More Minnesota preschoolers ready for kindergarten, study shows

/ 11 December 2013 / eunice

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, December 11, 2013 – More Minnesota preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, a key indicator of future academic success.

That’s a result of the latest study of kindergarten preparedness the Minnesota Department of Education released Wednesday. It found 73 percent of children surveyed had the skills necessary to succeed in kindergarten classrooms in 2012, up from 60 percent the year before.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement announcing the study’s results that improving families’ access to preschool was paying off.

“Our focus has been on widening access to high quality early learning for all kids and aligning those programs with schools,” Cassellius said. “Today’s announcement shows that more students are benefiting — and will continue to benefit — from our approach and the investments we are making.”

More than 7,500 kindergartners from 126 elementary schools around the state were assessed at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. The survey examined students’ physical and social development, language and literacy levels, and skills in mathematics and the arts.

Barbara Yates, chairwoman of the state’s early learning council and president of advocate Think Small, said the results show Minnesota is on the right path, but too many children from disadvantaged communities still are unprepared.

“Minnesota has made a great start, and we’re moving in the right direction,” Yates said. “But we know we still have more to do to ensure every child has what they need to start school fully prepared, to achieve reading by third grade and to grow to be successful in school and life.”

Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, said groups such as the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation have been working since 2006 to spread the word to families about the long-term benefits of preschool programs.

Educators around the nation are pushing to get more children enrolled in early learning programs. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Twin Cities earlier this year to push President Barack Obama’s plan to provide preschool to nearly every child, paying for it with higher cigarette taxes.

In 2011, Minnesota won a $45 million grant as part of the federal competitive school innovation program called Race to the Top.

In 2013, the DFL-controlled Legislature approved $40 million in new funding for preschool scholarships. The latest education funding bill also included money for all-day kindergarten.

Republican lawmakers have criticized DFLers’ push for all-day kindergarten, saying the money would be better spent on other programs, such as more preschool in struggling communities.

Even with the influx of new preschool grants in the latest education budget, only a quarter of the state’s demand for preschool is being met.