In California, Kindergarten isn't mandatory. If parents so desire, children need not be enrolled until first grade.
Despite the increasing rigor in Kindergarten - and let's note that the Common Core changes, but doesn't increase the difficulty, of what the state required of its five year olds - the law still assumes that Kindergarten is nap time, play house, and social skills development. All of these may be useful, the state opines, but they aren't mandatory.
This has some real and unpleasant effects on Kindergarten classrooms. It is often the reason given when students who appear to need extra supports are denied them. "Well," specialists begin. "Your concerns are reasonable. But this is Kindergarten. It isn't mandatory, you know. Why don't you write a report for the first grade teacher so the process can begin next year?"
I feel confident that first grade teachers absolutely LOVE receiving these reports. No, wait : I don't, although I suppose a report is better than nothing. I know that writing these reports is time-consuming. And I also know that we are failing to give children what they need. A small intervention in Kindergarten can mean no expensive interventions later.
Not to mention that the child who needs support in a modern Kindergarten may be struggling with skills that are absolutely required for first grade. Not just turn-taking, but reading: Kindergarten students must read by the end of the year.
Another issue is attendance. I am not a big fan of some of the more punitive measures the District uses to improve student attendance (truancy officers, courts, fines, and so on). I do approve of schools coordinating supports to increase student attendance. But since Kindergarten isn't mandatory, chronically truant students do not receive any kind of attention. They are not required to be there, so the fact that they come to school less than half-time may be difficult for the teacher, but it doesn't call for intervention.
Since Kindergarten teachers are teaching actual academic content children need to be successful in first grade and beyond, this strikes me as short-sighted. Moreover, as we move to Smarter Balanced assessments that Kindergartners will take - and, waiver approval pending, the use of test scores to evaluate teachers - it strikes me as unfair that no attention is paid to Kindergarten truancy.
In the absence of a mandate, apparently low academic performance due to truancy is a teacher's fault. Actually, I think many teachers (I am one of them) do feel vaguely hurt by low attendance. If the child isn't in school, it feels like their families don't see value in attending. The teachers I know internalize this as "if I were doing a better job, they'd be here."
Still, at a certain level of absence, these feelings evaporate, because no matter how hard you are on yourself, a child who is present less than half-time certainly has bigger issues than whether you are providing engaging, exciting, no-fail lessons all day every day. And it is a struggle to plan for a child who is habitually absent. That child is likely to need extra academic support and be less familiar with classroom procedures and routines. Yet plans for remediation fail when the child isn't there for the intervention.
But hey, Kindergarten isn't mandatory. So even though the child receives neither the academic content needed nor the supports to ameliorate the truancy, it will all somehow work out.
Obviously, I think it is far past time to mandate Kindergarten attendance.