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Full-day and Half-day Kindergarten in the United States: Findings from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99


Full-day and Half-day Kindergarten in the United States is the latest in a series of reports from the National Center for Education Statistics using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K). A major trend in kindergarten programs that has occurred in the past few decades is an increase in the prevalence of kindergarten classes that meet for the entire school day rather than just a part of the day. This report describes the schools, both public and private, that offer full-day and half-day kindergarten programs and the children who attend them. It also describes many characteristics of public school full-day and half-day kindergarten classes including the teacher's use of instructional activities and their curriculum focus. The report ends with an examination of the reading and mathematics progress made by children in full-day classes compared to half-day classes in public schools.

Enrollment in Full-day and Half-day Kindergarten

  • In the 1998-99 school year, 61 percent of all U. S. schools that had a kindergarten program offered at least one full-day kindergarten class.
  • A larger percent of Catholic schools offered full-day kindergarten (78 percent) compared to other private schools (63 percent) or public schools (57 percent).
  • A larger percent of public schools in the South offered full-day kindergarten (84 percent) compared to public schools in other regions of the country (57 percent in the Midwest, 38 percent in the West, and 37 percent in the Northeast).
  • Full-day kindergarten was also more prevalent in public schools located in cities (64 percent) and in small towns or rural areas (63 percent) compared with suburban or large town areas (46 percent). Overall, 56 percent of kindergarten children attended a full-day program. Among public school kindergartners, 54 percent attended a full-day program. The percentage was higher among private school kindergartners ( 67%).
  • In public schools, 79 percent of Black kindergarten children attended a full-day program; this is a higher rate than was found for White (49 percent), Hispanic (46 percent) or Asian (40 percent) public school kindergartners. Additionally, public school kindergartners whose family income was below the federal poverty threshold attended full-day programs at a higher rate (62 percent) than those from more affluent families (51 percent).
  • The average number of children in public school full-day classes was slightly higher than in half-day classes (20.3 vs. 19.1). A large majority of both full-day and half-day classes spent time everyday on reading and language arts activities (97 and 96 percent, respectively).

Time Spent on Reading, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science

  • Sixty-eight percent of full-day classes spent more than an hour per day on reading instruction compared to 37 percent of half-day classes.
  • Full-day classes were more likely than half-day classes to spend time every day on math (90 and 73 percent, respectively), social studies (30 and 18 percent, respectively), and science (24 and 10 percent, respectively). On the days when mathematics was taught, 81percent of full-day classes spent more than a half an hour per day on mathematics instruction compared to 52 percent of half-day classes.

Reading and Mathematics Learning

The ECLS-K children were assessed in reading/language arts and in mathematics in the fall and in the spring of the kindergarten year. The amount of change between a child's fall score and spring score on these assessments represents the amount of learning that occurred in that subject area during the kindergarten year. This progress was compared for full-day and half-day kindergarten children in the public schools. The findings indicate that:

  • Children in full-day classes learned more during the year in both reading and mathematics compared to those in half-day classes after adjusting for learning differences associated with race/ethnicity, poverty status, fall achievement level, sex, class size, relative amount of time for subject area instruction, and the presence of an instructional aide.
  • Children in very large classes (25+) made slightly less progress in reading compared to those in medium size classes (18-24). Additionally, the presence of a classroom aide was not associated with differences in reading progress among White children in either half-day or full-day programs; however, Black children in full-day classes with an aide made greater progress in reading compared to Black children in full-day classes without an aide.
  • Overall, the results presented in this report support previous research on full-day kindergarten and its positive association with learning in reading and mathematics during the kindergarten year.