"Will the dummies that want to do away with kindergarten in Utah get their way?"

In the first place the caller is really one of the people that decides such issues, so any pejorative term that is used applies to him - in addition to making it difficult to be reasonable as the issue is discussed. When I asked who really wanted to eliminate kindergarten, the answer was the anonymous "they." In the second place no one can predict the future.The point is that as long as those who pay the bill for this educational service are willing to continue to pay the bill, we will probably continue to have a kindergarten. Since we seem willing to pay for effective education in Utah, the real question should be, "What should we expect from a good kindergarten program?"

The people of Utah are used to a program that is really an optional luxury in other states. Sandra Longfellow Robinson from the University of South Carolina has surveyed the country on the issue in 1974, 1981, and in 1986. In the 1974 survey it was discovered that 23 states offered kindergarten to 90 percent of the students that qualified. In the 1986 survey, 12 years later, 46 states offered kindergarten.

On the issue of whether kindergarten is required or not, Robinson discovered that it was only mandatory in Florida in 1982. Her most recent data indicate that it is now required in seven states. Utah is not one of the seven, and New Mexico seems to be the only western state with a requirement.

There are two approaches to kindergarten curriculum, and Utah has chosen a middle-of-the-road approach that can point parents who are interested in helping at home in a direction that emphasizes readiness.

The first approach to kindergarten will find students in a kindergarten class sweating over purple work sheets, letters and sounds, word recognition, simple math facts, and other academic skills. Social skills are secondary.

The other extreme will find the kids at the easels all day, with plenty of time to play games that teach cooperation and other social skills. The teacher will seem to regard kindergarten as only a time to get ready for real school.

Utah educators have been very thoughtful on the issue. In 1984, the State Board of Education established a policy the set in motion an effort to establish a specific core curriculum for the state and at the same time allow local districts opportunities to address local problems. The board's goal was to outline "ideas, concepts, and skills that provide a foundation on which subsequent learning may be built." Kindergarten was a serious part of the deliberations that involved educators across the state and a draft curriculum was available to all educators for comment for a year.

The core curriculum for kindergarten involves major components in the visual arts, science, language arts, mathematics, and social studies. There are also goals for information technology and healthy lifestyles.

Space does not permit the listing of all the objectives of kindergarten. (Those are available to parents at local school districts and at the state office.) A listing of the standards of the language arts kindergarten curriculum may help parents understand what they can expect from kindergarten in Utah. Notice the emphasis on readiness:

1. The students will learn to attend to verbal information. (LISTENING)

2. The students will share their thoughts in speech, using vocabulary appropriate to age and situation. (SPEAKING)

3. The students will learn the auditory and visual discrimination skills necessary to recognize letters and understand sound-symbol relationships. (READING)

4. The students will become familiar with different kinds of literature and respond creatively through art, music, drama, and dance. (LITERATURE)

5. The students will develop spelling readiness skills. (SPELLING)

6. The students will print legibly, using the correct formation of the manuscript letter. (PENMANSHIP)

7. The students will share their ideas and experiences in written form to be recorded by a scribe of themselves. (WRITTEN COMPOSITION)

8. The students will learn about and experience the techniques of drama. (DRAMA: Participant, Observer/Listener, Critic)

These are only the standards of the language arts curriculum, but knowing these are the goals in the kindergartens of Utah in the language arts should help parents support the efforts of school at home.