Making the Hours Count

With growing public interest in how states and localities provide access to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, policymakers are increasingly being forced to confront the numerous, contradictory ways in which children’s learning opportunities are measured. Labels like “half-day” and “full-day” have become widely embraced by state and local governments offering pre-K and kindergarten, but these terms have come to take on widely varying meanings. A full-day program, depending how it is defined by the state, city, or school district administering it, can entail anything up to four times as much class time as a half-day program, while half-day programs can also vary significantly in the number of days and hours they are administered. And while a good education requires more than just greater hours in a classroom, understanding the linkages between class time and learning outcomes is impossible as long as class time is so imprecisely measured.

A new paper from New America policy analyst Alexander Holt argues that these terms need to be scrapped: that governments and organizations using public revenue to fund education should be required to report publicly the number of hours that children have the opportunity to attend pre-K and kindergarten in their jurisdictions. The upshot will be fairer comparisons of learning time, allowing policymakers to make better judgments about the influence of classroom time on learning outcomes.


Making the Hours Count


Alexander Holt was a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. He studied the economics of higher education as well as the effect of the nonprofit sector on the U.S. economy.