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The following is the final report on the Town-Wide random survey conducted between late April, 2004 and June 1, 2004, about Full Day Kindergarten. Dr. Kenneth Dautrich, who was the Director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut at the time, designed and analyzed this survey. It was distributed to 1,400 households in Mansfield. 552 surveys were returned, many with comments. In order to frame and understand the issues surrounding Full Day Kindergarten, Dr.Dautrich conducted focus groups and interviews. This report has been submitted to the Mansfield Board of Education.

Findings from the Full-Day Kindergarten Survey


Kenneth Dautrich, Ph.D.

University of Connecticut Center for Survey Research and Analysis

Background and Methodology:

In 2003 the Mansfield Department of Social Services, working in conjunction with the Mansfield Board of Education, agreed to explore the topic of full-day kindergarten. Working under a “Discovery Grant” from the Graustein Foundation, both departments believed that, prior to implementation of a full-day kindergarten program in the public school system, it was important to gauge the level of knowledge, interest, and commitment in this change by various members of the community. Previously a limited survey was given to parents of children entering kindergarten, and the Board decided that a more extensive survey of a broad cross-section of the community was needed. The Town of Mansfield was fortunate to obtain the assistance of resident Dr. Kenneth Dautrich, who, at the time was serving as the Director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

A survey was developed over several months using questions and issues raised in two “Community Conversations” that occurred in November of 2003 and January of 2004. Also in January, Dr. Dautrich conducted a series of focus groups with Mansfield schoolteachers, as well as parents of preschool and kindergarten students. Each focus group lasted about an hour and was structured to identify the important issues with respect to half-day and full-day kindergarten. Subsequently, a questionnaire was drafted and distributed to a number of people in the town and within the school system for feedback and revision. Ultimately, content and format of the questionnaire was based Dr. Dautrich’s experience about the important issues that surfaced from the various people who participated in the process.

The survey was distributed in late April of 2004. A scientifically-generated random sample of 1400 households (taken from approximately 4000 households) was created from the list of taxpayers. The system used to generate the list of individuals who received the survey met accepted standards for survey validity. The important part of a sampling process is that every household has the same chance of being selected for the sample. To accomplish this objective, an electronic database was used to assign each household a random number, generating a list of 1400 households to be surveyed. Because the process of choosing the households is a random, the results of this survey may be generalized to the entire population of Mansfield.

The 552 households that responded represented a large enough group to generalize the results to the entire population. Of the 1400 households that received the survey, a total of 552 returned the questionnaire. Dr. Dautrich has noted that the return rate was better than the typical rate of return for a survey done by mail. With a sample of 552 (given a population of 4000 households) the sampling error for the survey was determined to be plus or minus 3 %.

Key Findings/Responses to Survey Questions:

The survey began by first attempting to assess respondents’ familiarity with the public school system. The initial question related to support or opposition to implementation of full-day kindergarten simply presented people with the following statement:

Currently, the Mansfield public school system has a half-day kindergarten program. The half-day program is one in which children attend school on weekdays for two hours and 45 minutes per day (either in the morning or in the afternoon). A proposal is being considered to change Mansfield’s half-day kindergarten program to a full-day program. In the proposed full-day program, children would attend a full six-hour school day, similar to the length of the day for grades 1 through 4.
Would you support or oppose changing the kindergarten program in the Mansfield public schools from half-day to full-day?

--Support strongly
--Support somewhat
--Oppose somewhat
--Oppose strongly
--I’m not sure

This general question was posed before discussing any of the more specific issues related to full-day kindergarten, to measure general top-of-the line support or opposition in moving the kindergarten program from a half-day to a full-day program. What we found among all respondents was a significantly higher percentage of people who would support going from a half-day to a full-day program, rather than opposing it. Specifically, 53% said they supported going from a half-day to a full-day program, and 35% said they opposed it. Consequently, on the basis of general information describing the proposed change, residents are in favor of moving from a half-day to a full-day system by about 18 percentage points.

At the end of the questionnaire, we asked the respondents whether or not they had school-age children in the household. In asking this question, we were able to separate out Mansfield residents, based on whether or not they have children in the schools, to see how they responded to this particular question. What we found was that among households with children at home, fully 60% said they support changing from a half-day to a full-day program, as opposed to 31% who opposed it. This measns that by a 2 to 1 margin, those who support moving to a full-day program, outnumber those who oppose moving to a full-day program.

In addition, we found that even among those households without children - those who don’t have a direct vested interest in this issue - more people support the idea of moving to the full-day program. Specifically 47% of those in households with no children support the idea, as opposed to 39% who opposed it. In summary, we found that regardless of whether or not there are children who might be affected by the proposed change in the kindergarten program, survey results indicated that significantly more people supported the change to full-day kindergarten than those who opposed it.

As part of the survey process, we believed that it was important to familiarize the respondents with the important issues behind the full-day/half-day discussion. We attempted to do this by taking the main arguments that emerged in the focus groups and “Community Conversations” and present them in the survey, so that respondents could react to the arguments that either are opposed or in favor of starting a full-day program. To accomplish this objective, we presented five arguments that favored moving to a full-day program, and five different arguments that favored a keeping the half-day program. What we found in the survey responses was that, among the arguments that were presented for the full-day system, there were more people who agreed with these arguments than disagreed with them. The following two arguments received the highest level of support:

1st – Kindergarten should be extended because many children are now shuffled from daycare to kindergarten and a full-day system will reduce these transitions. 59% agreed with that argument only 26% disagreed with it.
2nd-- Kindergarten should be extended because it will be more supportive of parents who work during the day. 57% agreed with that and only 32% disagreed with it.

The other three arguments that were made in favor of full-day Kindergarten received more support than opposition. Those arguments are:

  • Kindergarten should be extended because it will give the teachers more time to get to know and work with students.
  • Kindergarten should be extended because it will provide more time during the day for children to learn at a more relaxed pace.
  • Kindergarten should be extended because it will improve the child’s preparedness for first grade.
All of these arguments received more support than opposition. It is important to note that the two that have the highest levels of agreement are around the argument about the extension of the day because it will help parents and the extension of the day because it will result in fewer transitions for children. The arguments are compelling for a majority of people going to the full-day kindergarten, but the arguments that are most compelling are for logistical reasons, rather than curricular or academic reasons. Residents appear to be very sympathetic to the fact that parents work, and are even more supportive of moving to a full-day kindergarten to deal with the logistical problems encountered by parents who have children in school.

The following five arguments were presented as reasons for opposition to moving to a full-day system:

  1. Kindergarten should not be extended because it will increase the costs of maintaining the public schools and cause property taxes to rise.
  2. Kindergarten should not be extended because it will require 5-year-old children to be away from home for too long a period of time.
  3. Kindergarten should not be extended because it will reduce the amount of time that children have to spend with their family.
  4. Kindergarten should not be extended because it will place too much stress on children.
  5. Kindergarten should not be extended because this change is more aimed at providing daycare for kindergarteners than at enhancing the quality of education.
Our findings indicate that for all of these arguments, there are more residents who disagree with them, as opposed to agreeing with them. The survey revealed the following results:

  • Kindergarten should not be extended because it will reduce the amount of time that children have to spend with their family- 52% disagree with that argument, 34% agree with it.
  • Kindergarten should not be extended because it will require 5-year-old children to be away from home for too long a period of time- 47% disagree 39% agree.
  • Kindergarten should not be extended because it will place too much stress on children- 48% disagreed with that and 33% agreed with it.
The two other arguments presented for opposing the move to a full-day program also revealed more people disagreeing than agreeing.

In summary, when arguments are made that either support or oppose full-day kindergarten and presented to a scientific-selected sample of town residents, we find that the arguments in favor of changing to a full-day program, are more compelling to the respondents.

Another important finding from the survey deals with whether people support or oppose giving parents the option of selecting half-day versus full-day. This issue was discussed in the focus groups and “Community Conversations,” to discover whether or not parents who do not want to send their children to a full-day program, should have the option of keeping their children in a half-day program. The following questions were presented:

If a full-day kindergarten program is offered, do you think that parents/guardians should or should not have the option of placing their children in a half-day program?
--Should have the option of half-day
--Should not have the option of half-day
--I’m not sure

If you had to choose between Mansfield public schools offering a half-day kindergarten program or a full-day kindergarten program, which would you choose?

--Half-day Kindergarten program
--Full-day kindergarten program
--I’m not sure

That argument that parents should have a choice was very compelling to the respondents. The survey results indicated that 67% of residents say that those who have kindergartners should have the option of selecting a half-day program for them, while only 18% say that there should not be a half-day option.

Another group of concerns that emerges when dealing with new programs or enhanced programs with any town service deals with the issue of costs and how to pay for those new services. We are aware that in Mansfield moving from a half-day to a full-day system would require increased resources to pay for those costs. The Superintendent’s office was able to identify the resources that would be required, and an estimate was developed to reflect the cost of moving from a half-day to a full-day system. This estimate indicated that the cost of this change would be an increase of approximately 1.5% to a typical property tax bill. Given this, the following question was presented in the survey:

Moving from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten program will require increased financial support for the public schools. It is estimated that local property taxes will need to increase by about 1.5% to fund a full-day program. Would you support or oppose adopting the full-day kindergarten program if that meant a 1.5% increase in your property taxes?
--Support strongly
--Support somewhat
--Oppose somewhat
--Oppose strongly
--I’m not sure

The response to this question indicates that overall, 49% of town residents continue to support the change from a half-day to a full-day program, with 45% in opposition. These results indicate an expected change from the generic question of support vs. opposition ( 53% supporting full-day Kindergarten; 35% opposed). It is clear that introducing the concept of increased property taxes does reduce the extent to which there is support in changing to a full-day program; however, more people still support the idea of changing to a full-day program, than those who oppose it, with 49% in favor vs. 45% opposed.

These numbers are important in and of themselves, but also in the context of other town surveys the Center for Survey Research and Analysis has conducted concerning support for municipal services when increased costs are known. Over the past three to four years, the Center has conducted surveys in the towns of West Hartford, Meriden, Hartford, Greenwich, Windsor, Waterford and Stamford. These surveys have indicated that when people are presented with the information that they will have to pay more money for a town service, it is rare to find a majority of people supporting (rather than opposing) the addition of the new service. In this instance, we have 4% more people who support the change from the half-day to the full-day kindergarten program, even though it will cost them more money.

Summary:

Although, these findings are preliminary, they offer some important guidance to the Board of Education and the Town as it goes about making a decision about the kindergarten program. Is it clear that there is support for a change to a full-day kindergarten program, among a broad cross-section of residents, even if there is a 1.5% increase in the mill rate to accomplish the change. The major concern seems to center on preserving the half-day option for those parents who do not wish to participate.

Click here to see the actual result percentages of the survey. (pdf document)