My husband and I did not procreate at the right time.

Now, my kid will start kindergarten with an extreme disadvantage compared with his peers whose birthdays qualify them for a free extra year of school through transitional kindergarten.

CommentaryWith the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, the state introduced transitional kindergarten, or TK, and changed the Dec. 2 cutoff date for kindergarten, requiring eligible kids to turn 5 by Sept. 1. Parents whose 4-year-olds with fall birthdays no longer qualified for kindergarten were offered TK as a consolation prize.

Many education advocates saw the program as a first step toward eventually establishing a more equitable, publicly funded program for all 4-year-olds, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, the program only serves students who happen to turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

Those lucky kids effectively get an extra year of public school at no cost, and start kindergarten with a huge, unfair advantage.

The program is brazen age discrimination and provides inequitable opportunities.


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My oldest kid is a good head taller than most of the kids in his North Park preschool, and he’s emotionally mature. He whines sometimes when I tell him it’s a preschool day because he dreads naptime – he’s been over the napping thing for almost a year now. He’s also obsessed with numbers. He’ll often ask us to help him solve math problems while we’re driving in the car. Recently, he’s also taken an interest in letters and reading. The other day, he asked me what O-P-E-N spells, and now it’s among the dozens of words he’s sight-reading.

In short, my son is ready for transitional kindergarten this year. His preschool teacher has told me this many times. But because my son was born on Dec. 26, he misses the transitional kindergarten cutoff by just 24 days. Now those two-dozen days stand between my son and a beneficial early start to the public school system. It boggles my mind that if my husband and I had sex just a few weeks earlier, my son would right now be learning to read with his friends in a transitional kindergarten classroom. We also wouldn’t be stuck paying $10,000 for another year of preschool.

Studies show that transitional kindergarten students are better prepared for school than other kids, yet only those born in that three-month period get to take advantage of it. Under the current system, the kids who qualify for TK are already at an advantage, since they’ll also be the oldest kids in their kindergarten classes. Giving these kids an extra year of school to prepare for kindergarten doesn’t make sense.

I’m not a helicopter mom; I’m more of a bulldozer. So, over the last two years, I’ve worked hard to get my son into TK despite those pesky 24 days standing in our way.

I was thrilled, for just a moment, when I learned that schools can allow kids whose birthdays fall after Dec. 2 into TK. Schools that let younger 4-year-olds in start getting the funding that follows around each student as soon as he or she turns 5. I’ve watched closely and jumped on every opportunity I’ve found where I see schools advertising open TK seats. So far, none has been willing to let my son in.

My home school district of Lemon Grove doesn’t have many TK programs, but representatives told me they weren’t willing to budge. A few charter schools were more open to the idea, but ultimately passed on letting my son in. A spokeswoman from the San Diego Unified School District’s enrollment office told me there’s a strict policy against letting kids into TK early.

San Diego Unified is already experimenting with expanded TK in its Henry Cluster, the group of schools that feed into Patrick Henry High School in San Carlos. Elementary schools there offer TK to children who live in the neighborhood and turn 5 between Dec. 3 and March 2. Other nearby school districts like La Mesa and El Cajon offer early admission kindergarten programs, and students who miss the TK cutoff can start a TK-like program in January.

Kindergarten can be a slap in the face for kids who aren’t prepared or ready. I’ve watched my friends who did happen to get pregnant at the right time as they’ve sent their kids to TK. For some, it’s been the miracle that got their kids ready for big-kid school. For others, it’s been too much, too soon. Yet so many parents just can’t afford to leave the offer of free education on the table, so they put their kids in TK whether they’re ready or not.

I’m not pushing to kill the transitional kindergarten program. Expand it. The districts that are letting more 4-year-olds into the program understand the benefits of early childhood education are so great, it’s worth the investment. Plus, the districts get money when those kids turn 5. They’re only floating 4-year-old kids for a few months before the funding kicks in.

Expanding these types of TK programs to other schools should be a priority for all local school districts.

I’m not the only person with an extreme distaste for TK. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the program. Politicians will continue to threaten to kill it so long as it stands in its current state of serving just one-fourth of 4-year-olds every year.

I’m surprised nobody has sued.

All 4-year-olds who are ready should be allowed to take advantage of transitional kindergarten.

    This article relates to: Commentary, Education, Must Reads, School Leadership

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She works to expand our reach and helps community members write op-eds. She also manages VOSD’s podcasts and covers the arts, culture, land use and entrepreneurs. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    7 comments
    Heather Poland
    Heather Poland subscriber

    First, TK was not offered as a consolation prize for moving the cut off date. Teachers have known for years that the kids who are the youngest in classes don't do as well. TK helped those kids to be the oldest ones in their classes. 

    Second, the cut off date has to go SOMEWHERE and so someone will always be just behind the cut off date. 


    I DO agree and think there should be TK for ALL 4 year olds though.

    SherryS
    SherryS subscriber

    You've got it backwards. Moving the start date for kindergarten back to Sept 1, is what helped certain kids to be the oldest ones in their classrooms instead of the youngest. Most states were already set up that way--no TK involved.

    Heather Poland
    Heather Poland subscriber

    @SherryS Many states were already like this, however CA was not. So when they wanted to move the start date back, they decided to do TK because there would be all those kids who would have gone to kinder, would have to wait. I am a teacher as well, so I know how this went down. Maybe I mis-spoke. Because they wanted to move the date back, TK was born. 

    EducatedMom
    EducatedMom subscribermember

    I know that Senator Simitian's heart was in the right place when he proposed TK, but it was a poorly thought-out idea from the beginning.  Once the state moved the start date for kindergarten back to Sept 1, the state then offered more education to the children who would be the oldest when entering kindergarten (not necessarily the ones who needed the jump on education most or who needed the financial benefit of not paying for daycare--er, preschool--most).

    As for offering TK to all as public pre-K (or to another select few, as they turn 5), it's all about filling the classroom with paying members rather than paying a teacher to teach a half-empty class.  The state won't pay unless the child turns 5 by a specific date (under current TK rules, that's Dec 2)--extending that to March just creates another unfair, mid-year deadline, so what's the point?


    When my children were young, many boys with birthdays between Sept 1 and Dec 2 were told they were "too young" and to "come back next year" not because they weren't intellectually ready but because they weren't able to sit and focus for long stretches of time and were deemed "disruptive." TK and kindergarten are a whole lot more about learning how to follow rules (how to line up, keep your hands to yourself)--things a child can learn in pre-school and at a park--and how to go to the bathroom by themselves (think zippers and belt buckles) or stick a straw in a juice box, things you can (and should) teach your child at home.  Sitting still without "entertainment" is also an important skill.  But allow your kid to be a kid for as long as possible, as school's regimentation often breaks the spirit of the young.

    If you feel you need to give your child a head start academically, start by teaching him the alphabet, take him to the library to check out books for you to read to him and ones he can try to sound out himself...and read to/with him every day. (I read to my children daily starting at 3 months, and they were reading Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter to themselves at age 6 and read much faster than I can now.) 


    As someone who has had experience with a child with a "late birthday," I thought I'd share a few benefits of waiting for those parents who are in a hurry to get their kids into the regimentation pipeline of school.  Sixteen is a big mile marker, but children who started kindergarten at four years old are not old enough to hold a job (or even most volunteer opportunities) until after they start their junior year in high school, missing out on income that could have offset college expenses and/or volunteer hours that would show leadership/community service on a college application. They also can't drive until sometime in their junior year, which means while all their friends have independence, you either have to schlepp them around or get them into a carpool with kids in a younger grade (your teen will share how uncool both of these options are). Think about all the after school opportunities either you will have to drive him to or curtail because he can't drive himself.  Then there is the 18 year marker.  As a college student who hasn't yet turned 18, you can't have a credit card in your name (consider the prospect of having your child away at college on your credit card!), you can't set up an account to rent textbooks, you can't vote, etc.  Being the oldest in high school is actually a benefit, and being one of the oldest on the journey there allows more opportunities for leadership.  So don't fret; your son will be on the path soon enough.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Offer it to everyone who wants it but make it free for lower-income families. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, but wealthy kids do better in school than poor kids so the playing field we call "education" is tilted in favor of the rich and needs to be tilted back to be equitable.

    Sylvia Martinez
    Sylvia Martinez

    Boy, things have changed since my kids (now 17 and 20) were starting school.  At that point, everyone wanted to hold their kids back, not start them early.  I encourage parents to consider their child's high school and college application phases when making this decision. I hear a lot of people say, "but my four year old can read!" but they are not thinking about the physical maturity that will help their child succeed at sports in high school, nor the emotional maturity and self-confidence that help young people exercise leadership and navigate the complexity of social, volunteer, academic, creative and other outlets. Also, remember that their competition is national, if not global. The September cutoff date brought California into alignment with most of the rest of the country (some states have an even earlier cutoff which puts their kids at an advantage in later years).  I've found that many of my child's college classmates at a prestigious California university are a year, or TWO, older than he is. No wonder they are so 'academically advanced."  


    As a former Waldorf preschool parent, I much preferred the unstructured, ungraded, creative exploration of pre-school than the rote memorization and repetitiveness of the CA kindergarten.  Neither of my kids went to Kinder in this country at all. They went to non-academic creative preschools, played a lot, and were read to at home.  My daughter started 1st grade without being able to write any numbers, letters, or even her name, and she learned in one month what they had drilled over the previous year. Some kids entered first grade already burdened with lack of success at school because they were pushed into academic kindergarten too soon.  A good preschool nurtures the 'older kids' by challenging them, and giving them leadership opportunities with the littles.  I'd take an extra year of preschool over public school kindergarten any day.  

    Karen Wickersham
    Karen Wickersham

    I understand the frustrations of having to pay for another year of preschool because your child missed the cut off. But the sad fact is there has to be cut off's. I work in a school with TK's and kindergartners and my personal feeling about it is that they should just simply cut off kindergarten enrollment for any child who is born after August. Amazing that California felt it had to offer a "consolation prize" of an extra free year of school simply because parents didn't want to take responsibility for an additional year of their child's days. It's been my experience that children born from August to January who entered kindergarten early were frequently misidentified as needing special education services later. All because they simply weren't ready for school. California is in a deep dark hole, budget wise. I feel the state should simply eliminate transitional kindergarten. Maybe California should expand its preschool programs and offer them on a sliding scale to parents. That would be a more equitable solution, because it would serve more families.