Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Flawed Logic Behind Lowering the Compulsory School Age

Bay Area Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo) has introduced a bill, AB 1236, that would lower the compulsory schooling age in California from 6 to 5.

First of all, lowering the compulsory age is unnecessary because every 5 year old in California is already eligible to enroll in a public school kindergarten program should their parents so desire! Currently, 94% of 5 year olds are enrolled in either public or private school. The remainder are either being given a year to mature before enrolling in a traditional school (most of these are boys) or are being homeschooled.

The president of the California Teachers' Association, Barbara Kerr, testified before the Education Committee that "all children should be required to attend school so that they will be ready for the demands of their elementary education....[The bill] will provide all California children with an equal opportunity to succeed."

While there certainly *is* a problem in California with major disparities among the children entering public schools, simply mandating kindergarten at age 5 won't solve it.

In the official legislative analysis of AB 1236, the County Superintendents Educational Services Association states: "If children are not required to attend kindergarten, they miss the fundamentals. Without compulsory attendance at age five, children will be that much farther behind when they are required to attend 1st grade at age six years old."

Given that the overwhelming majority of California 5 year olds already attend kindergarten, there simply is NOT a significant problem with children entering school for the first time in 1st grade "behind" their peers. Where is the data to back up the CSESA's astonishing claim?

There is NO VALID EVIDENCE proving that mandating attendance at age 5 rather than 6 is better for the long-term educational development of the child. To the contrary, there is much research indicating that early childhood education does NOT improve the child's potential for being a better student in future years!

According to Dr. David Elkind, professor of Child Development at Tufts University, "When we instruct children in academic subjects... at too early an age, we miseducate them; we put them at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage.... There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits, and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm.”

Interestingly, most of the countries that outscore the U.S. in international assessments such as the TIMSS and the PIRLS have compulsory schooling ages of 6+: Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Belgium, Estonia (age 7), Hungary, Malaysia, Latvia (age 7), Russia (age 7), Slovakia, Australia, Sweden (age 7), Bulgaria (age 7), Canada (6-7 depending on the province), Lithuania, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy.

Similarly, of the top 15 U.S. states on the NAEP, 12 have compulsory schooling ages of 6+: NH, MA, VT, MN (age 7), NJ, NC (age 7), WY (age 7), KS (age 7), ME (age 7), IA, ND (age 7), and OH. Compare these with some of the states that have a compulsory schooling age of 5: NM (50th), OK (41st), AR (40th), SC (33rd), and MD (31st). Clearly, mandating kindergarten is no panacea for higher test scores!

Why mandate kindergarten when almost all 5 year olds in California already attend and there is no credible evidence to support the proponents' assertion that it will improve educational outcomes?

Then-Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a similar bill back in 2002, saying that "I am concerned that this bill would unduly restrict a parent's or guardian's education choices for their children. I believe parents should retain the right to choose an education program for their 5-year old children."

Parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children. AB 1236 would be yet another encroachment of the "nanny state" upon that right. It would take the decision out of parents' hands as to whether or not to enroll their children in kindergarten at age 5 rather than allowing them to make the choice based on their own individual development and readiness for formal schooling. It is not in the best interest of our children to force every parent to enroll their children in a formal educational program at 5 years of age!

Please contact your state legislators and urge them to vote "NO" on AB 1236!

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