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Title:The first day of kindergarten: examining school readiness advantages and disadvantages across multiple developmental contexts
Author(s):Kelly, Jenell N.
Director of Research:Jarrett, Robin L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Jarrett, Robin L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hamer, Jennifer; McBride, Brent A.; Wiley, Angela R.
Department / Program:Human and Community Development
Discipline:Human & Community Development
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):School readiness
Educator perceptions
Parent perceptions
African American families
Abstract:Young children are increasingly expected to perform at predetermined levels in various developmental domains when they enter kindergarten. Yet, researchers find that a significant percentage of children are “not ready to learn” on the first day of kindergarten. Reflecting disparities in social class, race, and gender, low-income and African American children’s readiness for school falls below the general population. Moreover, low-income, African American boys are particularly disadvantaged. “School readiness gaps” have been attributed to family life and parenting, home-school connectedness, community resources, and social inequality. Studies have shed light on school readiness as an important social issue and national concern. However, specific examinations of micro-level processes affecting African American children’s school readiness and transitions into kindergarten are limited. Further, the majority of the existing studies focus on low-income, African American children’s school readiness, without a similar discussion of middle-income, African American children’s experiences. This study addressed these limitations by examining specific mechanisms of school readiness advantages and disadvantages across low- and middle-income, African American home and school contexts in a Midwestern city. The guiding research questions were: (1) What characterizes kindergarten preparation in the context of low- and middle-income, African American homes? (2) What characterizes kindergarten preparation in the context of schools? What continuities and discontinuities exist between home and schools contexts? (3) What neighborhood resources and activities do adults utilize to facilitate kindergarten preparation and transitions? (5) How does education policy and law play out within local contexts? An interdisciplinary theoretical framework guided this study. It was informed by the ecological model, the concept of cultural capital, critical race theory, and feminist theory. A qualitative case study research design and interpretive approach were employed. Data collection entailed eighty in-depth interviews with twenty educators and twenty African American primary caregivers and focused participant observation. These data were supplemented with documents, reports, artifacts, and photographs. The data were triangulated and analyzed inductively. This study identified cumulative advantages and disadvantages that potentially perpetuate social class, and to a lesser extent racial and gender, disparities in children’s “being ready to learn” on the first day of kindergarten. Three major findings were: (1) multifaceted and multidimensional school readiness expectations exist; (2) within the U.S. social structure some children are better positioned than others to meet changing expectations for young children to learn in schools; and (3) national education policy has raised kindergarten expectations, increased assessment, and shifted classroom instruction, locally. Substantively, this study contributes a nuanced construct of school readiness and offers a textured account of how social class, race, and gender play out in context. Theoretically, it expands upon the concept of cultural capital using critical race theory. This study also has implications for promoting locally informed best practices and early childhood education policy.
Issue Date:2010-05-14
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/15516
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Jenell Kelly
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-05-15
Date Deposited:May 2010


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