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Md. children ill-prepared for entering kindergarten


Only about half of Maryland children are fully prepared for kindergarten when they enter school, the state reported yesterday, spurring calls from state officials for more early-childhood education.

Educators and politicians said this first report on the readiness of kindergartners demonstrates the need for full-day kindergarten and preschool programs, especially for poor and minority children.

"Child care used to be just glorified baby-sitting - just snacks and naps," said Del. Mark K. Shriver, a Democrat from Montgomery County. "The data show that when you invest in those critical first five years, those kids do well in first grade and right on through college."

Shriver is sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly that would require full-day kindergarten statewide in five years and pre-kindergarten for children at risk of failing. The state schools superintendent and members of the state school board endorsed that idea in a meeting yesterday.

"I hope we can put this in front of the policy-makers and convince them: Full-day kindergarten is needed," said Reginald L. Dunn, a state board member.

Also yesterday, the state board received a petition signed by 37 math professors from the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, College Park. The professors criticized the state's math standards as "defective" and called for a revision.

However, the board was more concerned with the report on school readiness. The report found that 49 percent of kindergartners were "fully ready" for school, while 44 percent were approaching readiness.

In the Baltimore area, Harford County was the best-performing school system, with 69 percent of children fully ready, followed by Howard County at 66 percent, Carroll County at 62 percent, Anne Arundel County at 51 percent, Baltimore County at 32 percent and Baltimore City at 28 percent ready - the lowest in the state.

Officials from several of those school systems said they had not seen the report and couldn't comment, but they echoed the state board's call for more money for early childhood programs.

"We need more money for teachers' salaries and construction" of classrooms, said Barbara Griffith, the early childhood coordinator in Anne Arundel.

Statewide, 21,500 children are in full-day kindergarten (with 35,000 in half-day kindergarten) and 20,300 are in a pre-K program.

To provide full-day kindergarten for all children would cost about $52 million over five years, the state estimates.

Shriver said that's a small price to pay for the long-term benefits.

"The state's priority should be to help our youngest, or else they'll fall behind and we'll spend hundreds of millions of dollars in remediation," he said.

The math professors who appeared before the board said Maryland high school graduates have trouble with college math because of poor preparation in high school. "The standards are absurdly low," said Jerome Dancis, an associate math professor at University of Maryland. "They have great difficulty in college."

He said the ninth-grade algebra taught in Maryland is on the same level as the sixth-grade math taught in California, based on his review of the two curricula. He asked the state to review and revise its standards with the help of college professors.

Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent of schools, said Maryland's standards were developed with the help of math professors, and that college-bound students take advanced math courses beyond ninth-grade algebra.

Also yesterday, the board received a status report on its recommendation last summer that schools cease using American Indian mascots.

Since then, 13 of the 26 schools in the state with such mascots have changed them. Eleven schools refused to change, and two others are considering it.

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