Redshirting Controversy Gets More Press, But Support And Criticism Are Mixed

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shutterstock_132053423Kindergarten redshirting, the practice of delaying a child that would otherwise qualify for admission to Kindergarten another year, is just as common as it is controversial.  Though it’s not a new practice, it has recently gotten more press due to the range of reasons parents are giving in support of their decision.  Most parents judge the emotional readiness of their child, while others hope to give their kids a distinct competitive edge – in sports or academics. However, whether these techniques will help or hinder is yet to be seen.

Two recent studies, reported by ABC News, suggest that the practice is being overused among “white and high-income children”, while the greatest indication of benefits are among “low income students and males.”

A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2011 said that starting kindergarten one year late “substantially reduces the probability of repeating the third grade, and meaningfully increases in tenth grade math and reading scores. Effects are highest for low income students and males.” Alternately, estimates suggest that entering kindergarten early may also have detrimental effect on future outcomes.

A joint study by the University of Virginia and Stanford University released in 2013 established a relationship between red shirting and socio-economic status and ethnicity. “We find that between 4 and 5.5 percent of children delay kindergarten, a lower number than typically reported… We find substantial variation in practices across schools, with schools serving larger proportions of white and high-income children having far higher rates of delayed entry,” noted the report, “The Extent, Patterns, and Implications of Kindergarten ‘Redshirting,'” issued in April 2013.

Dana Vela, President of Sunrise Preschools, in Arizona, believes the power belongs in the hands of the parents.

“Parents make that decision for all kinds of different reasons. We can test a child academically but we can never test their emotional readiness. They sometimes are not ready to leave home at the age of five and the separation anxiety will impact them for a long time. You also find children who are ready to leave home at an even younger age. So it’s really up to the parent to decide for their child,” said Vela.

The Department of Education in New York City might not agree.  Amid what I believe is a movement towards accepting redshirting as neither a silver bullet nor a heavy burden (but probably somewhere in the middle), NYC is closing loopholes that allow the practice.  From the New York Times Motherlode,

[B]ecause of new rules from the Education Department, redshirting is no longer an option they can depend on.

Starting this fall, children will be expected to start kindergarten or first grade in keeping with their birth year. Kindergarten, which had been considered optional, is now mandatory, although parents can home school their children or send them to a private school for the year.

Children with birthdays in the kindergarten range who are not enrolled in public kindergarten will still be expected to enroll in first grade the next year, with exceptions requiring the approval of the superintendent, rather than the school principal.

In NYC particularly I worry that this decision is harming the wrong groups, while the target “abusers” of the practice (meaning those who use it only to gain a competitive edge for their child) go unaffected.  The Education Department decision only affects parents who want to take advantage of the public school system, while parents who can afford private school can redshirt without having to explain to anyone.

As a friend of mine recently pointed out, there will always be someone who is the oldest, someone who is the youngest and everyone else in between. Meanwhile, parents and researchers are spending a lot of time speculating the best place to be on that spectrum. Until there is an answer, the redshirting controversy continues.

(photo: Giuseppe_R/Shutterstock)