educate our children. As increasing numbers of affluent parents enroll their children in pre-school programs that offer more than just the traditional "play and supervision," but also provide early instruction in basics like reading and math, the question arises as to whether these children are obtaining a competitive edge over the less-fortunate peers. While free pre-school, that is free pre-kindergarten, education is rare, many school districts have responded to the needs of working parents by establishing full-day kindergarten programs, while others have continued to maintain the older half-day system. Unfortunately, the newer system, particularly where it includes genuine introductory academic instruction, is expensive and therefore often unavailable in poorer areas. An excellent example of this situation is to be found in New York's Inner City schools. Here, a largely minority population must often face a shortage of qualified teachers, and a lack of funds, equipment, and supplies. New York uses a standardized achievement test to evaluate its kindergarteners' progress in reading. These test scores provide a benchmark for achievement, but they do not, in and of themselves, address the much deeper question of whether children who attend half-day kindergartens are being short-changed. Thus, it will be the aim of this paper to uncover and to document any differences that may exist in the reading skill level of children enrolled in full-time vs. children enrolled in part-time kindergarten programs in the City of New York.
The very first years of life are the formative years. It has been shown in study after study that, children pick up much that is vital in terms of their social behavior, and attitudes toward learning before the end even of early childhood.
Quality early childcare and education have been documented to have positive short- and long-term effects on children's lives. Children in high quality programs are more social, less aggressive and have better language and cognitive skills. These children tend to make more friends and do better when they enter elementary school. In subsequent years, school dropout, crime and violence, and juvenile delinquency are less prevalent in children who have attended high quality early childcare programs...Quality of care seems to be the crucial element. (Tittnich, 1995)
The sooner a child becomes grounded in the basics of reading and writing, the better will be his or her chances both in school, and in later life. While for some, reading comes easily, for others, it is a lengthy and difficult process, one that requires a great amount of specialized and personalized attention. In densely-populated, often run-down urban areas, like New York's Inner City, children often lack the parental support they need to learn and progress at an adequate rate. In such cases, the in-school experience can make all the difference - a good kindergarten program can mean the difference between a child who reads well, and one who reads poorly. The child who leaves kindergarten unable to read properly, or at all, may never be able to catch up to his fellows, and may suffer numerous consequences down the line. The inability to read makes for a poor start on the road of education, and a poor start on the road of education can doom a child to a lifetime of dead end jobs, or even to the temptation of gangs and crime. It is essential, therefore, that the differences in achievement between students in full-time and part-time kindergarten programs be understood. Does the disadvantaged child who also attends a part-time program suffer serious consequences in later life?
Reading is essential to virtually all other forms of learning and educational development. It is by means of the written word that we record our thoughts, and our history, and by which means we communicate with one another over distances of time and space. Even in today's high tech world of computers and the Internet, it is still necessary to be able to read what is on the computer screen, to be able to type coherent replies to one's e-mails, tow write and give reports, and to follow both simple and complex written instructions. The illiterate person can no more understand a street sign or a map, than he or she can comprehend a lengthy manual, a reference work, or even a simple novel. The ability to read rests at the foundation of learning.
Evidence suggests that developmental "spurts" in reflective judgment (critical thinking) may be observed in students in an educational setting; these spurts can lead to higher-order intellectual performance if supported by learning activities that involve practice in using critical-thinking skills." (King and Kitchener, 1994)
Reading is fundamental in the development of higher analytical skills because it, in and of itself, an analytical process. At the outset, the child who is just beginning to learn to read must come to understand the abstractions for which the letters stand. This demands a certain level of cognitive development - the ability to understand that something, in this case, a letter on a page, stands for something; a sound. The student then must be able to comprehend that these "sound pictures" when strung together can represent spoken words and ideas. Reading comprehension is all about being able to make sense of abstractions. While writing, concerns the capacity to comprehend the thought process behind the creation of these same abstractions. In putting our thoughts down on paper, or entering them into a computer, we are organizing them and making them understandable to others.
Even with the multiple media available to today's children and schools, it is necessary for children to be fully grounded in reading in order for them to take advantage of all that the world of knowledge offers to them. The greater the amount of teacher attention and planning, and thus the greater the amount of time spent in instructing and guiding the student, the more significant will be his or her achievements. A recent study, illustrated the importance of teaching children analytical skills, and the important role played in the development of a child's potential by his or her teachers, and other instructors and faculty members:
Findings included the recognition of the importance of personal characteristics of the school library media specialist, principals, and teachers. Characteristics of school library media specialists August 29, 1998, included the following: leadership abilities, including the capacity to envision the resource-based process and connect it to the principal's agenda for restructuring; the willingness to take risks; the ability to teach the principles of resource-based education to teachers and to teach children effectively; and the personal stamina, energy, and enthusiasm to see the resource-based process from development through implementation. Some characteristics of principals included the following: the knowledge to link the resource-based process to other restructuring efforts, plus the abilities to take risks and provide leadership in the school's restructuring effort. Characteristics of teachers included the following: the capacity to understand the significance of the resource-based process and the willingness to plan collaboratively with school library media specialists and to be risk takers.
Findings also showed that some structural supports must be considered essential elements in resource-based education. These included flexible scheduling to support efforts of school library media specialists and teachers to plan, teach, and evaluate outcomes cooperatively and sufficient resources for auxiliary personnel, library materials, equipment, and technology.
Findings also included recognition of the significance of the recent emphasis on the instructional role of school library media specialists from both national and state publications. (Yetter, 1994)
Children benefit enormously from the structured environment provided by the school, and from the experience, knowledge, and coordinating activities of their teachers and instructors. Reading is a doorway to greater discoveries, and forms the basis of learning even in a society of computers, DVD's, and CD-ROM's. The child who lacks sufficient skill in reading will find himself or herself unable to undertake many of the more complex tasks of critical thinking, and unable to explore many of these things with which he or she has no personal, direct, sensory experience.
Considering therefore, the exceedingly great importance of reading as the foundation stone of so much else in the learning process, and taking into consideration its centrality in the development and growth of cognitive thought, it follows naturally that the child who receives the earliest and best instruction in reading will perform the best in later life. As children learn so much of life's basic skills in their early years, and as children's minds develop those analytical processes necessary to higher education, and to becoming an effective member of modern society in these same formative years, it is essential that children receive the greatest possible amount of attention and instruction at just the age they are entering kindergarten. Clearly, a full-time kindergarten program with a strong emphasis on reading and cognitive development will benefit a child much more than a traditional part-time kindergarten program.
However, in order to test our hypothesis that a full-time kindergarten program provides children with a firming grounding in reading skills than a part-time kindergarten…