Starting out behind

Some children are almost a year behind when they start kindergarten, according to Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry, a Mathematica analysis. Four risk factors — single-parent household, mother with less than a high school education, low-income household and non-English speaking household — correlate with kindergarten readiness.

The more risk factors, the worse kids do. Forty-four percent have one risk factor, 13 percent have two and 6 percent have three or four.


The number of high-risk kindergarteners has not improved since the 1998-99 cohort of students and may be getting worse, notes EdCentral.

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  1. Notice the deficit thinking here. They are “behind”.

    No. They are where they are. If you’d given their parents $50K/year from the time of their birth, who really believes they’d be better off?

    The problem lies in believing that they just need to be “caught up”.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Cal, could you expand on that? I suspect that most everyone believes 50K/year from birth would have made a difference–though no doubt there is disagreement about how much difference.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        I suspect that most everyone believes 50K/year from birth would have made a difference–though no doubt there is disagreement about how much difference.

        Roger, do *you* believe that writing these folks a check for $50K/year until their kids hit kindergarten would change how academically prepared the kids would be when they entered kindergarten? We are not talking about changing things magically so that their parents had the skills to earn $50K/year … just writing checks.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I think some of them would, the ones who are culturally middle class but not economically middle class, and those who with money will become culturally middle class (there is still a certain attraction to being “respectable.).

          Money would take away some of the stress, some of the shuttling back and forth, and would potentially allow more “I’m in control of my life” habits of structure and future-orientation to develop.

          Of course, some people would just spend it and be worse off.

  2. Yes, as Mark points out: just cutting a check for that money wouldn’t have changed much about outcomes.

    Besides, adoption studies confirm that even *with* parents making much more than that, the kids end up more like their birth parents than adoptive parents. (although I think the outcomes at 6 would be improved.)

    Notice, too, that the study doesn’t seem to mention race, which might suggest the “low income” was more correlative than causative.

    We have to stop thinking of kids who don’t test out as “average white” as broken, needing to be fixed by great teaching and knowledge jamming.

  3. While I belive that vocabulary and experience gaps are a big deal, I also don’t understand why ‘kids are behind in K’ tranlates so often to ”kids will never learn basic skills properly’. My MIL was a first grader teacher in the rural south in the 60s. She says that most kids showed up not knowing their letters, colors, shapes, or numbers…and usually left first able to read some. By third grade the kids were expected to read reasonably well. I’m sure that there were some who didn’t ‘catch up’, but if this was the starting point then surely we could come up with a program that could manage it over the 2 years of K and 1.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      I went to school in the 50’s and we learned to read in 1st grade, not Kindergarten. I knew how to read fairly well after the first semester of first grade. Arithmetic was not taught until 2nd though we knew how to count in Kindergarten.

      So I too wonder what the definition is of “kids are behind”. They don’t know their alphabet? They don’t know letter sounds? They don’t know how to count?

      • GoogleMaster says:

        I think by “kids are behind”, what they really mean is “not all kids enter at the same level”. It’s not that they’re behind some entrance standard, it’s that they’re behind some of the other kids.

        Probably if you grabbed the kids from their mothers’ arms at 6 months and tested them, some kids would “be behind”. Children develop at different rates.

    • GoogleMaster says:

      If we look at this as a mathematical problem, somehow graphing “learning” on the y-axis and time on the x-axis, what this is saying is that at time “kindergarten”, some children have a higher y-value than others.

      Presumably all children have “learning” equal to zero at time zero, so we can assume the graphs intersect the origin. This means that some children’s “learning” graphs have higher slope than other children’s graphs, e.g. some children have learned faster than other children.

      Learning isn’t linear, of course, so these graphs aren’t going to be straight lines. However, the only way for the “slower” children to catch up to the “faster” children is for the learning graphs to intersect at some time in the future, and the only way for that to happen is for the “slower” children to somehow learn at a rate that is even faster than that of the “faster” children.

      Of course, by the time the children-who-were-behind have caught up to where the children-who-were-ahead were, the children-who-were-ahead have moved even farther along.

      I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Be interesting to see the results when controlled for age. In my area, poverty sends their children as soon as possible while wealth delays. No suprise there is almost a year gap in skills, as there is almost a year gap in age.

  5. Very true. At my grandkids’ school, only 30% of the boys born in the second half of the year are started on time and many of the girls are delayed also. Kindergarten redshirting – and it was in play in my kids’ day, increasing by about 1990.

  6. GoogleMaster says:

    Here’s a column focusing on a young man who over his short lifetime has been shuffled from parent to parent and from school to school, whose high-school-dropout mother allowed him to skip school for months at a time, and who turned 16 during spring break of ninth grade. He currently alternates between staying with his dad and staying with his maternal great-grandparents. If he’s 16 and still has living GGP who are able to take care of him, you can do the math and figure that his family bears children at an age closer to 17 than to 25.

    His teacher is tasked with remediating him from at least three years behind up to a level at which he can pass the state standardized tests. How is any school, any teacher, supposed to overcome a lifetime of instability?

    The author of this column has a blog post about how some schools in our district of 200,000+ students (80+% economically disadvantaged, 90+% minority, 30% ELL) have no librarians and few books in Spanish, and the students are prohibited from visiting the school library anyway.

  7. The four risk factors seem to be surrogates for hispanic and black parents; black families have close to 60-75% single parenthood. Latino families have both risk factors, low high school completion among parents, and households that don’t speak English. White and asian households are candidates for May be just one risk factor. The authors should have correlated races and risk factors.

    • Why? There is nothing inherent in being black or Latino that means students will not do well in school. Lots of black and Latino kids without those risk factors excel, and white kids with them very often do not.

      • There is nothing inherent in being black or Latino that means students will not do well in school.

        Except a statistically lower IQ by between 1/2 to 1 SD, and lower impulse control.