Rebecca Haessig is former director of education initiatives at the Kauffman Foundation. Prior to that she developed strategy and change initiatives for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She began her career in international development, leading programs to strengthen civic organizations in the Middle East and North Africa. She received her BA from the University of Virginia and an MA in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the mother of a pre-school son and a charter school student in Kansas City, Missouri.
Rebecca does not represent Do the Right Thing for Kids, but we respect the rigorous, fact oriented basis of her writing and recommend her ideas for our followers’ consideration. Her op-ed piece “Kansas City district should decentralize and set the schools free” appeared in the January 19, 2016 issue of the Kansas City Star. We present here her first three blogs on her Set the Schools Free site. Go to the site to receive future blogs.
Kindergarten. It’s an important year for a lot of reasons.
It’s the gateway to formal schooling, our first “touch” with the education system. It’s the first time that we, as parents, are asked to entrust a public institution with the care and education of our child. And it’s where our children, we hope, begin to develop a life-long love of learning.
From an individual school or school district perspective, kindergarten is the beginning of the K-12 student pipeline. It’s the most common point of entry into the system, with more new students entering the system at one time than during any subsequent grade.
(Around 2500 students enrolled in kindergarten at public schools – KCPS and charter – within our school district boundaries in 2015–2016).
Kindergarten is probably also the cheapest entry point, with fewer administrative costs associated with acquiring a student during this first year of school than in subsequent grades.
So kindergarten is a pretty strategic year, actually. If you can attract families during this first year and give them a really good kindergarten experience, you increase the likelihood that they’ll become invested in your school, and stay with you for subsequent years.
In the process you hope that they’ll tell all your friends about what a great school you are, giving you some really great, free marketing.
The opposite is also true. If a family has a bad kindergarten experience at your school, and other quality options exist (perceived or real), they are probably more likely to leave after this first year than any other. Why? Because they have choices. They aren’t yet invested in your school and have no reason to stay.
(Families who leave will probably also give you free marketing –just not the kind you’re looking for).
So kindergarten matters. And for this reason kindergarten enrollment numbers can actually be an important and really interesting barometer of overall system health.
What does public school enrollment for kindergarten look like across our school district, both KCPS and charter, and what does it reveal about school preference? And what do these numbers tell us about what our district’s public school sector may look like in the future?
Part Three: Kindergarten Math Part III: Raising the Bar