Nearly Half Of Nation's Teachers Worry About Children Entering Kindergarten

April 14, 1998

By LOYD LITTLE and DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Nearly half the nation's teachers are concerned about children now entering kindergarten, according to a new survey by the National Center for Early Development and Learning. Teachers most frequently say children's ability to follow directions and academic skills are inadequate. Researchers presented their findings Tuesday (April 14) at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association in San Diego. The national center is a consortium of universities based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.

"Entrance into kindergarten marks children's first interaction with formal schooling, and research shows that success during this first year may predict later school success," said Dr. Robert C. Pianta of the University of Virginia. "This transition may be critical in helping meet the national goal that all children enter school ready to learn."

Pianta co-directed the survey study with Dr. Martha Cox of UNC-CH's Graham Center.

Nearly 3,600 U.S. teachers last spring answered questionnaires, which identified concerns about children's move into kindergarten and first grade. Researchers wanted to know what teachers were doing about such transitions and what barriers they saw to smoother, more productive school entry.

Teachers reported that 52 percent of children entered kindergarten successfully, while 48 percent had moderate to serious problems. The following percentages of teachers said that half or more of their students began kindergarten experiencing problems with: following directions, 46; academic skills, 36; home environment, 35; working independently, 34; working in a group, 30; immaturity, 20; and communicating, 14.

Teachers expressed concerns less frequently in suburban and rural schools, in districts with less poverty and in schools with fewer minority students, Pianta said. Less experienced teachers reported more transition problems

Concerns may reflect a mismatch between children's competencies and teacher expectations, he said. White teachers also perceived more difficulty by children in following directions, more social problems and greater immaturity in schools with many minority students compared to teachers from other ethnic groups.

Of 23 possible transition practices used by teachers for children entering kindergarten, the most common were talking with parents, writing letters to them and holding open houses. The least common, but one of the most valuable, was home visiting.

Teachers in schools with less affluent students relied more heavily on group-oriented practices that occurred after the beginning of school than teachers did in other settings, the survey showed.

"These lower-intensity practices probably run counter to what the children and families need to connect with the school," Pianta said.

Teachers reported that a major barrier to helping more was that class lists were generated too late -- an average 15 days before the first school day. If class lists were received earlier, teachers could arrange meetings with parents and children more easily before kindergarten begins.

The survey also looked at the transition between kindergarten and first-grade.

Fewer than 25 percent of teachers reported attending transition meetings with parents, sending parents information on how placements in first grade were made, meeting to plan transitions for individual children or planning activities for children with special needs.

"Kindergarten teachers in the U.S., on average, have many years of teaching experience at the kindergarten level and tend to be well-educated," Pianta said. "Many have a master's degree. However, it is striking how few have any formal training or currently receive information about transition practices."

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement supported the survey.
-end-
Note: Call Martha Cox and Robert Pianta at (919) 966-3509 and (804) 243-5483, respectively, after the meeting. On April 14-16, Cox can be reached at (919) 261-6812.

Graham Center Contact: Loyd Little, 966-0867.
News Services Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.



University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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