taxpayer money included], was there still concern?
    Was the budget still an issue?
    Did you write about how woeful the budget was, in your opinion, on this blog, for months and months, incorrectly stating the deficit was $4 million when it actually was much less?
    Did one School Committee member vote against the fee/grant-funded FDK proposal because she was upset that it was fee/grant-funded and was concerned about the precedence it would set to have a fee/grant-based program instead of a taxpayer-funded program?
    Is the program not in fact a six hour class for 6-year-olds?

    You know the answers. The answer to all of those questions is YES. Y-E-S. So, there is nothing outrageous or factually incorrect with the headline, lead, or story, is there? So why all the OUTRAGE? Why so tense guy?

    Best,
    Tony

  • paul

    Hey Tony. Thanks for writing. First of all: you need to get an avatar. You’re way too loyal a reader to be represented by the little Escher diagram that WordPress uses!!

    My objection was to the way the BCH framed the story. This is clearly an editorial choice, entirely, but I think you bent the news in a way to emphasize the points you want to make — about costs — versus what I think is the bigger news: that after a contentious debate about whether the town needed or wanted the program, FDK appears to be very popular with parents of incoming kindergartners — almost everyone signed up for it.

    As for your “$60,000 of taxpayer money included.” I’m SHOCKED! Taxpayer money going to pay for kindergarten education for our next generation of doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women and scientists? MY god! What outrage will they think of next.

    Surely that money could have been much better spent somewhere else — a luxury vehicle lease for a midlevel Massport appointee, maybe? How about some Blackwater mercenaries to pick their nose in front of Mayor Menino’s office? You’re right — we really need to get our priorities straight!

    😉

    Paul

  • I use Blogspot for my blogs at home but I will see what I can do about that Avatar-thingie.

    FTR: Cassie wrote the entire story and the headline. I had no role except to say, We need a story about FDK opening as part of our Back to School package. So there was no “editorial choice” or “bent” … the writer wrote a story about it.

    The $60k issue came after the School Committee and School Department stated emphatically that no regular budget money would go to FDK. And then $60k was slipped in from some other fund to make up the shortfall … making a lot of people wonder what is going to happen in two years when the grants run out … Or, in other words, the program is not actually entirely funded by grants and tuition, despite what public officials said.

    While I don’t think that is a huge issue, it is worthy of mentioning and posting on a blog, since it was a contentious issue at the time [might still be, don’t know]. Whether you understand this or not, the majority of the residents of the community that funds the town’s schools didn’t want to pay for this. They seemed to voice that loud and clear at the time, again, a completely logically driver of the story. In fact, many in the community fear that the plan to forward a taxpayer-funded FDK program and the other budget stuff from last year, has probably put the Wellington in jeopardy. I don’t believe that, I think the proposal will either pass or fail on its merits and price tag. But others, including a number of parents who have spoken to me recently, are worrying about that. I think that is why it is important to note.

    As you know, neither the Belmont Citizen-Herald nor Paul Roberts have any control over MassPort or Menino’s shenanigans. So why bother mentioning it? Or, are you going to vote for Question 1, so the public can once and for all strangle the well-researched and well-exposed waste and bloat in state government that, for whatever reason, never gets reined in even though your children need and deserve better? Don’t answer that Paul – I know the answer is No. 🙂

    T

  • paul

    Indeed, it’ll be “No on 1” from Mr. Roberts. I’d be happy to talk with you about why — but maybe in a different forum.

    Yeah, by “you” I meant the BCH. You, Cassie — it doesn’t matter much to me. You’re the EIC so you and the BCH are one and the same.

    To reiterate, I just think you buried the real news there and cast the whole program in a way that made it look like the town was 1) being mean to little kids and 2) wasting money on a program that’s not supported, when 94% of parents elected to enroll their kids in it.

    And, excuse me, last time I checked the taxpayers of the town aren’t paying for it, at least directly. Parents and the State are. Sure, some fractional pennies of their state tax bill is coming back to Belmont to help their kids and their neighbors kids. But isn’t that a good thing? I’m not sure how parents of kindergartners paying for a program out of their own pocket offends the sensibilities of anybody. Should we be putting on the hair shirt whipping ourselves with switches for getting a grant to expand the educational opportunities for Belmont’s kids? That seems a self hating gesture — maybe some other town’s kids are more deserving, in your opinion? Give me a break.

    I understand the concern about what happens when this grant runs out, but let’s be honest: we’re talking about 20% of the total here. My assumption is that the school dept. and parents will find away to come up with the difference if no follow on grant is available — probably in the form of increased fees, which parents will pay. As the FDK enrollment rates show, there’s strong support for this, like it or not.

    As for Wellington…what can I say? That school is a hazard and its costing the town money to continue to patch and repair, keeping children out of school needlessly and so on. Holding Wellington over the heads of anxious parents is a classic scare tactic and a completely empty (and mean spirited) gesture. The “lets go back to one room school house” contingent are never gonna vote for it anyway, so why forgo something you need to try to win the approval you’re never going to get? Better to make the case to those in town who can actually think straight and see the folly of continuing to cram kids into a crumbling, costly facility. When we get the green light from the state, we’ll have to make that case to the voters and hope for the best. Hopefully the BCH will do its job and present the issues in a fair and balanced way.

  • A Parent

    Hi Paul- I think you are the one misrepresenting the situation. Yes, 94% of the kindergarten students are enrolled in full day. Many of these people enrolled their five and six year olds in this program because they were told by the school committee that if they didn’t, their children would be at a significant disadvantage. Belmont is one of only a handful of towns in the state that do not also provide the option of a 1/2 day class in which all students in that class leave at noon. I wonder if parents got the opportunity to send their children to such a program just how much that 94% would decrease.
    I am also so sick of hearing about what working parents need. I am a working parent and I feel very justified saying ENOUGH is ENOUGH! My children’s education is not about what is convenient for me, but what is best for them.
    Lastly, I hear rumblings already about the desire to ditch the restrictive grant and make the entire program fee based. Just watch…we’ll be paying $4000 a year for FDK before you know it.

  • paul

    Hey there. Thanks for taking the time to post to BloggingBelmont.

    A couple clarifications: the reason that the town doesn’t offer a 1/2 class option is because 96% of parents elected the full day. There literally were not enough students per school to make up a dedicated half day class, and parents — obviously — wouldn’t have wanted their kids bussed across town just to take advantage of one. The School Dept. in fact was very prepared to offer a 1/2 day class per school and made it clear that that was their intention. The overwhelming support for FDK took everyone by surprise and, alas, it wasn’t feasible to offer one given the small number of children involved. As I said, if you believe in markets and choice as an indicator of what works and what doesn’t, it’s hard to argue against FDK. Parents willingly chose to sign their kids up for it and to reach into their pockets to pay for it. End of story. As for your $4,000 for FDK. I’m guessing that you’re plucking that number out of the ether. I haven’t seen that as an estimate of what the program would cost per family without state funding. As it stands, families pay around $1,500 per kid (actually less than they were paying for Extended Day K, which was not an academic program), and the state grant covered around 20% of the overall cost of the program. Take that away, and we can expect the cost per family to go up by around 20%, or around $300 per kid, by my reckoning. That would make it slightly more expensive than the old Extended Day K program, but my guess is you wouldn’t see any drop off in enrollment.

    Again, I continue to be amazed at the vitriol and resistance to a program that, by all indications, families of kindergarten age kids in Belmont overwhelmingly support and are willing to pay for out of pocket. Is this an ideological thing? Are we being “uppity” by wanting better education programs for our kids? I find it totally mystifying.

    Finally, on your “working parents” — I don’t know what to say there. I certainly don’t feel that this is about a convenience for me. I feel like its about what’s best for my kids. They all had a bunch of years of preschool before going into kindergarten and they were just ready for more than the town was offering. End of story. I’ve spoken to lots of parents who feel the same way, so this isn’t about “daycare” for professional parents. As it is, these kids get out at 2:00pm, long before any of us get home from work, so it doesn’t really save anybody much — if anything — in childcare costs. This is just about giving our kids the best education possible, and the studies that have been done on FDK shows that it gives students a big boost academically. I know that there are folks who will argue that the measured advantages fade over time, yada yada yada. But as far as I know, nobody’s suggested that there’s any detriment to these kids to have a couple hours more of instruction during the day and the opportunity to do more. My 2c. And, again, thanks for writing!

  • A Parent

    Paul- You are very wrong about this. I went to the meetings and when asked about the possibility of offering an all inclusive 1/2 day program, Dr. Holland and Dr. Aubin stated boldly and clearly that they would not consider this option. Dr. Aubin was VERY clear when stating that this would be an all or nothing deal. You state “there were literally not enough students per school to make up a dedicated 1/2 day class..” How do you know this when parents were never given this option? Parents were not asked at kindergarten registration, or ever for that matter, if they would be interested in an inclusive 1/2 day. Many parents I spoke with are only sending their child to full day because they do not want their kid to be pulled out of a class that will continue on with out them, leading to a fractured learning experience. The option was never given, so check the facts.

    As far as my point about the education of our children being about them, not us…..hey you brought it up:
    You wrote:
    “Like so many things: FDK is something working families in Belmont were ready for – no…desperate for.”

    If it doesn’t “help” you at all, why state that “working families” are so desperate for it?
    As for the rest, we’ll wait to see. I do not pluck my facts from the ether… quite the opposite actually. I have done my homework extensively. Check the history of FDK in the surrounding towns. While not all fees may be $4000 yet, some are and the others continue to climb towards this amount. You state that it is the parents ,not the taxpayers, that are not paying for FDK. I am a parent AND a taxpayer and I find it disgraceful that I am paying for my child’s public education.

  • paul

    “I am a parent AND a taxpayer and I find it disgraceful that I am paying for my child’s public education.”

    OK, now I’m really confused. If the town’s taxpayers don’t want to pay for it and its offensive to you that either parents or the state’s taxpayers should pay for it, then who should pay for it, given that it’s a program that many many families seem to want??!? Is it just that you’re opposed to the program itself, and so any funding mechanism that results in FDK being funded will be offensive to you?

    In any case, my blog post wasn’t really directed at the folks who had legitimate reservations about FDK. It was at the Citizen Herald for burying what I thought was the most important fact in that story: that almost every parent with Kindergarten aged children elected to enroll their child in FDK and pay for it out of pocket. Despite what you say, there was an option for parents to do 1/2 day (though not a mandated 1/2 day class), but very, very few elected to do it. If more had, there would have been dedicated 1/2 classes at the elementary schools, as it turns out, there weren’t enough kids who elected that option to make it feasible. Can you blame the school dept. for not wanting to pay a teacher to teach a class with three children in it? Budgets are tight enough as it is. I doubt that kind of scene would have won us many friends in town as we fight further budget cuts, or for a new Wellington, etc.

    As I’ve said before to others around this issue (or maybe I’m talking to the same somebody here), I’m sure you and I have much more in common despite our differences over the FDK program. We both want Belmont to have the best schools and give our kids the best education and best shot at a prosperous future as possible. My observations about working parents in town being desperate for it means just what it says — and I think the response to the FDK option proves me right. I never suggested that I’d be saving big on childcare because of this and, in fact, I’m not. I’m not sure why it’s out of bounds for me to expect or want my tax dollars to support educational programs that benefit my kids and my family. You seem to think that’s outrageous or unseemly. I’d simply ask you to explain why or how so?

    In any case, it’s a mystery to me why there’s so much venom around this one issue, given all the other things that both sides in this debate can likely agree upon. My guess is that full day K is here to stay. I propose we both move on and focus on those issues where we agree.

    Paul.

  • A Parent

    You are right… I am opposed to the program itself. A major reason for this is because I am fundamentally opposed to paying extra for public education.

    Despite what you say, the School Department was in no way ever prepared to or willing to offer a 1/2 day inclusive classroom. In was very clear that we had two choices 1. Pick up your child l at 12:05 while his/her class continued on or 2. Enroll and pay for full day. At no time were parents told that if enough families choose not to enroll in full day then a 1/2 Day inclusive class would be established. Again it was all or nothing and it is ridiculuos to suggest anything to the contrary. Several parents asked for that very option to be put into place and were denied over and over.

    Never once did I tell you that it was outrageous for you to want something that would benefit your family. I firmly believe that you have a right to express your opinion. I also believe with that right comes a responsibility to listen to others opinions without being abusive and contradicting.

  • Karen Allendoerfer

    I’m one of the 6% whose child is still in half-day K.

    We are a “working family” (that is, one with both parents having full-time jobs) who have other child care arrangements. We have an au pair who looks after our kids and who is teaching our kids another language during (some of) the time they aren’t in school. Our daughter had half-day K several years ago and loved it and it was fine for her. Our son, the current kindergartener, could already read chapter books before he started kindergarten.

    I didn’t start out having a strong opinion one way or another on this issue. Rather, I had thought this was truly a free choice. Originally I thought the broad outlines of the proposal made a great deal of sense: low-cost child care in the form of full-day K for those who want or need it, and an opt-out provision for those who don’t.

    But in the past few weeks since school started, it hasn’t felt like a free choice, in that both we and our son have gotten significant peer pressure to change our minds and sign him up for a full day. I’ve found this peer pressure to be stressful and distasteful, and it has made me less open to the option of full-day K rather than more. I don’t understand why both viewpoints, and both options, can’t just peacefully co-exist.

  • paul

    Hey Karen — Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear that you’re getting peer pressure to put your child into the FDK. That’s definitely not right. I’d also support the creation of a dedicated half day kindergarten class option for parents who don’t want their child to do the full day program. I think the logistics of it might be tough, given the high percentage of parents who seem to want the FDK option, and the town’s constrained budget but you’re absolutely right that it should be there.

  • Karen Allendoerfer

    I don’t think we even really need a dedicated half-day class, which, as you say, could be logistically difficult. But in order to have made it truly “voluntary,” they could have made even a small effort to accomodate those who wanted a half-day, and I think the previous poster is right: they didn’t.

    In particular, my son misses an afternoon gym class with Mr. S. once a week. He gets gym, library, music, and art in the morning when he’s there on the other 4 days, so apparently it is possible to structure the day in such a way so that half-dayers don’t miss out. But instead they made gym with Mr. S. (something that is hugely popular with kids at that age) the cost of not attending FDK.

    And, it would also be nicer if the few half-day students were all together in the same class, that way they wouldn’t be the “only one”. But they’re not, they’re in different classes–so they are completely isolated from each other and are the odd one out in their respective classes. This alone creates pressure: it’s hard on a 5-year-old to be the “only one.”

    I think you’re right, FDK is popular and probably would have been supported by the majority of parents no matter what. That’s absolutely fine with me in principle. I wasn’t opposed to the program when it was introduced, nor did I vote against it. I recognize that many families benefit from FDK. But I don’t think the program was/is as fully “voluntary” as was presented. Nor do I think the 94% figure accurately reflects the overwhelming majority that it appears to on the surface.