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Kindergarten: Where Six is the New Five. Or is it?

redshirtAnyone with a preschool-age child whose birthday is from mid-summer onwards is used to this familiar refrain, "Are you sending your child to kindergarten?" Parents who never thought about not sending their child to kindergarten when eligible find that they may be questioning whether or not their child is developmentally, socially, physically, and emotionally ready for school, and these parents may assume the responsibility of making that decision themselves.

The cutoff date for Scarsdale schools is December 31st, which means that if your child turns five by the end of the year, he is eligible for entry into a Scarsdale kindergarten. However, the Scarsdale schools do not mandate entry, so the cutoff is more of a guideline. Why would parents want to delay entry in to kindergarten when it often means paying upwards of $15,000 for a "transition year", (a program offered by preschools specifically for children whose parents are delaying their kindergarten start date)?

The idea is called "redshirting," a term used in college athletics to describe an athlete benched for a year so they will be bigger and stronger when they actually play. Borrowed by educators, this term is now used to describe children whose entry to kindergarten is being delayed by a year for one of a number of reasons.
Redshirting in Scarsdale is ultimately the decision of the parents (or guardians) of the child. My conversations with many local parents led me to sort parents who redshirt into three different categories:

1. The Compassionate Parent - This parent is genuinely concerned about their child's kindergarten readiness and has sometimes been advised by a professional to hold their child back based on the child's developmental needs. Some experts believe that children of this type may benefit from special services offered in public schools more so than a kindergarten delay, and that delaying kindergarten may also mean delaying services.

2. The Competitive Parent - This parent has often reviewed some literature and believes that the data shows their child will have a competitive edge over his classmates if he begins kindergarten at an older, rather than younger, age. The theorized edge can be academic, social, and/or athletic.

3. The Coerced Parent - This parent holds their child back because of pressure from other parents in the community, or adult peer pressure. This parent is less likely to take their individual child into consideration when making the decision to delay school, and more likely to redshirt their child because others are doing it and they don't want their child to be the youngest by sometimes up to 18 months.

So, how do you decide what to do with YOUR child? Is there data to show that redshirting a child gives them a distinct advantage as early as five years-old or even earlier? Yes. And No.

Initially, redshirted children outperform their peers academically, socially, and athletically. This has been termed the "early boost" that you may hear echoed at playgrounds when parents are explaining to other parents why they are redshirting a child for kindergarten. Overall, older children in kindergarten through third grade have higher test scores, are more likely to be leaders in their class, and perform better physically.

However, that advantage decreases as a child's age increases, and by as early as third grade, the differences begin to even out. Some educational experts report that redshirted children don't do as well as their younger peers once they reach eighth grade, and do no better as adults in terms of wages or educational attainment. A 2008 Harvard study concluded that redshirted children academically stagnated in high school. Some in the field think that this is because of younger kids feeling the need to catch up to their more advanced peers, ultimately outperforming them. A New York Times opinion piece (published 9/24/11) favored earlier entry into kindergarten, discussing how parents concerned about their child's emotional readiness may realize that their emotionally immature yet older kindergartener will be hanging out with mostly less mature peers. In fact, data from the Scarsdale school district itself reveals that seniors at Scarsdale High School with later birth dates are more likely to have higher GPAs (see chart below). Numerous factors could explain this difference, but it is interesting to note nonetheless, and parents should be aware of this data if they are on the fence about whether or not to redshirt their child.

SHSGPA
Lynne Shain, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in the Scarsdale Schools said that even though some parents know the potential academic advantage to being younger within a grade, there is still a perceived advantage to having a child be older among his or her peers, such as social maturity, athleticism, and even being the first among friends to drive. Ms. Shain emphasized that there are developmental differences among children born on the same day, not just 17 months apart, and the Scarsdale school system is prepared, and has the resources, to deal with this. She said that some parents cite Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Outliers," who discusses the athletic advantage of Canadian hockey players born in the first few months of the year versus younger hockey players. Intrigued that Gladwell had influenced so many parents to redshirt their kids in school based more on talking points than data, she shared with him the cluster data from Scarsdale High School showing that Seniors with earlier birth dates had lower GPAs compared to their younger classmates. He responded to her, rather surprised at the data, and said that he may include this if he writes a follow-up to "Outliers." Ms. Shain does not think a parent should make the leap to there being an academic advantage to redshirt a child based on Gladwell's book.

One Scarsdale mom of a child just entering kindergarten and turning six in November described herself chiefly as compassionate but partially coerced. She decided when her son was three that he would be redshirted. "He was a shyer child, and when I asked his preschool teachers about holding him back, they said there would be no harm in doing so." He repeated the threes program at a preschool and she is satisfied with her decision. A mom in Edgemont sent her son, a second child with an October birthday, to school this September when he qualified for admission. She trusted her own instincts and those of teachers and professionals consulted. She brought him in for his kindergarten assessment and the school testers confidently told her he was ready. Born in September herself, she felt like there were benefits to being younger in her grade, including drinking less and driving less. She says she had no true, proven reason to hold her child back and if someone qualified suggested she hold him, she would have done it without thinking twice. She feels he'd be bored if he had to sit through another year of preschool- he is reading at age four. She terms herself a compassionate parent, evaluating her child as an individual rather than by a set of arbitrary rules or trends. She resisted being coerced by other opinionated moms. She has advice for other parents wrestling with this: "No playground conversation should ever make a decision for you and no other parent should even imply that they know what the right thing is for your child." A mom in Edgewood feels confident with the decision she made to send her daughter (an October birthday) to Kindergarten this year, but she isn't going to be the youngest by 10 months, she will be one of the youngest by up to 18 months. What bothers this mom is that many of the moms she speaks with never consult with the school psychologist or have their child assessed. She feels like it's the competitive parent in Scarsdale that holds their child back, and feels this isn't fair to children of parents "following the rules." She wishes Scarsdale would come up with a hard cut-off and stick with it, allowing the schools to assess whether or not a child is school-ready. She thinks it puts too much pressure on parents to make the decision, and ultimately may lead to redshirting for the wrong reasons.

A Scarsdale Preschool Director and 3's teacher said most parents who ask them for help in making their decision feel like they fall into the "coerced" category. They, like the Edgewood mom, also feel like the schools themselves should take charge of the situation rather than leaving it up to the parents. "Kindergarten should be ready for children whether or not all children are ready for kindergarten." There will always be a youngest and an oldest, but it is increasingly difficult for teachers to effectively teach a class when they youngest and oldest students are sometimes up to 18 months apart, especially at the earlier grade levels. They believe that children always have different levels of socialization, athletic ability, and academic readiness, and the schools should be prepared for this. Mostly importantly, parents should support their children and work with the school to ensure that their child has a positive experience, no matter what their age at entry.

As someone who has been a leader in education for many years, Lynne Shain emphasized that it is the parents decision at this point whether or not to delay Kindergarten for a child, but the parents should feel confident that they are doing it for the right reasons, taking the individual child into consideration, and reviewing all data available. She does not think a parent needs to redshirt a child based simply on a birthdate; they need to think about the real potential for a child to be bored, and consider the message they may be inadvertently sending to the child, such as "Why did my parents hold me back?" or "What's wrong with me?"

This year in Scarsdale, close to one-third of kindergarten-eligible children born in the second half of the year (July 1, 2007-December 31, 2007) were held back by their parents. Boys comprised 70% of this redshirted population. Only 41% of children currently enrolled in Kindergarten were born in the second half of the year. One would expect 50/50 with a hard cutoff date for enrollment. If broken down by a September 1 cutoff, which many parents cite as their arbitrary date for deciding to redshirt, only 22% of children in this year's class were born after September 1. Without optional redshirting, this would number would be closer to 33%. Although this data is interesting, since 2005 the incidence of redshirting has not significantly increased. This may suggest that many parents are aware of the downsides of redshirting or are determining that factors other than their child's birthdate may determine that their child will succeed as a younger student among older classmates.

stats
There are pros and cons to redshirting a younger child. There are strong opinions, there are studies to read and consider, and there are educators and psychologists who can advise a parent one way or another. Ultimately, studies look at populations and pool data for trends, causation, and statistical significance, and in the case of delayed school entry, the conclusions drawn from the same data is sometimes different. Some kids are being held back with birthdays as early as July, and there is no formula for telling which children may benefit and which children may not benefit from being redshirted. The bottom line is that we each know our own child and his or her needs and abilities best, and decisions for our children must be made with the best interest of the child in mind. The compassionate parent is the parent who does this; the competitive and coerced parents are the most likely to regret their decisions at some point down the road.

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#13 Parent 2013-10-29 01:46
Hi. i am a parent of dec date girl and i am not sure what to do.
there is any parent that can share their experience with their kids in a later age whether they hold them or not, prone and cones thanks
to my understanding the problem with sending kids in early age is later on... in mid and high school.
since most of other state do have june and sep cutoff it makes e sense to hold her back?
She has no problems and suggestion from Scarsdale and her current school is to send her. however Scarsdale system may want smaller kids in order to have balance ...
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#12 parent 2013-10-28 10:54
Hi. i am a parent of dec date girl and i am not sure what to do.
there is any parent that can share their experience with their kids in a later age whether they hold them or not, prone and cones thanks
to my understanding the problem with sending kids in early age is later on... in mid and high school.
since most of other state do have june and sep cutoff it makes e sense to hold her back?
She has no problems and suggestion from Scarsdale and her current school is to send her. however Scarsdale system may want smaller kids in order to have balance ...
Quote
#11 parent 2013-10-28 10:28
I am still not sure what to do. i have December girl which teachers and Scarsdale school say do not hold....but i understand that with the rest of USA she will be younger a year to eighteenth months . The problem is not elementary is it more emotional, maturity and later on ( mid and high school test scores not just GPA).
There is any parent that can share their experience with kids that where hold or not and the later-on result and experience ? Thanks
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#10 westchester mom 2013-10-16 00:02
Having lived in many places, NY is one of only a very few states with a Dec cuttoff. Less than 10% of children nationwide start kindergarten before age 5. When looking at it from a more global perspective than westchester NY, I made the decision for my son to keep him on par with the rest of the country. Kindergaten has changed...it is now what first grade was even 5 years ago. Why not give them the extra time?
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#9 non-scarsdale mom 2013-10-15 23:47
We all have the choice about school district and Scarsdale is known for its academic rigor. People know this when they choose to live in this school district. I have purposely chosen a less competitive, less rigorous school district for my children and I believe it's for the better. It may not have the same percentage of seniors going to Ivy League colleges, but it's still a great school district. Kindergarten has been very fun and playful for my child, and my child is still learning the alphabet and how to read. These things probably also have something to do with individual teachers.
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#8 Gabriela 2013-10-15 09:36
As a Kindergarten teacher, I can always tell who the 4 year olds are when school starts.

Kindergarten is not what it used to be. Keep them back and let them stay children another year.
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#7 Teacher mom 76 2013-10-15 09:06
We held our late september birthday child back. She repeated pre k four. Mostly because she is very shy. And because kindergarten in our affluent lower westchester suburb is very demanding and competitive. They don't play, they do tons work , six hours a day. . They also get two worksheets if homework every night. We are so far happy with our decision to redshirt her. She just turned six.
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#6 Early Childhood Direwctor, White Plains 2013-10-11 04:56
If the curriculum for kindergarten was developmentally appropriate for a 5 year old we wouldn't have any red shirting. Believe it or not, a 5 year old is considered to be a preschooler. Take the first grade curriculum out of kindergarten and you will see happy, well adjusted children,excite d about learning for the rest of their school years!
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#5 Edgemont mom 2013-10-11 01:15
I think the cutoff should be the same in all school districts. My daughter was born in mid December and when she went to school in Eastchester the cutoff was September. Now we live in Edgemont and she's one of the oldest kids in the grade. Nothing other than our address decided if she was "ready" for kindergarten.
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#4 Robyn 2013-10-10 23:00
Very well researched and well written! My daughter was born in April and my son was born May so this is fortunately a non-issue for our family. However, I'm from Minnesota and the cutoff was September 1st. My birthday is at the end of July and my younger sister's is at the end of September --- we are just on either side of the cutoff. We both went to kindergarten in the year that we were supposed to go which caused our 3 yr age difference to be 4yrs in school. I was one of the youngest in the class and she was one of the oldest. I actually agree with the part about younger kids working harder to play catch-up and ultimately doing better in the long-run.
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