Intent on persuading Maryland's schools superintendent to support their efforts to reverse a key piece of the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms and give school boards more control over all-day kindergarten programs, Carroll County's superintendent and school board members expect to meet this week with state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick.
The meeting - scheduled for Wednesday - comes a week before the opening day of the 418th session of the Maryland General Assembly. The county's legislative delegation is expected to introduce a bill that would allow local officials statewide to determine whom to enroll in full-day kindergarten and how to do it, rolling back a requirement that all Maryland kindergartners be in all-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.
"We're still pursuing the idea that with the proper screening and identification and assurance that all students enter first grade ready to learn, it may be possible for us to persuade Dr. Grasmick to support a change to the ... law," said C. Scott Stone, president of the Carroll school board.
The meeting will serve as a follow-up to a session in September when Stone, fellow school board member Susan G. Holt and Carroll Superintendent Charles I. Ecker first met with the state's education leader to discuss modifying the kindergarten law.
Carroll school officials are expected to present Grasmick with a detailed plan - including the assessments they'd like to use to test children several months before they are scheduled to enter kindergarten. A draft of the school system's alternative to all-day kindergarten that was shared with parents in October called for spending $50,000 on school-readiness tests that would assess preschoolers' understanding of phonics and concepts about print, math skills, and social and personal behavior, along with their ability to identify letters and to hear sounds in words.
The assessments would allow Carroll to offer full-day kindergarten only to children whose scores indicate problems with basics that are the foundation for kindergarten instruction.
"We want to be held accountable for children's readiness, but we think how we do that ought to be a local option," Ecker said. "Full-day kindergarten is necessary and very good for a number of children. However, we feel that some children do not need full-day kindergarten because of experiences before they get to kindergarten, and some families don't want their children in full-day kindergarten."
All-day kindergarten is an issue that Grasmick has long championed. In an interview with The Sun in November, the state superintendent said she remains committed to the concept and will work hard to save it amid concerns about counties' inability to pay for the classroom space needed to expand half-day programs.
About half of Maryland's 5-year-olds in public schools attend all-day programs, and research proves its value, Grasmick said.
Despite those obstacles, Ecker said he is confident that Grasmick "will listen to and weigh all the pros and cons."
But Stone said he suspects that any debate over all-day kindergarten will be eclipsed by the state's looming budget crisis.
"I think the efforts by Carroll and other counties to see some change to the all-day kindergarten requirement are going to be completely overshadowed in this upcoming legislative session by discussion of whether Thornton is even going to be funded," he said, referring to the education reforms recommended by the state's Thornton Commission and contained in the Bridge to Excellence law. "My reading of differing accounts leads me to believe that both Republicans and Democrats are questioning whether the state can afford it.
"My sense is that there's going to be scant discussion of all-day kindergarten and overwhelming discussion of funding of the Bridge to Excellence itself," Stone added. "So I don't know what's going to happen."