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Education Benefits of full-day kindergarten challenged in new study

A four-year-old is pictured at full-day kindergarten in Toronto in September, 2013. A University of Manitoba study suggests that full-day kindergarten makes no difference over the long haul to kids with lower literacy skills.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A University of Manitoba study suggests that full-day kindergarten makes no difference over the long haul to kids with lower literacy skills.

The research team examined full-day kindergarten in the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine and in the schools with full-day kindergarten in St. James-Assiniboia School Division.

Marni Brownell, senior scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, says results soon to be published show while students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds made improvements in literacy levels in full-day kindergarten, the earlier gap with other children returned in later years.

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Brownell said the reason the gap reappears is because parents were not reinforcing literacy at home, were not reading to and with their kids, but they were modelling watching TV instead of reading themselves.

Brownell said her research group is also studying the possible impact on literacy skills of a combination of programs.

"There's lots of research that full-day kindergarten has an effect in getting kids ready for Grade 1," Brownell said.

"The literature shows that full-day kindergarten may not be the best program for closing the gap. Putting all your eggs in one basket doesn't make up the disadvantage."

DSFM and St. James-Assiniboia defended the benefits of their programs and challenged Brownell's conclusions.

Denis Ferre, superintendent of DSFM, said he didn't know anyone was analyzing data from his students.

He said he can't comment on a study not yet published, but he questioned comparing data from diagnostic assessments of students rather than standardized tests.

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The DSFM is very happy with the results of full-day kindergarten, Ferre said. "Our first purpose has to do with cultural identity and language learning. More time in the language gives you better fluency," he said. "We'll never go back."

Tanis Pshebniski, assistant superintendent of program and curriculum with St. James-Assiniboia, said any gain is positive.

"Over time, the gains weren't as great," she said the division found in its own research, but, "those kids still had a really great start."

Pshebniski said the division is not working with Brownell's team. The University of Manitoba team is analyzing provincial data, which is based on assessments, not testing, she pointed out.

The more types of supports and the earlier they come, the better kids do over time, Pshebniski said. St. James-Assiniboia has a wide variety of literacy support programs – one plan may help a child in kindergarten, other approaches work in Grade 4, she said.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg School Division has directed its finance committee to study the possibility of introducing a pilot program on both full-day nursery and full-day kindergarten as early as September.

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