SB 11: Delaying Pre-K would be a step back for Oklahoma’s children

Updated 3/4/19: SB 11 has been amended to change the cutoff date for children entering pre-K from September 1st to August 1st, rather than July 1st as in the original version of the bill. The amended bill passed the Senate Education Committee with a vote of 9-5 on February 26th. 

This session, Ada Senator Greg McCortney filed SB 11, which would move cutoff dates for children entering pre-kindergarten (pre-K) from September 1 to July 1.  If this change takes effect, students would have to turn four by July 1st rather than September 1st to be eligible for pre-K. Oklahoma would be the only state to have a cutoff before July 31st.  The change would delay pre-K eligibility by a year for children who are two months shy of the new cutoff date.

Sen. McCortney explained that SB 11 intends to give children more time to mature. While the bill addresses teachers’ valid concerns, moving the pre-K cutoff date would mean rolling back significant progress Oklahoma has made as a leader in universal early childhood education.  The change would restrict parental control over when to send their children to school and minimize proven benefits of early childhood interventions.  SB 11 would particularly hurt low-income families and children of color who benefit most from pre-K programs.  Delaying pre-K for Oklahoma’s children is not a win for our state.

Oklahoma is a leader in universal pre-K 

While likely not its intent, SB 11 actually restricts access to pre-K for parents who believe their children will benefit from entering pre-K as a “young” 4-year old, and it does little else. 

In 1998, Oklahoma became the third state in the nation to offer free, voluntary universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year old children.  Since that time, Oklahoma has topped other states with 75 percent of eligible four-year-olds enrolled, and the state has received high marks for quality.  The state requires pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and certification in early childhood education and ensures that classes with more than ten students have a teaching assistant. 

Oklahoma’s education leaders understood that high-quality programs are essential to making gains in a state where children experience significant poverty. Currently, 21 percent of Oklahoma children live in poverty, and 71 percent of fourth graders scored below proficient in reading.  School-readiness is a robust predictor of long-term reading and math achievement, and of overall well-being.  Getting children into school early can significantly help students overcome barriers related to poverty.

Children experiencing poverty are less likely to be school ready

Children in families experiencing poverty face greater psychological distress from economic insecurity that can negatively impact their cognitive and emotional development.  Students in high-poverty districts, such as Ada, are likely to enter school a year behind their peers in academic skills and without the proper socioemotional skills needed to succeed.  While giving children extra time to mature before starting school is well-intentioned, there is little reason to expect that low-income students will be any more prepared for the curriculum or learning environment by spending an additional year out of the classroom.  In fact, results from Tulsa’s pre-K program show that students who attend pre-K are more kindergarten ready (measured by higher cognitive, motor, and language skills) than their peers who just missed pre-K cut off dates and entered the following year.  

SB 11 would delay school readiness for students who need it the most

Our state has made school readiness a top priority because lawmakers and educators understand that the state’s high-quality pre-K can dramatically reduce achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color and significantly improve language, literacy and math skills for all children.  Critical learning pathways develop between the ages of zero to five, and ensuring that children begin kindergarten with the skills they need is the most effective way to reduce disparities as students advance through school. Oklahoma business leaders have long supported early learning initiatives because they understand the vital link between early childhood education and a future skilled workforce. In short, SB 11 would not fix the problem it aims to address. Instead, it would delay progress for kids who need pre-K the most. 

SB 11 is well-intentioned but not evidence-based 

The push behind SB 11 stems primarily from teachers who are concerned that some children entering pre-K are not developmentally ready to begin school.  Sen. McCortney heard from teachers in Ada who said that their pre-K students sometimes are not fully potty-trained, and they often feel like they are working in a daycare rather than a school.  SB 11 supporters believe that children with late birthdays would benefit from a delayed start date, by spending an extra year out of the classroom in order to mature before entering pre-K.  However, pushing the pre-K start date back does not align with research that shows how participation in quality pre-K can significantly boost school readiness for children of diverse races, ethnicities, and income brackets.  

SB 11 could widen the opportunity gap 

Moving the pre-K cutoff date back to July 1st could unintentionally exacerbate the opportunity gap by preventing children from gaining the skills they need to be kindergarten-ready.  The decision to send your child to pre-K is already voluntary in Oklahoma, so parents currently have the option to hold their child back and wait a year before sending them to pre-K.  While likely not its intent, SB 11 actually restricts access to pre-K for parents who believe their children will benefit from entering pre-K as a “young” 4-year old, and it does little else. 

We should address root causes rather than symptoms

While SB 11 would do little to address teacher concerns at the heart of the bill, this does not mean that these issues should be ignored.  Pre-K teachers are tasked with great challenges given the enormous potential early learning can have on students’ future success.  Instead of delaying school, we should focus on equipping teachers with proper resources to adequately meet student needs.  All children enter school with varying abilities, and low-income students often need additional supports to help them overcome barriers.  A thorough look into the challenges facing early education teachers would help identify the root cause of these concerns, so that solutions properly address the underlying problems in our youngest classrooms.  Unfortunately, SB 11 misses this mark and may instead worsen a problem it intends to correct. 

[Image Source: U.S. Department of Education / Flickr]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Fine joined OK Policy in July 2018 as the education policy analyst. Originally from New York, she began her career in education as an Oklahoma teacher. Rebecca proudly comes from a family of educators, and spent four years teaching middle school in Tulsa and Union Public Schools. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science from the University of Rochester and received an M.A. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

7 thoughts on “SB 11: Delaying Pre-K would be a step back for Oklahoma’s children

  1. According to the author bio this author has never taught in a PreK classroom thus writing an article condemning SB 11 which Early Childhood educators helped develop and support seems a bit cavalier. She seems to have quoted (repeatedly) studies on high quality early education benefits which no early educator would argue with but has left out many studies which show how these younger 4’s(many times 3 year olds when they start) are over-identified with ADHD or learning disabilities. So if you are going to represent and regurgitate data, please provide information equally. Also, I love how she sidesteps the qualifications of trained teachers to say “ Oklahoma business leaders have long supported early education initiatives because they understand the benefits…” That is one of the biggest problems educators face today is that they are told by unqualified and untrained legislators or business leaders or people in decision making positions how qualified and trained education professionals should do their job. I am disappointed in this article by an otherwise well respected organization.

    1. Thank you Andrea! The problem is that everyone thinks they know better than the educator who has spent years on their specialized degree and have years of experience. This article missed the mark!

  2. This is a terrible idea. I teach first grade and you can definitely tell the young ones from the older more mature students. Parents are sending their kids early already, for free childcare, and they are not ready. We keep pushing and pushing kids to do things they are not ready to do.

  3. Great food for thought both in the article, the comment here, and in the comments on Facebook. For the ADHD counter-argument, I wonder if that is simply the youngest kids in any cohort would be misidentified or if there really is something to a 3yr 10 mo old kid being developmentally unready versus the 4 year old. I need to read more about that. If it is just the youngest, not a specific young age, then the bill won’t help necessarily as you will still have a youngest kid no matter what. Older kids to get misidentified for being bigger, stronger and smarter when they are just older and younger kids are more likely to look like an unfocused, ADHD type of kid. That’s what I see as a high school teacher. Age matters and I never blame a family with summer babies from waiting if they can afford to wait and provide a good environment. But for families with disadvantages, I think there is a pretty good argument for protecting the opportunity for education. We know older kids from disadvantaged situations slide hard in the summer, while those with good options don’t need school in the same way. Those July-Sept kids from certain situations will GREATLY benefit from having the opportunity for Pre-K. Their parents can work and they can be in a richer environment.

    I also wonder if the bill moves the cut-offs for the other grades or will it produce a 10 month cohort in the pre-K? If it moves all dates, I think every grade would adjust to the new cutoff and have the same young kid problems every cohort has. For me that is not worth denying disadvantaged families access. If it is a 10 month cohort it gets trickier, I guess I could see that helping a pre-K be more cohesive group. But is the gain in cohesion by the age limit worth the loss of access for those kids delayed in their entry?

  4. The legislation addresses moving the cut-off date 30 days earlier than any other state. The article seems to be arguing that this is equivalent to the elimination of early childhood education for these children. It clearly is not. The legislation doesn’t prevent them from having that education it just defers it for one year for those born in the two months between the current and the proposed cut-off dates.

  5. And obviously she is NOT trained in early childhood. Don’t you think you should leave it to the experts in that area. She missed the mark on this! I don’t know of any certified early childhood educator who would agree with her perspective!

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