BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) — Beaverton schools opened Tuesday and Gov. Kate Brown visited one elementary school to welcome the youngest students.
The governor touted the importance of full-day kindergarten, which was available to less than half of Oregon's 5-year-olds a year ago. The Legislature increased funding earlier this year, leading school districts to create more than 1,000 new full-day kindergarten classes.
Brown said a focus on early learning is vital to lifting test scores and closing the "opportunity gap."
"It's really important that we follow up full-day kindergarten with high-quality, rigorous and strong and aligned classroom work at every single grade level and that's what we're working on doing," Brown told KOIN-TV.
Schools are not required to offer more than half a day of kindergarten, but they forfeit their share of the new millions if they don't. The Oregonian newspaper reported that it could not find any districts sticking with half-day classes.
The change has been especially great in districts such as Hillsboro, Salem and Eugene. Last year, nearly every kindergarten class in those districts lasted two hours and 45 minutes. Now, they are all full-day.
Oregon educators have spent years pushing for an expanded kindergarten day, citing the state's persistently low rate of third-graders who read at grade level.
Curriculum directors and kindergarten teachers say half-day classes are too rushed. In a six-hour school day, lessons go into much greater depth and allow for more practice. Being together as a class all day also permits more attention to skills such as cooperation, patience, perseverance and anger control.
"You can do real teaching, not just a drive-by," said Paula Nelson, a Portland teacher who taught half-day kindergarten for 19 years before switching to full-day last year.
At least 12 other states already provide full-day kindergarten to all their students. Washington schools will hold full-day classes for 72 percent of kindergartners this year and all of them next year, state officials said.