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Volume 22, Number 4
July/August 2006


A Patchwork of Policies Reinforces Inequity


While participation in high-quality prekindergarten (preK) programs varies widely among racial and socioeconomic groups (see "The School Readiness Gap"), kindergarten attendance in the United States is virtually universal. Some 98 percent of children attend some form of kindergarten before entering first grade, according to data from the Education Commission of the States (ECS). Yet a look beyond these initially encouraging attendance figures reveals stark inconsistencies in hours spent in school, program focus and quality, and alignment with prior and subsequent schooling.

The most obvious disparities in kindergarten attendance across the country involve the length of the school day for kindergartners, according to the 2005 ECS report Full-Day Kindergarten: A Study of State Policies in the United States. Overall, the percentage of children who are enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs has been steadily rising, from about 25 percent in 1984 to more than 60 percent today. But only nine states, all of them in the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia), currently have policies requiring that districts provide full-day kindergarten. By contrast, eight states (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania) do not require districts to offer kindergarten programs at all.

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