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Study disputes benefits of all-day kindergarten

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

"By Grade 3, there were significant gaps" reappearing between kids who initially benefitted and kids coming from a more literate and affluent background, said Marni Brownell, senior scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

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

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.

Brownell said 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.

Their parents were not reinforcing literacy at home, they were not reading to and with their kids, but they were modelling watching TV instead of reading themselves, Brownell said. "That's one reason the gap is reappearing.

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

A surprised DSFM superintendent Denis Ferre said from Lorette he didn't know anyone was analyzing data from his students. He can't comment on a study not yet published, Ferre said: "I'm a little bit blindsided."

He questioned comparing data from diagnostic assessments of students rather than standardized tests.

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."

St. James-Assiniboia assistant superintendent of program and curriculum Tanis Pshebniski said "Any type of 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 -- U of M is analayzing 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.

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

Building literacy skills with parents "So that what they're learning at school is reinforced at home" could be vital, she said. She urged pre-school early years education: "You need to put in the supports quite early on, right from the get-go," she said. As well, "What needs to be studied, is what this does to social and emotional development."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A7

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Updated on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 7:20 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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