Darn you Arnold Schwarzenegger for creating Transitional Kindergarten!

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E at her first birthday celebration, flopping face down after picking the stethoscope

Have you ever noticed that in parenting, as soon as you celebrate one milestone, you’re already somewhat forced to look ahead to the next one?  So my first born child E turned 4 recently and along with celebrating her entry into the pre-kindergarten program at her preschool, I of course immediately started thinking about kindergarten.  Who am I kidding I’ve actually been thinking about her kindergarten situation since she was 3 years old, partly because E is one of those oh so lucky or not so lucky depending on your situation, to be born between September 2 to December 2 which means she falls into the transitional kindergarten (TK) group.  Oh the back and forth dilemma TK has caused me, but before delving into that let’s start with some background about what TK is.

Arnold Schwarzenegger signs into bill SB 1381 creating the kindergarten readiness act.  Who would’ve thought that the Terminator’s time as governor here in California would somehow end up impacting me, but he did.  In 2010, he signed a bill that changed the required birthday for admission to kindergarten and first grade to September 1st and established a transitional kindergarten program for those born September 2nd to December 2nd.  This law has been called the Kindergarten Readiness Act.  Back when I was a kid, the cut-off age for kindergarten was somewhere in December.  I myself was a November baby and therefore one of the youngest in my class.  But with the signing of the kindergarten readiness act, starting in 2012, the cut-off age for entering kindergarten was pushed back slowly, to the final cut-off date of September 1st which means any child is who not 5 years old by Sept 1st, does not qualify for kindergarten.

The super annoying thing about TK/kindergarten cut-off.  So what really annoys me is how this bill reduces all kids “readiness for kindergarten” to a single black and white cut-off date regardless of how smart and mature they are.  I personally feel this is wrong.  How would patients like if when they are being treated by a doctor, instead of being fully evaluated, the doctor just looked at your age and some lab tests and said here’s a your prescription or said you’re fine! and sent you on your way.  Ok, ok I know this occurs fairly regularly, but the point is there are patients who are the exception to the rule and guidelines from New England Journal or AHA or ADA and that patient deserves to be heard and should be further evaluated if they express some unusual signs/symptoms or concerns, not just written off based on some numbers only.  Similarly, there should be some exceptions made for kids who are more than ready to be in kindergarten, but most school districts in California (and private schools too) do not make any exceptions what so ever.  Losing a whole academic year of their life is a big deal in my opinion, one that can have future ramifications for their entire life.  So to further complicate matters, but interestingly enough, while there is an age cut-off for 1st grade as well, if a parent requests, school districts will test/evaluate your child to accelerate to the first grade!  What???  So they can’t be accelerated to kindergarten no matter what if they’re born after September 1st, but the following year they can accelerate to first grade if you request it??  Tell me how that makes sense.  Now, if the TK program or junior kindergarten as private schools call them is a very solid academic program and more or less the same as kindergarten as some schools’ TK programs are, then this is not an issue.  But what if the TK program is sub-par or not as academically rigorous, then my child is forced to attend TK because she’s born after September 1st and then the following year she proves she can accelerate to first grade but now she’s probably at an academic disadvantage to other kids who got to be in real kindergarten and basically wasted a whole academic year languishing in TK instead of learning in kindergarten!

Coming back to my dilemma, E’s been attending preschool since she was 2 years old.  She can already write the entire alphabet, write and count numbers to 100, do basic addition and recognize words for purposes of reading and I’m more than confidant she’s also socially and emotionally ready to be in kindergarten.  But because she’s born literally a few days after the cut-off she’s going to be forced to attend TK.

I considered the advantages of sending E to TK and letting her be one of the oldest kids in her grade.  There’s definitely some evidence to show that being the oldest child in their grade has its advantages.  There’s the whole relative age bias as seen in sports and when CEO’s are born and wealthier parents tend to participate in academic redshirting where they deliberately hold their kids back to make them the oldest!  Some of these concepts are Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (very interesting book by the way) if you’re interested.  So, feminist readers, don’t stone me here, but if E was a boy, I’d be more than happy to send her to TK, giving her the advantage of being one of the oldest and probably the biggest kids in her grade group, but because E’s a girl and a big girl at that, very tall (90th+ percentile for weight and height in her age group) and looks more mature than other girls her same age, I actually felt it would be a disadvantage for her to be one of the oldest kids in her class, loosely based on research that shows girls who hit puberty earlier are more likely to suffer from depression and mental health issues as teens.

You should know that according to the California Department of Education, there is actually a small but reasonable loop-hole for kids to accelerate into kindergarten and it’s at the discretion of each school district.  Yes!  Reasonable!  But unfortunately, majority of school districts in Southern California are unreasonable.  I think this is because they are either too short-staffed or too under-funded to create the waiver process by which children would be evaluated for placement into kindergarten who aren’t “age-eligible.”  So to circumvent all this TK drama, I’m actually planning on sending E to private school for kindergarten only.  Now some private schools are very strict about the September 1st cut-off date as well but I figure a decent to good private school should be able to provide sufficient academic rigor whether kindergarten or junior kindergarten to prepare E to accelerate into the first grade if we choose to go that route.  Also, because both my husband and I work, we need to pay for after-school childcare anyways, so I reasoned why not throw another $10-$15K on that send her to private school. =P  Some parents send their kids to private kindergarten simply for the child-care as some public kindergarten programs are only about 4 hours long.  To make it worse for working parents, there’s something called early birds or late birds which tier the kindergarten start times as either roughly 8am to 12pm or 10am to 2pm.  Greaaatt, thanks for that whoever created tiered kindergarten start times.  A friend who’s a kindergarten teacher told me she sent her kids to private kindergarten only because she knows the kindergarten program in their zoned school was no good and she wanted her kids to get more phonics before entering first grade.

So, thanks Arnold for creating TK and giving me something to agonize about for months now.  Why does it seem like so many parenting decisions are so agonizing?  Is it only me that feels this way?  I know, first world problems.

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