University of Pittsburgh
July 14, 2008

Full-Day vs. Half-Day Kindergarten: Are There Benefits and How Long Do They Last?

Pitt psychologist says full-day kindergarten promotes gains in reading and math skills but these gains are no longer evident by third grade

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-As full-day kindergarten becomes more popular throughout the United States, parents may wonder if the full-day programs pay off for children, academically, in the long run.

A new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Loyola University in Chicago says the academic benefits are more short-term.

The study, published in the July/August 2008 issue of the journal "Child Development," suggests that full-day kindergarten promotes academic achievement and those children have slightly better reading and math skills than children in part-day kindergarten. However, those initial academic benefits diminish early in elementary school.

Pitt assistant professor of psychology Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, the study's lead author, worked with data on 13,776 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, a study of a nationally representative group of kindergarteners. Votruba-Drzal and her colleagues measured children's academic achievement in math and reading in the fall and spring of their kindergarten and first-grade years, and in the spring of their third- and fifth-grade years. The researchers looked at the type and extent of child care the children received outside of the kindergarten classroom, the quality of cognitive stimulation they received at home, and their families' poverty level.

"These study results suggest that the shift from part-day to full-day kindergarten programs occurring across the United States may have positive implications for the child's learning trajectories in the short run," says Votruba-Drzal. "They also highlight characteristics of children and their families that are noteworthy in explaining why the full-day advantages fade relatively quickly."

Overall, the study found that reading and math skills of children in full-day kindergarten grew faster from the fall to the spring of their kindergarten year, compared to the academic skills of children in part-day kindergarten. However, the full-day kindergarteners' gains in reading and math did not last far beyond their kindergarten year. In fact, from the spring of their kindergarten year through fifth grade, the academic skills of children in part-day kindergarten grew faster than those of children in full-day kindergarten. The advantage of full-day versus part-day programs was no longer evident by the spring of third grade.

According to the researchers, this is owing, in part, to the fact that the children in part-day kindergarten were from more socio-economically advantaged situations and had more stimulating home environments than those in full-day programs.