Beyond crayons and circle time: What California transitional kindergarten needs to succeed

Thanks to TikTok videos, billboards and other creative marketing techniques, enrollment in  transitional kindergarten in California appears to be climbing. But advocates are keeping an eye on how those 4-year-olds are spending their class time — which they say will be a key factor in whether the $2.7 billion program is a success.

“Quality is top of mind for us. Some districts are treating it like a second year of kindergarten, which we know doesn’t work,” said Benjamin Cottingham, with Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent, nonpartisan research center. “To be effective, TK needs to be a play-based, developmentally appropriate course of study.”

Transitional kindergarten, which California first launched in limited capacity in 2010, is meant to ease 4-year-olds into the rigors of elementary school. Ideally, it combines the carefree fun of preschool with a hint of structure and academic know-how, so children are better prepared for kindergarten and beyond. In a high-quality TK classroom, children learn to share and take turns, draw pictures and play with blocks, sit in a circle and enjoy story time, among other skills.

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