15,000 Michigan kids take two years of kindergarten. Is Lansing listening?

One in eight children now spend two years in kindergarten before first grade – the first year in a developmental kindergarten class like Shannon Murton has taught in Haslett for 17 years. (Courtesy photo)

One in eight Michigan kindergarteners now take two years of kindergarten. That’s a financial boon to families with young children and schools, but a $127 million bill to the state for an extra year of schooling with unknown academic impact.

In essence, families and schools are stepping in where Lansing hasn’t — adding a 14th year to students’ traditional 13-year school career by enrolling children in “developmental kindergarten” that leads into traditional kindergarten, or by taking two years of regular kindergarten classes.

The surge in two-year kindergarten programs in the state is startling both because of its speed, and because it is happening without any official state policy change. 

The two-year kindergarten programs are popular among families, with officials in several districts telling Bridge they have waiting lists. 

 

Still, discrepancies in the growth of the programs are criticized by some early childhood leaders, who question whether the classes — overwhelmingly enrolling white, non-poor students — risk widening the state achievement gap. Skeptics say they also wonder whether school districts’ motives in marketing these untested programs are more about collecting an extra year of state money for each student, than about education.

“We have a 14th year of school now. I’ve been waiting for years for someone [in Lansing] to notice,” said Sean LaRosa, executive director of early childhood services at Livingston Educational Service Agency in Livingston County. “It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – no one wants to say he’s buck naked.”

Unproven but popular

The number of kindergartners spending two years in public school before first grade (categorized by the state as kindergarten retentions) increased by 21 percent in the past four years. Over this same period, retention in grades one through 12 dropped by 14 percent across Michigan.

The majority of kids being retained this year appear to be among the 15,768 children who turned 5 between the Sept. 1 cutoff for traditional kindergarten and Dec. 1. Most are enrolled in what is generically called developmental kindergarten, a typically full-day program that follows the same school schedule as higher elementary grades.

The state considers developmental kindergarten and regular kindergarten to be the same, and pays school districts the same $8,111 per student foundation allowance.

Referred to by different names in different districts, such as “young 5s” or “transitional kindergarten,” the classes usually follow a similar curriculum to traditional kindergarten, but at a slower pace. 

Shannon Murton, developmental kindergarten teacher in Haslett, a suburban community near Lansing, told Bridge her goal is to get her class of young 5-year-olds through about half the academic curriculum as the district covers in traditional kindergarten classes.

“The rigor of kindergarten has increased so much, a lot of parents feel their children are not ready yet,” Murton said. “When you’re lucky enough to have a child that lands in the right age-range, it’s a nice transition.”

Rather than being among the youngest children in traditional kindergarten, developmental kindergarten gives kids with fall birthdays the chance to mature emotionally, and be among the oldest in their classes when they advance the following year into traditional kindergarten.

Murton said the two developmental kindergarten classes in Haslett, a community with about half the percentage of low-income students as the state average, are filled to capacity months in advance of the school year.

Kindergarten retention

Keeping students for two years of kindergarten has grown increasingly popular. Check out how many are held back in each district. To see all schools in a county, type the county's name in the box.

DistrictKindergarten retention
PlannedUnplannedTotal studentsPercent retained
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Washtenaw County
267241,67817.3
Hudsonville Public School District
Ottawa County
180969227.3
Rockford Public Schools
Kent County
1774178727.7
Jenison Public Schools
Ottawa County
176656632.2
Dearborn City School District
Wayne County
168341,57412.8
Portage Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
149484518.1
Kentwood Public Schools
Kent County
1422487618.9
Grand Haven Area Public Schools
Ottawa County
1382153829.6
Clarkston Community School District
Oakland County
1201260821.7
West Ottawa Public School District
Ottawa County
1181157922.3
Warren Consolidated Schools
Macomb County
111231,03113
Grandville Public Schools
Kent County
1111655522.9
Brighton Area Schools
Livingston County
103248421.7
Livonia Public Schools School District
Wayne County
81201,0649.5
Zeeland Public Schools
Ottawa County
787461024.9
Grand Ledge Public Schools
Eaton County
783450522.2
Oxford Community Schools
Oakland County
76944119.3
Lapeer Community Schools
Lapeer County
72941919.3
Grand Blanc Community Schools
Genesee County
712463315
Lake Orion Community Schools
Oakland County
711851917.1
Waterford School District
Oakland County
711763913.8
Byron Center Public Schools
Kent County
711538722.2
Mattawan Consolidated School
Van Buren County
71434122
Kenowa Hills Public Schools
Kent County
691230626.5
Dexter Community School District
Washtenaw County
68431223.1
Northview Public Schools
Kent County
66627426.3
Thornapple Kellogg School District
Barry County
64429623
Allendale Public Schools
Ottawa County
63525526.7
Reeths-Puffer Schools
Muskegon County
622234524.3
North Branch Area Schools
Lapeer County
62122627.9
Woodhaven-Brownstown School District
Wayne County
61945915.3
Saline Area Schools
Washtenaw County
60939317.6
Western School District
Jackson County
591024428.3
Fenton Area Public Schools
Genesee County
59829922.4
Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools
Genesee County
571635620.5
Davison Community Schools
Genesee County
563848719.3
Charlotte Public Schools
Eaton County
56423725.3
Lakeshore School District (Berrien)
Berrien County
551124227.3
Grosse Pointe Public Schools
Wayne County
53651711.4
Freeland Community School District
Saginaw County
52219028.4
Marquette Area Public Schools
Marquette County
51226320.2
Wyandotte, School District of the City of
Wayne County
50840214.4
Hartland Consolidated Schools
Livingston County
491436017.5
Brandon School District in the Counties of Oakland and Lapeer
Oakland County
48721225.9
Midland Public Schools
Midland County
472057611.6
Ypsilanti Community Schools
Washtenaw County
471838017.1
Cross Creek Charter Academy
Kent County
47211144.1
Coldwater Community Schools
Branch County
461424624.4
Berkley School District
Oakland County
461340114.7
Swan Valley School District
Saginaw County
46917830.9
Kelloggsville Public Schools
Kent County
46722223.9
Adrian Public Schools
Lenawee County
442529623.3
Fraser Public Schools
Macomb County
44443811
Williamston Community Schools
Ingham County
44317427
Holly Area School District
Oakland County
431228319.4
Bedford Public Schools
Monroe County
43834914.6
Michigan Center School District
Jackson County
43415530.3
West Branch-Rose City Area Schools
Ogemaw County
421118828.2
Vicksburg Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
41121719.4
Holland City School District
Ottawa County
401727520.7
St. Joseph Public Schools
Berrien County
40924919.7
Montague Area Public Schools
Muskegon County
40714133.3
Linden Community Schools
Genesee County
40321120.4
Watervliet School District
Berrien County
40114328.7
DeWitt Public Schools
Clinton County
39926718
Hamilton Community Schools
Allegan County
39622819.7
Tecumseh Public Schools
Lenawee County
39523518.7
Berrien Springs Public Schools
Berrien County
39516027.5
Standish-Sterling Community Schools
Arenac County
38816627.7
Lincoln Consolidated School District
Washtenaw County
38527015.9
Imlay City Community Schools
Lapeer County
38516526.1
Negaunee Public Schools
Marquette County
38016523
Niles Community Schools
Berrien County
372834918.6
Madison School District (Lenawee)
Lenawee County
37817026.5
Hanover-Horton School District
Jackson County
37211733.3
Gibraltar School District
Wayne County
36329313.3
Swartz Creek Community Schools
Genesee County
351629017.6
Marysville Public Schools
St. Clair County
35918723.5
Van Dyke Public Schools
Macomb County
35122216.2
Hopkins Public Schools
Allegan County
34814529
Chelsea School District
Washtenaw County
34520219.3
Holt Public Schools
Ingham County
331143110.2
Lakewood Public Schools
Ionia County
33817723.2
Three Rivers Community Schools
St. Joseph County
32825815.5
West Bloomfield School District
Oakland County
3254378.5
Quincy Community Schools
Branch County
32311729.9
Flat Rock Community Schools
Wayne County
31517720.3
Leslie Public Schools
Ingham County
30812630.2
Center Line Public Schools
Macomb County
30723016.1
Comstock Park Public Schools
Kent County
30421016.2
Southgate Community School District
Wayne County
29825014.8
Vanderbilt Charter Academy
Ottawa County
2727837.2
Alpena Public Schools
Alpena County
262432715.3
Hemlock Public School District
Saginaw County
26411426.3
Haslett Public Schools
Ingham County
26321413.6
Marlette Community Schools
Sanilac County
2637339.7
Grosse Ile Township Schools
Wayne County
26014118.4
Bangor Township Schools
Bay County
251318121
Napoleon Community Schools
Jackson County
25211723.1
Eagle Crest Charter Academy
Ottawa County
25210525.7
Marshall Public Schools
Calhoun County
241021415.9
Chandler Woods Charter Academy
Kent County
24510926.6
Keystone Academy
Wayne County
24311323.9
Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy
Wayne County
24010123.8
Trenton Public Schools
Wayne County
23120411.8
Vanguard Charter Academy
Kent County
23111121.6
Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw
Houghton County
23011919.3
Oakridge Public Schools
Muskegon County
221618320.8
Eaton Rapids Public Schools
Eaton County
221218818.1
Excel Charter Academy
Kent County
21210721.5
Taylor Exemplar Academy
Wayne County
21110321.4
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools
Dickinson County
2036038.3
South Canton Scholars Charter Academy
Wayne County
20011018.2
South Arbor Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
2009521.1
South Pointe Scholars Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
2009122
Ubly Community Schools
Huron County
2006431.3
Okemos Public Schools
Ingham County
19133459.3
Sparta Area Schools
Kent County
191020913.9
Almont Community Schools
Lapeer County
19611621.6
Stockbridge Community Schools
Ingham County
19311119.8
Kearsley Community School District
Genesee County
181219615.3
Kent City Community Schools
Kent County
18911523.5
Plainwell Community Schools
Allegan County
18518412.5
Centreville Public Schools
St. Joseph County
1848924.7
Innocademy
Ottawa County
1846533.8
Mona Shores Public School District
Muskegon County
172630314.2
Cass City Public Schools
Tuscola County
1779724.7
Hudson Area Schools
Lenawee County
17110816.7
Ridge Park Charter Academy
Kent County
1709517.9
Lake City Area School District
Missaukee County
1709118.7
Forest Hills Public Schools
Kent County
16206605.5
Coloma Community Schools
Berrien County
16511318.6
New Haven Community Schools
Macomb County
16313913.7
Walker Charter Academy
Kent County
16310218.6
Saranac Community Schools
Ionia County
1638721.8
Leland Public School District
Leelanau County
1614637
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker Schools
Huron County
1607621.1
Carrollton Public Schools
Saginaw County
151613523
East Lansing School District
Ingham County
151325710.9
Sturgis Public Schools
St. Joseph County
1582668.6
East Jackson Community Schools
Jackson County
1567627.6
Sand Creek Community Schools
Lenawee County
1546429.7
Cassopolis Public Schools
Cass County
1539119.8
Clawson Public Schools
Oakland County
15215411
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
Kent County
142315623.7
Brandywine Community Schools
Berrien County
14711817.8
Walton Charter Academy
Oakland County
14610618.9
Onsted Community Schools
Lenawee County
1469521.1
Columbia School District
Jackson County
14511916
Knapp Charter Academy
Kent County
14410217.6
Grass Lake Community Schools
Jackson County
14310316.5
Tri County Area Schools
Montcalm County
13915414.3
Bentley Community School District
Genesee County
1377526.7
Concord Community Schools
Jackson County
1365832.8
East Arbor Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
13410017
Millington Community Schools
Tuscola County
1347921.5
Marcellus Community Schools
Cass County
1345928.8
Meridian Public Schools
Midland County
13310515.2
Grand Traverse Academy
Grand Traverse County
1317817.9
Chippewa Valley Schools
Macomb County
12251,0043.7
Orchard View Schools
Muskegon County
121119112
Van Buren Public Schools
Wayne County
12103057.2
Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools
Clinton County
1275038
Houghton-Portage Township School District
Houghton County
12611715.4
Clinton Community Schools
Lenawee County
12210513.3
Grand River Academy
Oakland County
1219613.5
Grand Rapids Public Schools
Kent County
11531,3384.8
South Lyon Community Schools
Oakland County
11127413.1
Menominee Area Public Schools
Menominee County
11910219.6
Hartford Public Schools
Van Buren County
11611015.5
Endeavor Charter Academy
Calhoun County
11511414
Ishpeming Public School District No. 1
Marquette County
1146423.4
North Central Area Schools
Menominee County
1122650
Allegan Public Schools
Allegan County
102420017
Spring Lake Public Schools
Ottawa County
101714818.2
Vassar Public Schools
Tuscola County
1088720.7
Dansville Schools
Ingham County
1046621.2
Vista Charter Academy
Kent County
1039014.4
Paramount Charter Academy
Kalamazoo County
1037517.3
Hazel Park, School District of the City of
Oakland County
1021906.3
Caledonia Community Schools
Kent County
97439820.9
Utica Community Schools
Macomb County
9481,8463.1
Flint, School District of the City of
Genesee County
9244637.1
Timberland Academy
Muskegon County
989817.3
Morenci Area Schools
Lenawee County
926516.9
Redford Union Schools, District No. 1
Wayne County
81413716.1
Comstock Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
861529.2
Kalamazoo Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
7211,0452.7
Clintondale Community Schools
Macomb County
751428.5
Landmark Academy
St. Clair County
749112.1
Mayville Community School District
Tuscola County
734522.2
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
Wayne County
61441,26511.9
Walled Lake Consolidated Schools
Oakland County
6309493.8
Port Huron Area School District
St. Clair County
6245935.1
Burton Glen Charter Academy
Genesee County
61111514.8
Charyl Stockwell Academy
Livingston County
658512.9
Waterford Montessori Academy
Oakland County
655819
Warren Woods Public Schools
Macomb County
641965.1
Reach Charter Academy
Macomb County
61848.3
Coleman Community Schools
Midland County
616311.1
Lowell Area Schools
Kent County
55830620.6
Rochester Community School District
Oakland County
5131,0321.7
Inland Lakes Schools
Cheboygan County
596820.6
Whitehall District Schools
Muskegon County
541506
Lansing Public School District
Ingham County
4889889.3
Bay City School District
Bay County
45452311.1
Wayne-Westland Community School District
Wayne County
4237493.6
Goodrich Area Schools
Genesee County
42115616
Riverview Community School District
Wayne County
4172129.9
Belding Area School District
Ionia County
41714914.1
Eastpointe Community Schools
Macomb County
4102036.9
Huron School District
Wayne County
491638
Blissfield Community Schools
Lenawee County
4710410.6
Lakeview Sch. District (Calhoun)
Calhoun County
462753.6
Fortis Academy
Washtenaw County
469710.3
Royal Oak Schools
Oakland County
453742.4
Black River Public School
Ottawa County
446612.1
Kingsbury Country Day School
Oakland County
444020
Bad Axe Public Schools
Huron County
42847.1
Huron Valley Schools
Oakland County
310569115.6
Howell Public Schools
Livingston County
38058514.2
Saginaw Township Community Schools
Saginaw County
35035714.8
Flushing Community Schools
Genesee County
34432514.5
Taylor School District
Wayne County
3425358.4
Jonesville Community Schools
Hillsdale County
33714128.4
Holly Academy
Oakland County
33110133.7
Cedar Springs Public Schools
Kent County
32729710.1
L'Anse Creuse Public Schools
Macomb County
3237303.6
Coopersville Area Public School District
Ottawa County
32218113.8
Romeo Community Schools
Macomb County
3153335.4
Wyoming Public Schools
Kent County
3122915.2
Lake Shore Public Schools (Macomb)
Macomb County
3102176
Linden Charter Academy
Genesee County
369010
Novi Community School District
Oakland County
344551.5
Byron Center Charter School
Kent County
312020
Honey Creek Community School
Washtenaw County
301915.8
Detroit Public Schools Community District
Wayne County
21104,0002.8
Northwest Community Schools
Jackson County
29834529
Wayland Union Schools
Allegan County
28732827.1
Escanaba Area Public Schools
Delta County
26921732.7
Gull Lake Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
26827025.9
Saginaw, School District of the City of
Saginaw County
26050912.2
Jackson Public Schools
Jackson County
25945513.4
Dundee Community Schools
Monroe County
23914827.7
Airport Community Schools
Monroe County
23623816
Pinckney Community Schools
Livingston County
23517820.8
Traverse City Area Public Schools
Grand Traverse County
2336825.1
Gladwin Community Schools
Gladwin County
23315722.3
Paw Paw Public School District
Van Buren County
23216920.1
Lake Fenton Community Schools
Genesee County
22916119.3
West MI Academy of Environmental Science
Kent County
22611524.3
Crawford AuSable Schools
Crawford County
22513819.6
Clio Area School District
Genesee County
22422111.8
Harper Creek Community Schools
Calhoun County
22323810.5
Allen Park Public Schools
Wayne County
2222948.2
Otsego Public Schools
Allegan County
22218912.7
Fruitport Community Schools
Muskegon County
2192139.9
Reading Community Schools
Hillsdale County
2197627.6
Morley Stanwood Community Schools
Mecosta County
2149516.8
Greenville Public Schools
Montcalm County
2122874.9
Bloomfield Hills Schools
Oakland County
2113333.9
Troy School District
Oakland County
2108551.4
Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy
Manistee County
21010711.2
Farwell Area Schools
Clare County
2108614
Bronson Community School District
Branch County
289111
Westwood Heights Schools
Genesee County
288012.5
Sandusky Community School District
Sanilac County
277811.5
Chatfield School
Lapeer County
275516.4
Northville Public Schools
Wayne County
264082
Birmingham Public Schools
Oakland County
255381.3
Macomb Montessori Academy
Macomb County
254914.3
Lakeview Public Schools (Macomb)
Macomb County
242942
Mason Public Schools (Ingham)
Ingham County
242702.2
Lamphere Public Schools
Oakland County
241783.4
Houghton Lake Community Schools
Roscommon County
23816.2
Colon Community School District
St. Joseph County
234411.4
West MI Academy of Arts and Academics
Ottawa County
22586.9
Merritt Academy
Macomb County
223710.8
Island City Academy
Eaton County
222416.7
Edwardsburg Public Schools
Cass County
211821.6
Hastings Area School District
Barry County
19127034.1
Mt. Pleasant City School District
Isabella County
15229418
Essexville-Hampton Public Schools
Bay County
14716129.8
Bullock Creek School District
Midland County
13618719.8
Corunna Public Schools
Shiawassee County
13516621.7
Potterville Public Schools
Eaton County
13510135.6
North Muskegon Public Schools
Muskegon County
1289331.2
Caro Community Schools
Tuscola County
12514917.4
Ferndale Public Schools
Oakland County
12419612.8
Elk Rapids Schools
Antrim County
12310622.6
Bloomingdale Public School District
Van Buren County
12110121.8
Owosso Public Schools
Shiawassee County
1202638
Gwinn Area Community Schools
Marquette County
1209322.6
Saugatuck Public Schools
Allegan County
1206830.9
Addison Community Schools
Lenawee County
1187824.4
Southfield Public School District
Oakland County
1173455.2
Vandercook Lake Public Schools
Jackson County
1177623.7
Fennville Public Schools
Allegan County
11610715.9
Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools
Iosco County
1166127.9
Muskegon, Public Schools of the City of
Muskegon County
1152855.6
St. Charles Community Schools
Saginaw County
1157321.9
Hancock Public Schools
Houghton County
1146423.4
Farmington Public School District
Oakland County
1136672.1
Summit Academy North
Wayne County
11310014
Unionville-Sebewaing Area S.D.
Tuscola County
1136720.9
Light of the World Academy
Livingston County
1135625
Battle Creek Public Schools
Calhoun County
1123333.9
Gaylord Community Schools
Otsego County
1122275.7
Godwin Heights Public Schools
Kent County
1121359.6
Huron Academy
Macomb County
1129314
Delton Kellogg Schools
Barry County
1118614
New Branches Charter Academy
Kent County
1117116.9
East China School District
St. Clair County
1102634.2
Fowlerville Community Schools
Livingston County
1101965.6
Hart Public School District
Oceana County
1109112.1
International Academy of Flint
Genesee County
1109012.2
Melvindale-North Allen Park Schools
Wayne County
192174.6
Bendle Public Schools
Genesee County
199710.3
Decatur Public Schools
Van Buren County
196216.1
Harper Woods, The School District of the City of
Wayne County
181177.7
McBain Rural Agricultural Schools
Missaukee County
188410.7
Holton Public Schools
Muskegon County
185416.7
Munising Public Schools
Alger County
175813.8
Chandler Park Academy
Wayne County
171425.6
North Saginaw Charter Academy
Saginaw County
176711.9
Mesick Consolidated Schools
Wexford County
175813.8
Lake Linden-Hubbell School District
Houghton County
173026.7
St. Johns Public Schools
Clinton County
161913.7
Ludington Area School District
Mason County
161415
Detroit Merit Charter Academy
Wayne County
161007
The New Standard Academy
Genesee County
166510.8
Ravenna Public Schools
Muskegon County
166111.5
Milan Area Schools
Washtenaw County
151254.8
Madison District Public Schools
Oakland County
151145.3
Oakside Scholars Charter Academy
Oakland County
15956.3
Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
15708.6
Michigan Connections Academy
Ingham County
155610.7
Legacy Charter Academy
Wayne County
14836
Onaway Area Community School District
Presque Isle County
144710.6
Oak Park, School District of the City of
Oakland County
132941.4
Hillsdale Community Schools
Hillsdale County
131173.4
Richfield Public School Academy
Genesee County
13994
Beaverton Rural Schools
Gladwin County
13705.7
Pansophia Academy
Branch County
13616.6
Hope Academy
Wayne County
13616.6
Grand Blanc Academy
Genesee County
13498.2
Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan
Wexford County
133810.5
Pittsford Area Schools
Hillsdale County
133112.9
Carney-Nadeau Public Schools
Menominee County
132317.4
Waverly Community Schools
Eaton County
121921.6
Clarenceville School District
Wayne County
121282.3
White Cloud Public Schools
Newaygo County
12724.2
Akron-Fairgrove Schools
Tuscola County
12319.7
Ecorse Public Schools
Wayne County
11832.4
LakeVille Community School District
Genesee County
11752.7
Vestaburg Community Schools
Montcalm County
11484.2
Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools
Otsego County
11474.3
Adams Township School District
Houghton County
11326.3
Summit Academy
Wayne County
11326.3
Dryden Community Schools
Lapeer County
11306.7
Madison Academy
Genesee County
11219.5
Owendale-Gagetown Area School District
Huron County
111020
Riverside Academy
Wayne County
10721.4
Cole Academy
Ingham County
10611.6
Universal Learning Academy
Wayne County
10531.9

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Spurred by third-grade reading law 

Several state education leaders date the growth in two-year kindergarten programs to the passage of Michigan’s third-grade reading law in 2016 that recommends third-graders be held back if they are more than a year behind in reading. The Legislature delayed implementation of the law until the current 2019-20 school year to give schools time to beef up early reading efforts.

Getting kids in school a year earlier could give schools more time to help them become good readers, said Richard Lower, director of the Preschool and Out-of-School Time Learning Office of Great Start in the Michigan Department of Education.

“Because we don’t have universal preschool in the state, schools were opening ‘early 5’ classes as a strategy for additional schooling, to better prep kids for readiness,” Lower said.

Privately, some school leaders — many of whom oppose the third-grade read-or-flunk law — said they saw an additional benefit of two-year kindergarten: Because the state considers developmental kindergarten and kindergarten to be the same, moving from the first to the second year of kindergarten is considered a retention. Children who have already been retained in a grade before third grade can’t be held back at the end of third grade because of low reading scores.

Thus, one in eight students who were in kindergarten last year will be exempt from the third-grade law.

Indeed, the strategy of deploying two-year kindergarten programs to get around the read-or-flunk law was discussed enough that MDE published a statement on its website discouraging it for that purpose. 

Among a list of frequently asked questions aimed at school officials, was a question about whether schools could use developmental kindergarten as a means to avoid third-grade retentions. The department stated: “MDE is not in support of creating ‘young fives’ or ‘developmental kindergarten,’ or extra-year placement programs at any grade level with the intent of affording students ‘previously retained’ status as described in the Read by Grade Three law (MCL 380.1280f). Districts shall always appropriately place each student based on the strengths and needs of the Whole Child.”

Money plays a role

While the third-grade reading law may have sparked interest in the classes, the biggest driver of the trend, say education leaders who spoke to Bridge, is economics – both for schools and families.

Cost was one of several factors Amanda Spicuzzi considered when she enrolled her daughter in a developmental kindergarten class in Ferndale last year. Spicuzzi said she was happy with her daughter’s developmental kindergarten class, and her daughter is doing well in traditional kindergarten this year. Saving child-care costs was nice, too.

She estimates her family saved $5,400 by having their daughter in developmental kindergarten rather than fee-based preschool in suburban Detroit.

“We were in a position where we could make that choice [between child care and early kindergarten], when some families would have to enroll because they couldn’t afford another year of preschool,” Spicuzzi said.

School leaders say cost savings are a common theme. 

“I’m not sure all our parents in any of our communities make the decision on whether to enroll their children [in a two-year kindergarten program] based on the developmental value,” said Peter Haines, superintendent of Ottawa Intermediate School District, where 25 percent of students take two years of kindergarten. 

“Sometimes mom and dad make a decision because it allows them to not hire child care.”

There’s an economic incentive for schools, too. 

Michigan school districts collected $128 million in state funding last year in per-student foundation allowance just for the children taking their second year of kindergarten before first grade, the majority of whom were still 4-year-olds  when the school year began. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools, for example, had 17 percent of its students take a second year of kindergarten last year, with student foundation allowance for those children totaling slightly more than $2 million.

Craig Thiel, research director at Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit public research organization, said there is a “big incentive” for schools to pursue an extra year of student foundation allowance by “growing my enrollment and getting my money for these young 5s.”

Haines played down the financial incentives of two-year kindergarten programs in West Michigan’s Ottawa County school districts, saying “they’re not the money-makers you’d think.” Livingston’s LaRosa disagreed, calling the classes a “cash cow” for school districts.

Competition for students

Individual school districts decide whether to encourage two years of kindergarten. That can lead to massive variations across the state, from 50 percent  of kindergartners taking a second year in tiny North Central Area Schools in Hermansville in the Upper Peninsula, to more than 500 school districts and charters that didn’t report any kindergarten retention to the Michigan Department of Education last year.

On the west side of the state, one in four kindergarten children in Ottawa County school districts were in their second year of kindergarten in 2018-19. Meanwhile, in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, where 82  percent of students are African American and 86 percent are economically disadvantaged, the rate of kindergarteners in their second year was only 2.8 percent.   

Livingston’s LaRosa said the growth in developmental kindergarten classes was a topic of frustration at a recent meeting of early childhood leaders in Lansing, where school officials voiced concerns that two-year kindergarten programs were springing up disproportionately in suburban districts.

Statewide, white students (14 percent) were twice as likely to have two years of kindergarten before first grade as black students (7 percent) in 2018-19.

That difference may be explained by low- and moderate-income students being eligible for separate, publicly-funded preschool programs including federal Head Start and Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program. In effect, the trend toward two-year kindergarten may simply reflect middle-class families creating their own state-funded preschool program for 4-year-olds.

When 4-year-old enrollment in Great Start, Head Start and a blend of those income-based preschool programs are added to 4-year-olds in kindergarten, Michigan has 60,000 4-year-olds in publicly-funded education -— that’s 64 percent of the way toward the universal pre-K that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer advocated in her gubernatorial campaign, but which has gained no traction in the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature. 

Still, several education officials told Bridge they were concerned that two-year kindergarten programs were not available equally across the state.

“It’s inequitably distributed,” said Livingston County early childhood official LaRosa. “The higher socioeconomic, well-educated people are advocating for this. So what it creates is (an environment where) districts...don’t philosophically buy into developmental kindergarten but they’re pushed into it because of competition … because you’re kissing money goodbye.”

Does it improve learning? Nobody knows

Despite spending $128 million on two-year kindergarten last year, the state has no idea if it helps, harms or has no impact on academic achievement.

Lower, of MDE, said the state hasn’t compiled data comparing the later test scores of students who had two years of kindergarten versus those with one year.

On the other hand, the state has seen gains from the state-funded preschool Great Start Readiness Program. Students who enrolled in GSRP as 4-year-olds scored higher  when they reached third grade on Michigan’s standardized test, the M-STEP, in both English language arts and math than their demographically-similar classmates who didn’t enroll in GSRP.

GSRP offers free, full-day preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

The question that has not been answered yet is whether Michigan’s slightly more expensive two-year kindergarten program has the same positive impact. 

The state pays $7,250 per year per student for full-day GSRP. Full-day developmental kindergarten is reimbursed at a minimum rate of $8,111 per year.

A Stanford study found that holding children back for a second year in kindergarten may have a positive impact on academic achievement for a few years, but the impact fades by third grade.

Not all states keep tabs on how many children take two years of kindergarten (Massachusetts, Minnesota and Ohio, for example, do not). In Indiana, the rate is 4 percent — a third of Michigan’s rate.

Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said he has doubts about the positive academic impact of two years of kindergarten.

“Everything I know suggests that retention does little good and may harm, at least in the long-run, and delayed entry (having children enter first grade at an older age) is of no value — though there may be some places and times in which this is not the case,” Barnett said. 

Barnett suggested Michigan compare the $128 million spent on two-year kindergarten to “spending the same amount or less money on one-to-one tutoring during the school year or summer to help children keep up rather than repeating an entire year. The answer to that is clear — this would be a much more effective and economically efficient policy.”

Not on Lansing’s radar

There’s no state policy defining developmental kindergarten, and no mention of it in the state school aid budget. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office declined comment for this article. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, chair of the K-12 and Michigan Department of Education committee, did not respond to an email request for comment and Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, minority vice chair of the education and career readiness committee and a former teacher, said developmental kindergarten is not an issue in the legislature.

And the state’s education department?

“It is fair to say MDE is aware of the increase in developmental kindergarten classes in which students are presumed to take two years of schooling before advancing to first grade,” said MDE’s Lower. “But the decision to offer DK is up to individual districts, and MDE doesn’t currently take a position on local district choice.”

Ferndale parent Spicuzzi does take a position: For her daughter, two years of kindergarten “was invaluable. We’d definitely do it again.”

Why should the state pay for an extra year of schooling for children like her daughter, Spicuzzi is asked. “I’d flip that,” Spicuzzi said. “It should be the state’s responsibility to start education younger. 

“The younger the better.”

Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this story

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Comments

Jim
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 7:59am

While some may use this as a "redshirt" year, many districts are specifically targeting students in need. Often, the goals are less about immediate academic benefit and more about socialization. In poorer communities, less and less kids arrive at the school doors with the ability to work and play with others, to attend to learning for a full day (even using the latest brain research to inform our practices), and often come from homes full of traumatic experiences. The Developmental extra year provides opportunity not unlike universal preschool would, and helps us to provide stable adult leadership for them, in small class sizes, and developing skills they'll use for a lifetime...whether or not the immediately translate to academics. Think bigger picture.

***
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 8:14am

Thanks for another excellent Bridge article, you presented both sides of the issue. I find it hard to see any serious downside to this, something could be said for schools liking this for the extra state money and the parents on saving money they would have had to otherwise spend on daycare but even with that somewhat cynical perspective I think it overall is a good thing.

Don
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 9:19am

Michigan is also providing students and school district's extra funding eligibility, via the fifth year of high school for students enrolled in early college programs. I don't see what the big deal is with this. Given the percentages of at-risk students, the move to September 1st as the age cut-off, and the 3rd-grade reading rule the increased D-K enrollment doesn't seem unusual. Most Michigan students need more early childhood educational experiences. to increase achievement. Parents and educators understand this and will work together to make it happen if possible. This state should do the right thing and create more opportunities for birth to 5.

Amy
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 10:06am

Good article! I live in a community that is at about the median income level. I enrolled my daughter with a Nov. 30 birthday (now age 20 and attending a highly competitive university) in my public school's 'young fives' kindergarten at age 4. It was a 'no-brainer.' I did not want her to be the very youngest child in school (yes we 'red-shirted' her), and with two working parents this was a high-quality program that provided transportation to and from her day-care provider's house and did not charge tuition. The teacher provided two learning tracks, one for young but advanced students and another for students that needed a slower pace. This made attending the second year of kindergarten kind of boring for my daughter, but in the long run it all evened out. I predict if the state tries to back away from this pre-K option there will be a lot of fervent advocacy from voting parents and legislators will not want to take it away. It should be expanded to all 4-year-olds because it's a bit of an unfair advantage for the kids with fall birthdays.

Mary
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 10:10am

Two of our sons who had fall birthdays had an extra year; one in pre-school and one in Pre-K. It was recommended to us by a veteran kindergarten teacher. Maturity is a major factor. We have never regretted making that decision for our sons. Too much emphasis on academics at such an early age. More emphasis on experiences and exploration.

Christina
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 10:43am

I'm disappointed to see such a negative slant with this story. After 3 months of kindergarten, I removed my child and placed him in Young 5's. The first time he was sitting in Kindergarten, he was sitting there with 29 other kids and it was not going well for many of the them (especially boys).

Gone are the days of hands on learning through play in many Kindergarten classes. They are expected to sit still in their seats for long hours and do the same things that 1st graders were doing 20 years ago.

Without Young 5's, I'm pretty sure that school would have continued to be a disaster for my child. I really hope the negative opinions of people who stuck to the traditional route aren't the ones who affect public policy in education.

Nancy
Thu, 12/12/2019 - 11:36am

I agree, Christina. I taught first grade in the 1970s and I volunteer in lower elementary classrooms now. What is taught in kindergarten now was basically the first grade curriculum then. I also see great advances in teaching methods to increase student understanding and competency, but a child needs to be ready to take advantage of those methods.
Some children need the extra year to mature in their ability to work with others and/or to sit still and focus and/or improve skills. It's a judgement call based on the individual child.

Janet Buchholz
Fri, 12/13/2019 - 3:21pm

Our son with a September birthday and on the autism spectrum, was in Mrs. Murton's inaugural DK class in Haslett 17 years ago. This extra year made a profound difference in his academic success and pragmatic social skills. He went on to graduate from Haslett High with honors and was a National Merit Scholarship winner. Thank you to our school district and to taxpayers for providing this opportunity.

Justin
Fri, 12/13/2019 - 5:29pm

As a teacher for 15+ years in the middle and high school settings and a 4 year old with a fall birthday, this is a no brainier for us. I can see the differences in students who went to the TK program in my district, which is the same one my daughter will attend. Many of the students are stronger readers, have better writing skills and can collaborate with their peers better. I feel it's a disservice to my daughter to enroll her in traditional kindergarten at 4 years old. With the rigor of the curriculum I don't feel she'd be ready even though she excells in her pre school class. For some of these students in the TK programs, this is the first schooling they've had and enrolling them in traditional kindergarten can be overwhelming. I'm disappointed in the slant from the freep on this as no studies were cited, no evidence given, etc to her negative opinion about it.

Anon
Fri, 12/13/2019 - 7:21pm

Studies have shown that if young children are acclimated very early to classroom and academic settings, they have a strong tendency to not only do better scholastically but also a higher percentage of them attend college.

Dan Moerman
Thu, 12/26/2019 - 9:07am

"...discrepancies in the growth of the programs are criticized by some early childhood leaders, who question whether the classes — overwhelmingly enrolling white, non-poor students — risk widening the state achievement gap." Such snark. Doesn't it look as if this ought to be an option for all families?? If it's 'widening the achievement' gap doesn't that mean that kids taking the early kindergarten do better in the long run? Isn't that. . . sort of. . . the goal??

Sharon Bennett
Thu, 12/26/2019 - 10:51am

I'd like to note that there is a significant difference in the cost of GSRP and young 5's: GSRP receives $7,250 per year per student for full-day and they are capped at 16 students and HAVE to have two adults in the room for a total of $116,000 per classroom/year.
A young 5's classroom receives $8,111 per year per student and can have the same number as a regular KG classroom which is usually recommended at 20 students with one teacher, that's $162,220 per classroom. A difference of $46,220.
Even if the two classrooms had the same amount of students (16), the GSRP classroom is getting $13,776 less and still has to pay for an additional staff member. This not, "slightly more expensive" this is quite a bit.
We as a society don't value our preschools or the teachers enough to pay them the same as public school teachers when they often have similar education attainment. The median salary for the GSRP lead teachers was $34,821, and a teacher with a masters degree was $44,034. (June 2019, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/GSRP_Annual_Report_Year_1_Program... ) The median salary for a kindergarten teacher in Michigan is $52,460. (June 2016, https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-troubling-pay-gap-earl... )

In my family's case, we had two fall birthdays for students before the kindergarten start date was changed to December 1st. For our oldest, he stayed in preschool for an additional year. Our second child went to young 5's. We still feel these were the best choices for our students. However, when our second child taught himself to read in young 5's we were offered the choice to move him to 1st grade at the end of the year. We learned that the school had three other students in the past who went from young 5's to 1st grade. Two of those students returned to kg sometime during that year and one student ended up repeating 1st grade. We felt that our student was ok academically, but not socially ready for 1st grade.
Ultimately, I think that families try to make the best choices for their children with the options available to them.

Abby
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 9:51pm

Unfortunately the teaching methods in early stages especially in kindergartner has changed tremendously gearing towards smart board teaching. In my opinion this is harmful than fruitful to those young children. I strongly believe that hands on learning is the best way for children to learn and that's not offered in traditional kindergartner schools.
I would like to share this quote.
“The hands are the instrument of man’s intelligence…”
– Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)
The Montessori classroom is a relaxed yet stimulating environment, where children may learn at their own pace in a noncompetitive fashion. The results are a love of learning, a positive self-image, and a sense of self-direction that form a strong foundation for future growth.
From ages three to six, the child is in the period referred to as the Absorbent Mind. During this time, he literally absorbs everything in his environment through sensorial exploration. By sensorially absorbing the surroundings, a child forms his personality and himself. He constructs his mind – his memory, power to understand, and ability to think through impressions gained from the environment.