Yesterday I was scanning my NYTimes feed in Newsrack and stopped when I read this title, “Delay Kindergarten at Your Own Peril.” As an educator, a title like that begs to be read. I stopped mid-swipe, clicked and read the provocative opinion penned by researchers Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt who provided detailed research explaining why “redshirting” your child could be dangerous.
Strikingly to me, this is the first time I had heard any argument against this practice. In fact, holding younger children back to enter kinder the following year, is such a common practice I don’t even blink when I hear it. My bad. I should definitely have been more involved in reading the research.
Teachers may encourage redshirting because more mature children are easier to handle in the classroom and initially produce better test scores than their younger classmates. In a class of 25, the average difference is equivalent to going from 13th place to 11th. This advantage fades by the end of elementary school, though, and disadvantages start to accumulate. In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment — in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.
In our community, redshirting is much more common for boys than girls. Reading this opinion piece troubles me because I have been assuming that this practice is actually benefits our students. However, Wang and Aamodt provide evidence how an intellectually demanding environment actually increases skills and abilities as well as motivation.
These differences may come from the increased challenges of a demanding environment. Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high an error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning
It strikes me that we tend to redshirt our boys more than we do our girls, and I’m wondering if this connects to the higher rate of boys we have who become identified as learning disabled, at-risk, and trouble-makers who are suspended at a higher rate that girls. I also think about the persistent gap that exists in many of our community schools between boys and girls in reading and writing. I wonder if we decreased the practice of redshirting if we would narrow these gaps.
I also think about our work in engaging families and how this research may help to inform parents while they are making these important choices for their children.
The Wisconsin Center for Education Research hosts the “Pros and Cons” of holding children back from kindergarten. The describe the risks of delayed entry and the likely self-fulfilling prophecy that occurs when redshirting occurs.
Richard Gentry of Psychology Today posted a blog last year about this topic, Kindergarten – Ready or Not? He advises that this important decision should not be one that is made quickly. In fact, he recommends beginning to assess your beliefs and your child early on around age 3. He advocates finding the $320,000 kindergarten teacher, a nod to research describing the relationship between children who were enrolled in kindergarten classes with excellent teachers and their earning potential over their lifetime because of this early leg up.
I agree with Gentry that there is no right answer, and it really comes down to personal choice. But on the side of the educators, I wonder what our role is? I’m thinking that we at least need to:
- keep ourselves informed on the research in this area of study
- increase the opportunities to educate and engage our families with the research and their best knowledge about their children
- provide opportunities for our teaching staff to reflect up upon their own biases in this area and explore how their personal preferences may unconsciously influence parents