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Redshirting in Scarsdale: Facts and Opinions

kindergarten“I decided when she was in-utero to keep her in preschool for an extra year.” 

“I’m sending him to kindergarten even though he’s not five until November because all of his preschool teachers say he is ready.”

“I know someone who held her July baby back from kindergarten because she wanted him to be the first to drive and I know someone who held her November baby back because she was concerned that his friends would be tired of going to Bar Mitzvahs by his Bar Mitzvah time.”  

“My daughter sent her 4-year-old son to kindergarten ‘on time’ because she really couldn’t justify paying for another year of preschool for her third child.” 

“Redshirting” is term used in college athletics to describe an athlete benched for a year so they will be bigger and stronger when they actually play. Malcom Gladwell’s 2008 book “Outliers” claims that a person’s age, relative to his/her peers, is a key predictor of success.  Gladwell helped expand the definition of “redshirting” to describe the parent-driven decision to hold their child back from a natural entry into kindergarten based on birth date and district cutoff. Initially, parents redshirted to gain a predicted “early boost” for their child based on the real or perceived notion that older children outperform their peers early on academically, socially and athletically. However, some studies have shown that the initial academic advantage older students have over younger students decreases over time. In fact, 2009 data from Scarsdale shows that younger students have a higher GPA at graduation than older students.

GPAvs.Age

According to Edgar McIntosh, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment, re-analysis in 2019 showed no correlation between age at kindergarten start and GPA at graduation. A 2011 New York Times opinion piece suggests that more mature kids may actually be negatively affected by less mature peers at the grade school level. None of this takes into account social, emotional or developmental data points which some parents use to help make their decision.

Anyone who has had a boy in preschool with a birthday in the second half of the year has likely been asked whether they plan to hold their child back for an extra year before beginning kindergarten.  

A local program for five year olds promotes the year saying, “Give your child the gift of an extra year” as a marketing tool. What is this gift?  More sleep and play for one additional year? Going to kindergarten a stronger reader? Not being the smallest on the soccer team? The idea that the child will have a lifelong advantage over others? 

And how many parents are willing to pay the extra tuition? In our survey, only 8% of respondents said cost was a factor in deciding whether to delay kindergarten for their child. The majority (60%) said money was not a factor at all. However several parents commented that redshirting is “a gift” that some can’t afford.

redshirtcost

Parents who decide not to redshirt their child now find that their kids can be 15, 18 or even 20 months younger than kids who have been redshirted. Kindergarten teachers report that teaching four through six-year-olds together can be challenging.

As per New York State law, school districts retain the right to decide in which grade to place a child in school, but Scarsdale and most other school districts allow the parents to ultimately make the call. (New York City, however, has a strict cut-off of December 31st for kindergarten in order “to make education more equitable”). When a parent registers a child for Kindergarten at one of the five public elementary schools, each individual child will undergo an assessment. The school will make a recommendation for placement and if a parent questions this, they are encouraged to reach out to their local school or Eric Rauschenback, Director of Special Education and Special Services. In fact, Mr. Rauschenback published the school’s position on redshirting last year in the Dale Dispatch:  

Scarsdale10583.com sent out a redshirting survey to the community and got a tremendous response rate. Schools in Westchester and elsewhere allow parents to make the decision to delay kindergarten while in New York City, there is a strict cut-off of December 31st for kindergarten in order “to make education more equitable”.  

Many parents wrote in saying that they felt stressed about having the responsibility to decide whether or not their child is socially, physically, emotionally and developmentally ready for kindergarten citing conflicting data regarding the pros and cons. Our local survey results, on the other hand, reveal that most parents don’t want to allow the schools to decide for them. A solid 57% of parents wanted control over kindergarten entry time versus 35% who said they think the schools should make the call.

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The rest wrote in to say they would prefer for it to be a collaborative decision or that it shouldn’t be done at all. “Everyone should go to kindergarten according to their birthday,” wrote one respondent. “This would put everyone on a more level playing field, not having 4 and 6-year-olds in the same class. If they’re not ready for first grade, have them repeat kindergarten; if they’re not ready for college, have them take a gap year.” 

Back in 2013, we asked parents how they would describe their decision to redshirt their child and classified the decisions into three categories called “the three C’s”: compassionate, competitive or coerced.

Compassionate - This parent is genuinely concerned about their individual child’s kindergarten readiness and has sometimes been advised by a professional (e.g. pediatrician or preschool teacher) to redshirt 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. 

Competitive - This parent has generally reviewed the data that supports redshirting and believes that their child will have a competitive edge over his classmates if redshirted.  This purported “edge” can be academic, social, and/or athletic. 

Coerced - This parent feels pressured to redshirt their child because so many others are doing so and can see that they are skewing the kindergarten entry age. This parent is less likely to take their individual child into consideration when making the decision to redshirt and may be concerned that allowing their child a natural entry into kindergarten means that their child isn’t just 11 months younger than another child, but maybe even a year and a half younger.  

Our 2019 survey results revealed that about 40% describe their decision as compassionate, 14 % felt coerced, 5% felt competitive and 41% did not or would not redshirt their child. Several people commented that they really felt it was a combination of being coerced and competitive, or compassionate yet ultimately coerced.
RedshirtF

When asked about why they decided to redshirt their child, the majority of people did so simply because of the child’s birthdate. The secondary reason was social followed closely by readiness. Physical attributes such as short stature ranked last as parents impetus for delaying kindergarten (Image G). One mom said, “My son gets tired early afternoon and still naps. Full-day kindergarten would be too hard on him.” A few other parents cited speech and motor delay issues as their reason to redshirt as well as being born prematurely. A mom commented, “I didn’t hold back our very young but big and bright son; it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.” Yet another mom didn’t hold her daughter back, “…but now she’s 18 months younger than a couple other kids in her class which just seems unfair to me.” One dad admitted he did it because of how competitive other parents are and another parent said they redshirted because they thought there was a discrepancy between the child’s biological age and developmental age.

A Scarsdale preschool director and “3’s” teacher informed me that in her experience, most parents who solicit help in making the kindergarten decision feel like they fall into the “coerced” category.  “Kindergarten should be ready for children whether or not all children are ready for Kindergarten,” she said. For this site’s 2013 redshirting piece, Lynn Shain, who was serving as Scarsdale’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum pointed out, “…there are developmental differences between kids born on the same day and kids born 17 months apart.” 

So, what’s the answer? Because that’s why you’re reading this to the end, right? 

Jen Meerow Berniker published a letter to her son last year on the Scary Mommy blog, apologizing for being “so foolish” as to conceive him at a time that would result in her having to face the dilemma “…about whether or not to delay kindergarten…the parenting micro-crisis of the moment for parents of 4-year-olds with late birthdays.”   

She summarizes the entire idea of redshirting by saying, “At the time you are going through it, it seems like the most important decision ever, like you are holding your child’s fate in your hands, as if that arbitrary month in which they were born has something to do with who they will become, rather than just a data point in the larger picture of a life.” And with that, Jen sent her 4-year-old boy to kindergarten.

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