Against a backdrop of school accountability policies in which standards, assessments, and high-stakes consequences attached to test scores have elevated the importance of academic preparation and performance, the kindergarten classroom has become increasingly academics-focused. The growing emphasis on academics at kindergarten has fostered a number of concerns. First, prior research suggests that although kindergarten has become increasingly academics-focused at all income levels, this is especially true for upper-income children. To the extent that an academically-oriented curriculum is associated with improved achievement, then the school readiness gaps that have been observed between poorer and wealthier kindergartners may not be mitigated. Second, there is concern that a heightened focus on academics is stressful for children and may negatively impact their social-emotional outcomes. Despite the numerous publications put forth by child advocacy groups regarding their concerns that the move to an academic kindergarten classroom undermines the development of the whole child, the evidence at this stage is primarily anecdotal. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact an academically-oriented kindergarten curriculum may have on the achievement gap between lower- and upper-income children and on children's social-emotional outcomes. Using data from the nationally-representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergarteners in 2010 (ECLS-K: 2011), we will address the following research questions: 1) To what extent are kindergarten classrooms focusing on academic content? Is there a relationship between instructional time/content coverage and percent of FRPL students in the school? 2) Is exposure to an academically-oriented kindergarten classroom associated with higher achievement? Does it narrow the achievement gap between poorer and wealthier children? Do these effects differ by the other NCLB reporting subgroups (i.e., students from major racial/ethnic groups, students with special needs, and English Language Learners (ELL))? 3) Is there a relationship between an academically-oriented kindergarten classroom and children's socio- emotional outcomes? 4) What is the impact of an academically-oriented kindergarten curriculum on children's academic and social- emotional outcomes measured at first grade?
Against a backdrop of the standards movement and accountability provisions, this study will examine the potential unintended consequences of a move towards an academics-focused curriculum. Namely, it will examine whether the heightened focus on achievement is detrimental to children's social-emotional outcomes and whether it has widened the achievement gap between wealthier and poorer children.