The older kids are, the more they mature and learn. So older kindergartners should have an easier time in school than younger students — right?
That’s the theory behind academic “redshirting,” in which parents postpone their children’s entry into Kindergarten to give them a developmental leg up over their peers.
How does redshirting work?
Right around their fifth birthday, most U.S. children are eligible to enroll in kindergarten for the coming fall, as long as their birthday occurs before a certain “cutoff” date. However, if parents feel their child is not yet emotionally, physically or mentally prepared for an academic environment, they might choose to keep him in preschool, or some other form of childcare, for another full year. Recent studies estimate that 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent of students are currently redshirted each year nationwide, down from an estimated 9 percent in 2000.
Where did redshirting come from?
Redshirting can be traced back to the changing educational landscape of the 1970s and 1980s. During that era, school districts introduced new kindergarten programs, and eventually extended many from half- to full-day schedules. An overall embrace of structured learning and early reading for younger students grew in popularity, and the formerly play-oriented kindergarten classroom became increasingly academic in nature.
Kindergarten’s role as “the new first grade” was further cemented when — beginning in the mid-1970s — many states began to raise their cutoff dates, resulting in a consistently older pool of students, and consequently raising teachers’ expectations for behavior and learning skills.
Is redshirting effective?
Researchers have found varied results. While some studies assert that younger students are more likely to underperform on standardized tests, and that older students may fare better academically or take on more leadership roles, a number of other studies have demonstrated the opposite. In 2006, one comprehensive study noted that adult students who had been redshirted were actually slightly less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, and earned less in the workforce on average. The only benefit their slightly older age seemed to offer them, researchers noted, was an enhanced ability in organized sports. Other studies have shown that older students demonstrate a lack of motivation in class, and might even have lower IQ scores than their non-redshirted peers.
Who gets redshirted?
Numerous studies have found that redshirted students are disproportionately white males from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and that the parents who choose to redshirt their children are often highly educated. This may be because lower-income parents cannot afford to pay for an additional year of childcare, estimated at $9,589 each year.
What’s next for redshirting?
Most school districts do not track or officially encourage or discourage redshirting. However, the nation’s largest school district, New York City, has adopted policies that make the practice much more difficult for parents. In most places, however, the age that a child enters kindergarten will ultimately remain a parent’s choice — meaning they will just have to wade through the redshirting research themselves to figure out what’s best for their child.
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