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Two half-day pre-K programs do not a full day make, policy brief says

Since announcing his dramatic pre-K expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly promised “high quality, full-day” seats. But a new policy brief suggests that language might sell the programs short.

The current vocabulary used to describe pre-K—“full-day” or “half-day”—implies that full-day programs offer double the dosage of half-day programs, but that is often not the case. “A half-day program may be 10 or 15 hours a week, while a full-day program may be 20, 30, or even 40 hours—as much as four times the amount of class time as a half-day program,” Alexander Holt writes in the New America Foundation brief.

In New York City, the new full-day pre-K seats will offer about two-and-a-half times more instruction than half-day programs.

Plus, instructional time in pre-K programs labeled as “full-day” or “half-day” can vary between districts and states. The city’s standard for “full-day”—six hours and 20 minutes of instruction—goes beyond the state’s full-day requirement, which is only five hours.

To avoid confusion, Holt recommends that pre-K programs be described by hours per week and per year: advice that could prove valuable for de Blasio as the city converts approximately 27,000 existing half-day seats to full-day seats by September 2015.