Kindergarten will be Redesigned with Focus on Literacy as Part of the 'Early Success' Initiative

December 21, 1999
The Board of Education has authorized the superintendent to redesign the Kindergarten curriculum in order to improve the focus on reading, writing and mathematics.

Both full-day and half-day Kindergarten programs will be redesigned to include accelerated instruction in a literacy-based curriculum. The integration of reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies with art, music and physical education will be improved. The redesign also calls for flexible grouping and cooperative learning opportunities.

Art, music and physical education will remain fundamental components of the curriculum. There is no proposal to eliminate art, music or physical education from the kindergarten program or any other area, or to diminish current staffing for these subjects.

The Kindergarten redesign is part of the "Early Success" initiative proposed in superintendent Jerry D. Weast's Fiscal Year 2001 operating budget. The initiative would put more than $4.2 million to work for children in areas including comprehensive kindergarten, class size reductions in the early grades, and collaborative efforts on early childhood centers and improved parenting programs.

"We need to start earlier," Weast said. "We know beyond a doubt that children learn most of their literacy skills up through age 7, and our programs must respond to the need for greater literacy."

The budget recommendations include $1.8 million for the kindergarten component, and another $2.3 million to help reduce class sizes in grades K-2 to a ratio of about 17 students to each teacher. An additional $73,000 would be used to support coordination of early success initiatives through an office funded jointly by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Montgomery County Government.

The focus on early success will not end with the FY 2001 budget year. The FY 2002 budget plan calls for another $7.2 million to be spent on early success program areas.

Following are the three primary areas of the early success initiative.

Comprehensive Kindergarten

Redesigning the Kindergarten program is a major thrust of the early success trend bender. This redesign is linked to other areas, including improved instruction in pre Kindergarten through grade 2.

Over a three-year period, full-day Kindergarten will expand from the current nine schools to about 28 schools that serve children most in need. In FY 2001, 40 classroom teacher positions will be added. In FY 2002, another 45 positions will be needed to continue the expansion of the program. Class size will be reduced to an average of 15-17 to maximize the revamped literacy-based curriculum.

A planning group comprising teachers, principals, other staff and parents will be asked to develop the specifics of the new curriculum, based on national and international kindergarten models and best practices already under way in MCPS.

The plan was proposed in response to recognition that students leaving Kindergarten still have significant achievement gaps, especially when disaggregated by race and ethnicity. The Board of Education specifically asked the superintendent to respond to one of its academic priorities by providing recommendations to "develop, expand and coordinate a literacy based birth-K initiative."

The proposal was backed up by an MCPS Kindergarten study that showed that the curriculum was not comprehensive enough to accelerate the performance of all students in the area of literacy. In both half-day and full-day programs, time allocated for reading and math was insufficient to support a rigorous curriculum. The study also found inconsistencies in the delivery of Kindergarten instruction and lack of differentiated instruction for half-day and full-day programs.

The new program will identify content standards that all Kindergarten students must learn and will provide ongoing assessment of student progress.

Class size reduction

The reading initiative in grades 1 and 2 has demonstrated the value of smaller class size when combined with effective staff development and student assessment. Research also confirms the long-term value of smaller class size provided classes are reduced significantly to the 15- to 17-student range. This research demonstrates that effects of smaller class size in primary grades continue through ninth grade and that smaller classes can reduce referrals to special education. Coupled with the advantages of the reading initiative and a full-day kindergarten program, smaller class size promises to make a major impact on student achievement and help close the gap between ethnic groups that develops so early in school.

Class size reduction builds on the reading initiative in the existing 55 Title 1 schools. Over three years, class size in grades 1 and 2 in these schools would be reduced to an average of 17 students, adding 57 classroom teacher positions annually. The reading initiative, with 90 minutes of directed reading and writing in classes not exceeding 15 students, will continue at all elementary schools.

Family as first teacher

Children must be prepared to start Kindergarten with the skills and behaviors needed to accelerate learning from the first day of school. Children with special education needs or who are English language learners need even more help. This requires a new level of collaboration among government agencies, private child care providers and advocates, and parents. MCPS is already working closely with county government and others to improve readiness for rigorous schoolwork. The school system will join with other county efforts to reach out to parents of newborns. Information for parents on birth-to-5 literacy support, parent education and training for caregivers and teachers will be added to the packet for families.

In collaboration with ongoing early childhood efforts countywide, MCPS will offer parenting education classes, literacy skills development, social skills opportunities and information that connects parents to other agencies, programs and services.

The collaboration will result in a continuum of services to better serve low-income families, teen parents and families who are not native English speakers.

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