The move from play-based preschools to increasingly rigorous kindergarten classrooms is rough, for both kids and parents.

A Good Schools for All listener, Sally Cox, called in to share her story about a particularly jarring transition from preschool to kindergarten. She said she thought her son was well-prepared, but kids in his kindergarten class were expected to be reading by October, and her son quickly fell behind.

“I think the alignment issues between expectations in kindergarten and how children are prepared in preschool really need to be dealt with,” Cox said.

Hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn dig into the big transition problem, which is worsening thanks to a ratcheting up of academic expectations for kindergarteners. Transitional kindergarten, or TK, a public-school program offered to kids born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 as the first step of a two-year kindergarten class, has been one attempt at closing the early education achievement gap.

TK is great for the small number of kids who happen to be born at the right time, Kohn said, but as a public policy it’s pretty terrible.

“It’s this privilege, this entitlement that’s only available if you happen to get pregnant and give birth in a certain little window,” she said. “What we’re giving away is a free, extra year of public schooling to the oldest incoming kindergarteners.”

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Kohn’s not the only one with a TK pet peeve. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed combining three state-funded programs: preschool, transitional kindergarten and a rating system. He wants to strip away existing requirements and give local school districts more control over how they use the money as long as they prioritize providing early education services to low-income and at-risk kids.

One big problem with the proposal is the lack of any additional funding, said Matt Doyle.

Doyle’s the executive director of innovation at Vista Unified School District. He came on the podcast this week to talk about Brown’s proposal and share some of the things his district has been doing to help ease the transition between preschool and kindergarten.

“We have actually identified the transition from preschool into kindergarten as probably the single greatest transition the child can make as they develop their cognitive academic abilities for college and career,” he said. “So for us this is the No. 1 issue.”

Got thoughts, opinions or experiences with this? Call 619-354-1085 and leave your name, neighborhood and story so we can play the voicemail on future episodes.

Number of the Week

6,846: That’s the number of transitional kindergarteners we have in the San Diego region. The program just launched three years ago and it’s seen a big increase since its inception. There was a 67 percent increase in TK enrollment from the 2013-2014 to last year, and this year’s numbers are expected to see an even bigger jump.

What’s Working

The Quality Preschool Initiative: The program rates the quality of state-funded preschools and head start programs in San Diego County. It’s working because the San Diego County Office of Education is implementing the program effectively. The results of the program aren’t publicly available yet, but they will be soon.

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    This article relates to: Education, Good Schools For All, Must Reads

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    Life-Long Educator
    Life-Long Educator subscriber

    Transitional Kindegarten was adopted to appease parents who's children did not turn 5 in time to start so they would not have to pay for another year of preschool and the teachers' union who were protecting the jobs that would be lost because of fewer kindergarten students. California had the latest kindergarten start date in the country. It should have been changed decades ago, but politics always rule.


    I have seen, heard, and experienced at all levels what works and what does not. Smaller class size.

    Diana Chun
    Diana Chun

    TK serves children who have always been in the K-12 system, and would have been denied access to school without it. Some background: In 2010, TK was created by the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which required children starting kindergarten to turn 5 by Sept. 1. Before this, children could start kindergarten if they turned 5 by Dec. 2, and younger children were in classrooms that were increasingly geared for older children. This shift was made to make sure all children start kindergarten ready developmentally, socially, and academically. To ensure the younger children born in fall were not left without an education option and had a developmentally appropriate experience to prepare them for kindergarten, the Legislature established TK.

    And thanks to a clarification from the Legislature and Governor Brown last year, schools have the local option to expand TK beyond the original fall birthday cohort and serve any student who turns 5 during the school year. 

    It’s concerning that Governor Brown’s early learning block grant proposal would dismantle the TK guarantee, which is the only stable funding stream for young children in early childhood education. Without it, the more than 125,000 children that could be served by TK statewide could be left without any early education come the next economic downturn.

    bcat subscriber

    The most important thing for children to learn in kindergarten is that traditional public school classrooms are headed by (x1) teacher that needs the attention and good behavior of all the (x24) students.

    Reading and other concepts take time and children develop at unique rates.  A variety of techniques should be tried and children should be rewarded for effort at the K level.

    That being said, parents need to be vested in their child's development.  Delayed reading is *often* the consequence of not reading to the child at home.  A kindergarten child is not mature enough to "learn" everything in a classroom via instruction.  The culture must be created at home.

    sosocal subscriber

    I think it is unrealistic and unfair to the children to expect all kindergarten students to be reading.  Some children can learn to read at age 4 or 5, but most seem to really learn to read in first grade, in my experience.  Kindergarten students need to be able to recognize their name, and that is a good first step.  It does no good to make children feel bad because they are not yet reading.  It is better to read to them, keep encouraging them and teach them the basics of phonics, so that they can learn to sound out words, thereby understanding those building blocks which are steps toward learning to read.

    Which is why standardized testing of kindergartners and first graders is a very bad idea--they are not ready for it, it does them no good, and there is nothing useful that can be the result.

    We need to learn from the Finnish model and allow children to be children.

    EducatedMom subscribermember

    EdSource recently had an article about how 78% of Transitional Kindergarten classes were TK/K combos in 2013-14 but that this is changing in the 14 largest districts in the state.

    The reality is that unless an elementary school is large enough to have four classes at each grade level (about 540 students), then there aren't sufficient students eligible for TK to have a stand-alone TK class, so you end up with TK/K combos.  Any scenario that has an "entering" student (whether that is at the K or TK level) who doesn't move to the next grade with their classmates is very hard on those students, who bond in a way that students don't bond as they get older.  I have a child who would have been in TK if it were in existence back then, and I see the entire TK concept as a boondoggle.

    As far as preschool not preparing a child for kindergarten, the expectations of parents for what preschool can achieve seem awfully high.  My children learned their colors, alphabet, numbers, counting and basic  reading & writing skills, etc. from working with me (in fun ways, not "kill & drill").  Preschool was where my children learned the behaviors they would need to be successful in kindergarten--to be one of a large group, line up, sit quietly in a circle, follow directions, clean up after themselves, how to deal with another child that they don't like, etc.  It also gave me time to do my work.

    SherryS subscriber

    TK has been a disaster at our small SDUDS elementary school. There are not enough students to make up a TK class, so they are dispersed among the kindergarteners, exactly as would have happened before the age for kindergarten was changed and TK was introduced. Except now, teachers are expected to teach 2 different curriculums at the exact same time to a 24-25 student classroom. And what's worse, my child skipped kindergarten entirely because there wasn't enough room. She was placed in a 1st grade classroom and is now repeating 1st grade. We should do Pre-School and have it separate or not do pre-school at all. Combining Pre-School with Kindergarten is a disaster.