Just about everyone in Idaho has an opinion about all-day kindergarten.

Gov. Brad Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” education task force thinks it’s a good idea.

By and large, Republican lawmakers do not.

But if you really want to know what’s going on, ask a kindergarten teacher.

Call her Kate.

Kate, the Idaho Reading Indicator says that 57 percent of students who started kindergarten this fall failed. How come?

KATE: The IRI asks if they can identify a handful of letters. For most kids, being able to print their names is enough.

It means understanding a question and responding.

It means being able to recognize household items — such as a TV set — and parts of a body — such as a hand.

And it means being aware of how some words sound alike while others do not.

If a child is prepared for kindergarten, he can count at least five objects.

He recognizes colors and shapes.

He knows how to hold a pencil.

And being prepared means being able to socially interact in a group, waiting your turn, sharing and complying with authority.

So why are so many children showing up not ready to learn?

KATE: The gap is literally growing on both ends. We raise the standards while the well-being of our children is getting worse.

Some of that is because of poverty. If you’re working at two jobs, you don’t have time to read to your kids.

Some of it is trauma. About 40 percent have two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences. It can be physical abuse or emotional neglect. It can be divorce. It can involve being forced to move a lot of times. It can be addiction in the household. Those are things that shut down their ability to learn.

Even kids who grow up in stable, economically comfortable homes come to school having been socially cocooned because interacting with technology has replaced playing with other children.

I see lower social skills and an increase in extreme behavior — children who come in and tip over chairs, throw things and don’t respond to authority.

Some children even find it hard to express whether they’re sad or angry. They simply lack the vocabulary.

So we have to teach the basics. Once they get the tools, however, they can and do make a great deal of progress.

So if you’re working on helping that 57 percent catch up, what happens to the 43 percent who are ready?

KATE: I won’t minimize the challenges. Idaho’s classrooms are large. I’ve got 23 kids by myself.

But you can come up with teaching methods to address each group’s needs. The same reading lesson that teaches advanced students how to spell a word will allow kids in the middle to recognize a word while students just getting started could review the letters.

But if you’re going to pack that many kids in a classroom, that teacher needs to be experienced and educated in the best practices.

If you haven’t noticed, Idaho doesn’t pay its veteran teachers what they could earn by moving to other states.

So what difference does half-day vs. all-day kindergarten make?

KATE: Teaching young children is hands on. It has to make sense to them.

That takes time.

Put it this way. Half-day kindergarten begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 11:30 a.m. P.E., library and other programs take about 30 minutes. Recess requires another 15 minutes. Interruptions, opening and closing class will eat up 15 minutes more.

That leaves you about 90 minutes for instruction.

All-day kindergarten starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. After you factor in time for lunch, recess, interruptions and other programs, you still have about 4½ hours for instruction.

By doubling the day, you’ve tripled the time available to teach.

So what do you say to Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, who said of the IRI result: “The real answer is all kids are ready for kindergarten”?

KATE: Why are we wasting our time and money giving the IRI if they don’t believe the scores? It’s their test, not mine. It is the state’s standard that defines ready to learn.

And what about legislators overall who resist this idea of all-day kindergarten because young children ought to be home with “Mom.”

KATE: Show me how many kids are home with “Mom.”

Where’s Mom?

Mom’s working.

Let me ask you a question: Where are the legislators?

What do you mean?

KATE: I’ve been at this a while. In all that time, I haven’t seen one show up in any of my classrooms to learn what’s going on.

Did any politician ever stop by?

KATE: Butch Otter in 1993.

If that was 1993, then Otter was the lieutenant governor, not a legislator.

KATE: I would just say to them: The decisions legislators make impact real, little human beings. They need first-hand knowledge and not just hearsay before they form their opinions on what they vote on. — M.T.

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