Children today are starting Kindergarten ahead of students a decade ago, according to new research. Teacher expectations have also risen over the past decade, indicating a shift in increased time devoted to literacy and math, and less time to art, music or child-selected activities. While there has been a rapid expansion in public preschools since the late 1990s, including programs targeted at low income students, there has been little research on the change in academic preparedness of children entering kindergarten. This shift in kindergarten classrooms that are more academically oriented is important for educators to understand to help students experience academic success in the beginning of school.
In a study of nationally representative data sets, Bassok and Latham (2017) found that students entering kindergarten in 2010 had stronger math and literacy skills than children who entered kindergarten in 1998, with 2010 kindergarteners having already learned 17% of what they would have previously learned in Kindergarten. These gains in literacy and math were apparent across all groups of students, though Bassok and Latham (2017) found higher gains in literacy and math proficiency among black children, compared to white children.
Additionally, teacher expectations of kindergarteners have also risen. Bassok, Latham and Rorem (2016) compared public kindergarten teachers in 1998 to 2010 on their beliefs about school readiness, time spent on academic and nonacademic content, classroom organization, pedagogical approach and use of standardized assessments. They found teachers in 2010 had much higher academic expectations for children prior to kindergarten and upon entrance. This includes more time devoted to literacy and math. Additional research is needed to better understand the drivers of these changes, and the overall impact on student learning.