A study released Wednesday found that all-day kindergarten initially improves learning but has no measurable impact on reading, math or language arts by fifth-grade.
But the city's top educator disputes the findings, saying other studies as well as classroom observation suggest otherwise.
The Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based conservative think tank, conducted the study, which analyzed test score data from Arizona schools that offered all-day kindergarten in the 1999-2000 school year.
In those schools, reading and math scores for third-graders were higher than those without all-day kindergarten. But by fifth-grade, there was no difference in test scores, the study said.
Gov. Janet Napolitano has made expanded kindergarten a key piece of her education reform strategy, believing full-day kindergarten should be mandatory statewide.
This report demonstrates that all-day kindergarten is not an education reform strategy that policymakers can hang their hats on, said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute.
All-day kindergarten delivers short-term benefits at best.
But several leading studies contradict the Goldwater findings. One conducted by the Phoenix-based Rodel Foundation concluded that full-day kindergarten actually spurs academic success, according to its Web site.
Gail Malay, superintendent of the Lake Havasu Unified School District, scoffed at the Goldwater study, saying our kindergarten teachers have definitely seen a difference, since the district reinstituted full-day kindergarten in 2005-06.
It's the same with our first-grade teachers. They can tell the difference between students that have gone through a full-day kindergarten program and a half-day, she said.
Full-day kindergarteners are not just memorizing the alphabet.
Most are learning to string letters into words and words into sentences, which Malay said is difficult to do in a half day.
Wes Brownfield, Lake Havasu Unified director of educational services, could not be reached for comment on whether the district's test scores are similar to what the Goldwater study found.
Matthew Ladner, the Goldwater Institute's vice president for research, coordinated the study.
This report is not an indictment of kindergarten as an institution, he said. It just makes clear that if policymakers are looking for an education reform strategy that has been proven to work, the search is over. Early education programs like all-day kindergarten do not deliver long-term academic improvement.
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