Redshirting: If kids have summer birthdays, should they sit out kindergarten for year?

Should parents of children with summer birthdays delay their entrance into kindergarten? Some parents don’t want their kids to be the youngest in the class. (/John GodbeyThe Decatur Daily via AP)

Eavesdrop on any group of young parents discussing kindergarten and you’ll likely hear angst about kids whose birthdays fall just before the cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility, which is Sept. 1 in Georgia

If your preschoolers are born in the summer, should you delay kindergarten a year so they’re not the youngest in the class but the oldest? This growing practice is called academic redshirting, a play on a term typically applied to college athletes who sit out a year to hone their skills.

Parents redshirt their summer-birthday offspring under the rationale that entering kindergarten at 6 better positions children for success.

But does it?

Researcher Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is the co-author of a review published today in Education Next that casts doubt on the assumption that being older leads to stronger school performance. In the piece, she and preschool director Stephanie Howard Larson explore the outcomes of redshirting.

Schanzenbach is professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Larson is the director of Rose Hall Montessori School in Wilmette, Ill.

“Certainly, for some kids redshirting has been helpful, but, by and large, it is probably not worth it for many kids,” said Schanzenbach, in a telephone interview Monday from Illinois.

The mother of three young children, Schanzenbach said the decision to redshirt often must be made months before school during spring registration. But a child’s school readiness can increase in the months between registration and the first day of class.

“Development is not linear,” said Schanzenbach, citing her own daughter whose delayed speech sent them to a speech therapist wondering if something was amiss. There wasn’t, and her daughter soon began talking with verve.

Yes, there may be differences in student ability and maturity in kindergarten based on the age of the child, said Schanzenbach. But what parents of the youngest students have to remember is their kids will catch up. “These differences, which may seem so big at the beginning of kindergarten, dissipate,” she said.

Using data from the Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Larson and Schanzenbach note parents of boys are more likely to redshirt. Among parents of the 2010 kindergarten class, 6.2 percent delayed their child’s school start by a year. Breaking it down by gender, 7.2 percent of parents of boys redshirted, compared to 5.2 percent of parents of girls

It’s also more common among educated parents. When you look at boys with college-educated parents, one in five was redshirted, a rate four times that of summer-born boys with high-school educated parents. Economics may explain the disparity. When a child is redshirted, parents have to pay for another year of preschool so family income becomes a factor. Because college-educated households earn more, they’re able to afford another year of preschool and may have access to higher quality preschools that make it more tempting to keep their child there.

The research shows the presumed age advantage generated by redshirting wears off with time, disappearing by high school. In their joint article, Schanzenbach and Larson write:

In the early grades, an older child will tend to perform better on standardized tests than his younger peers simply by virtue of being older. This makes perfect sense—a redshirted kindergartner has been alive up to 20 percent longer than his on-time counterpart, which means his brain has had more time to develop and he has had that many more bedtime stories, puzzles, and family outings from which to build his general knowledge. This initial advantage in academic achievement dissipates sharply over time, however, and appears to vanish by high school when, as a 9th grader, the redshirted student is at most 7 percent older than his peers.

What are the negatives of holding a child back a year? Redshirted students may be bored in class and socially isolated from less mature peers.

Earlier research, including by Schanzenbach, shows younger students reap benefits from learning alongside and competing against older classmates, including seeing a boost in their test scores.

In the end, the authors conclude:

In sum, we find that redshirting at the kindergarten level bestows few benefits and exacts some substantial costs. Both research and experience suggest that the gains that accrue from being an older student are likely to be short-lived. Because of the important role of classroom peer effects, redshirted children can be educationally and socially harmed by being with others who are performing and behaving at lower developmental levels. Furthermore, while it is hard to predict a child’s likely growth trajectory in the months prior to his expected school entry, the perceived developmental delays and immaturity that prompt parents to choose redshirting in the spring have often resolved themselves by fall.

I know parents who considered redshirting their twin girls and decided against it. They wished they had when their girls reached middle school and experienced emotional and social turmoil. The parents attributed some of the problems to their girls being the youngest in their class.

The research on redshirting has not looked at the social well-being of girls who are the youngest in their class, said Schanzenbach. The focus has been on academic attainment. If the social problems were that extreme, you’d expect them to spill over to academics but the research doesn’t indicate that, she said.

Ultimately, Schanzenbach said parents know best. However,  she worries some preschools may tout “the gift of extra time” for late birthday kids because it means the children stay longer in their care. And elementary schools may concur because older kindergarteners are easier to teach and manage.

Parents may be influenced by exaggerated reports of the benefits of being the oldest child in a class, including the 2008 best seller “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. In his book, Gladwell contends being the oldest puts students on a path to success because they build on their early academic success and earn more opportunities as a result. (The Atlantic takes on that claim in this piece, which dismisses redshirting as a “suburban legend.”)

Parents ought to follow their own best judgment, said Schanzenbach, but they ought to get full information, including the downside of being older than your classmates.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

69 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

Nice piece, Maureen. Sorry I haven't been around much - this retirement thing is a lot of work. Need to go find a job so I can get some rest :-)

I'm frequently reminded of the landmark Lorrie Shepard and Mary Lee Smith 1989 "Flunking Grades", essentially a meta-analysis of the extensive retention research to that date. Reviewing the literature on grade retention, they found rather convincingly that from the (sadly, too) few studies done reasonably well, the performance of kids who were held back was simply no different from their matched counterparts who were not retained.

That said, as you know, I'm a testing guy, and even ran testing for the state of Virginia for a few years (okay, so it ran me). That experience convinced me that what we've done to kids (and teaching and learning) with high-stakes testing has been stupendously destructive. State testing (not just in Georgia), as I'm fond of saying, has one thing in common with the space program. Low bid. The junk with which states "monitor" educational progress has as much to do with teaching and learning as does dealing heroin.

What all this junk testing HAS done is make schools push curriculum down to lower grades. All the way back in the 80's and 90's, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a decade doing research with one of Lorrie's star pupils and a Wisconsin early childhood Ph.D grad (both then at UVA), as well as Steve Barnett (now head of NIEER) and his wife Ellen Frede on the effects of what was then known in Virginia as "Junior Kindergarten". 

The short version of the results of that decade's work was that "JK" was simply "preflunking" poor kids to deal with Kindergarten curriculum that had been pushed down from first grade.

That trend has continued to this day. It's not that most (not all) kids can't SURVIVE curriculum push-down. But why should parents make their kids suffer and learn to hate school BECAUSE of that push-down?

I would not blame parents one iota for choosing to let their kids develop another year prior to Kindergarten for them to be able to defend against the criminal shortsightedness and incompetence of state testing programs and their effect on schools.

THAT said, we can also in different ways expect - and reasonably get - much more from kids along the way to graduation. Witness, if you haven't, the impressive progress of kids in schools that have integrated the teaching evolution encouraged by (for example - it's not by any means the only approach) what's known as the Literacy Design Collaborative.

Lots of ways to improve teaching and learning. Accountability testing, and expecting pre-calculus in Kindergarten, have been shown quite conclusively to be not among them.

Amy Motteram
Amy Motteram

My brother and I both have June birthdays. Neither one of us were held back and I don't think it was detrimental to either one of us. My brother even has a learning disability and he graduates on time, took AP classes and got a full scholarship for college. If I had children, I wouldn't hold back.

ATLLivin
ATLLivin

It is less risky to red shirt. Even if a child is ready for kindergarten, there is no way to know if he is going to be a late bloomer in high school. When most peers have hit puberty two years earlier than your child, it sure seems clear that holding back would have been a better choice academically and socially. 


Standardized tests are the wrong measure for success. Immature kids can do great on tests, but they do have trouble with the discipline and organizational skills required in high school. Additionally, researchers may think a child is successful because he has a 3.5 GPA. However, if your child is getting zeros for not turning in work or gets B's on tests because he can't assess whether he really knows the material, you know that, given your child's intellect, he would have much higher grades if he were only more mature.


Now that our kid is about to leave for college, we are nervous about whether he has the maturity to handle the details necessary for success. We are seeing some growth, but wish he had just one more year to mature. 

Jane Crosby Swanson
Jane Crosby Swanson

Each child is different so wait and see where the are in June before making a decision. When in doubt, sit them out. Don't think for now, think 10 years from now when they have to make decisions about drinking, driving, drugs, sex, etc. leaving them home for an extra year rarely hurts them.

Jackie Smith
Jackie Smith

Graduated at 17 went to college and kept on swimming. I just loved school and had no problems.

Dustin Roland
Dustin Roland

No, my son's birthday is August 26. And he is top in his class reading and math.

April Micheele Morrell
April Micheele Morrell

I think that it should be on an individual child bases. My oldest son has a July birthday, so he was in right at 5 years and a few days. We ended up having him repeat 1st grade, because he wasn't developmentally ready. However, my youngest son has is birthday in September and had to wait a whole extra year. He turned 6 three weeks after school started. He was BORED to death. He should have been allowed to start the previous year, however he missed the cut off by 1 stupid day. In kindergarten he was able to the work that his sister was doing in 2nd grade, but of course he was only allowed to do what the rest of his classmates were doing. He was the only kindergartener that new all of his multiplication tables to 10.

Sandy Whitney
Sandy Whitney

No matter what date they set, there will always be some kids with birthdays near the deadline that are not yet ready to start school. Not all kids mature at the same rate, one size does not fit all.

Melissa Kacalanos
Melissa Kacalanos

No, they should change kindergarten so it's suitable for all 5-year-olds, not just the most mature ones. Today's kindergarten, with its focus on academics, isn't very suitable for most 5-year-olds, especially the younger ones.

Elana Noelle
Elana Noelle

Depends on the child. In Europe they start younger than that. My son started at 4 the Semester he was turning 5. The problem began when we came back to the States. He was ahead and started getting into trouble. My daughter started early and was fine.

Shon Woods
Shon Woods

It depends on their maturity. Some kids (especially girls) can handle starting school a little earlier. But those rowdy boys, lol! Some of them really do need the extra year.

Julie Rodriguez Marshall
Julie Rodriguez Marshall

I think social behavior/social readiness is a big reason to hold kids back. And does it hurt them? No.

Tiffany Turner
Tiffany Turner

It was discussed last year in the legislature, but ultimately was not changed.

Beth Sullivan
Beth Sullivan

It totally depends on the child - every child is different. The parent should know if their child is ready to start kindergarten or not.

AngieSS
AngieSS

We sent the first child "on time" and delayed the second. I vote to delay. It makes the child the oldest in class rather than the youngest, which is great when it's time for driving and entering college. (The first child was under 18 preparing for college and could not sign any of the documents himself. And could not enter a bar until he was a senior in college.)


I think the chart showing education levels on the choice to delay also reflects economics...higher educated parents can more easily afford the extra year of day care or preschool. Struggling parents must get the child in full time school as soon as possible.


The adults who say "I did fine starting school on time with a summer birthday" may be forgetting that the cutoff was not always Sept. 1st.  There was a choice for those with birthdays up to Christmas, so I had plenty of classmates who were younger than me despite my summer birthday.


Katherine Koi
Katherine Koi

Kept both my late July boys home an extra year and I don't regret it at all. They weren't ready.

Norma Jay
Norma Jay

No, this is an old policy that needs revising.

Ken430TX
Ken430TX

As one who started kindergarten at age 4-1/2 I  suggest waiting.  I was academically ready and did well in school, but it was challenging as I was smaller than the other boys and often felt the brunt of their need to pick on smaller kids.  This followed me throughout my school life.  It made me hate school, especially junior high school.  I graduated just a few days after I turned 17 . . . and went off to college that fall academically prepared, but immature.  I wish my parents had waited a year longer.

Lela Grace Flanery
Lela Grace Flanery

I was born on July 19 and never had any issues in school outside of the normal dramatic stuff. Same with my fiancée who was born on June 23. I think it depends on the kid. Don't put on rosy colored glasses with your kid, look at the situation realistically and ask, "Are they ready or am I setting them up to fail?"

Beverly Wilkerson
Beverly Wilkerson

Statistically speaking, boys, especially, do better in school.....grades and behavior.....if they are older.

Kelley Gilliam Sparks
Kelley Gilliam Sparks

As an educator and mother of two summer babies, my answer is wait to see what is best for your child. Late birthday doesn't mean anything.

foxdog
foxdog

The advantage of waiting may not show in elementary school. But it will in high school and at the age of entering college. Perhaps not academically, but socially and physically it usually does. The year makes a big difference in the teen years.

AngieSS
AngieSS

@foxdog I agree. It's tough to be the "last" to get your driver's license and later to be unable to legally go to a bar with your college classmates.

Moreofthesame
Moreofthesame

It is definitely an individual decision and we did the opposite.  My daughter was ahead for her age in preschool and her private Kindergarten, she has a November birthday.  The teachers and director recommended that she go on to first grade.  Since public school would have required her to repeat Kindergarten due to her birthday, we were able to find a private school that placed her in 1st grade.  Many people told us we were making a mistake.  We knew our child was ready.  She is now a High School Junior, taking multiple AP's and has a good friend group.  She is more than a full year younger than her classmates and still more mature than some of them.  It was a good decision for us and for her.  She's already ready to be out of high school and on to college.

Jon Mauney
Jon Mauney

I have an August birthday. Ended up being held back in 6th grade because well, I was just way behind mentally and physically. Ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me. I then excelled in everything I did Oh and being the older Male has its advantages over being the youngest...

Angela Watson
Angela Watson

No, I did amd graduated at 17 turning 18. I don't see the point.

Toni Robertson
Toni Robertson

There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on the kid.

Allison England Taylor
Allison England Taylor

No. My son was born in July. Has always been the youngest..even the youngest on his college football team. But, is still the smartest! Always made all A's. Even Dean's List first year in college.

Allison England Taylor
Allison England Taylor

Yep. Mine went to pre-k as well. I don't think holding them back helps them at all..hurts them in the long run. My other child was born in December, totally opposite of my first & 7 years apart. Lord knows if I would have held him back! He's already 2 head sizes taller than the rest of the kids!

Laura Fulton
Laura Fulton

My son is End of July and has started pre-k. I'd never hold him back. I think it helps him to see the other kids his size writing and sitting still etc etc. it's good for them. Why would I want him to be the oldest and have a year more of experience than everyone else to then sit there bored and start trouble? \U0001f601

Laura Fulton
Laura Fulton

Lol my first is November and he was always ahead of the class and was always bored in "on level" classes. He resorted to talking and fiddling around and was "disruptive" to other students. Now he's in middle school and takes all AC classes. Does them good!

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

Mine was Sept.1. Best thing I even did. Excelled, great in sports, had drivers license first (if you can afford the insurance), was very ready for college.

Carol Chandler Free
Carol Chandler Free

33 years as a teacher...let them sit out. It won't kill them to be at home another year.

ByteMe
ByteMe

It's the parents' decision, but I really think we coddle kids a bit too much.


I'm a July birthday, wasn't held back, actually thrived competing with the older kids, but I had older siblings, so I was used to competing against kids who were a few years older than me, not just a few months.


When the time came to make the decision about our son, I had no second thoughts about having him compete against older kids.  We don't get to choose our competition in life, might as well start learning what it takes to win that competition at an early age.

Andy-Kassi Pichardo
Andy-Kassi Pichardo

My son was born in June. He's only 2, but we've already decided to keep him out of kindergarten a year. He's very intelligent but we're worried about if he'll be ready or not. I would rather start him late than have him repeat a grade later in school.

Tuanunikka Monique Evelyn Keith
Tuanunikka Monique Evelyn Keith

Yes, my child's birthday is in August and it was not our best decision. Ended up repeating. Age does not always guarantee that they are ready for the next step

Naomi Jones
Naomi Jones

No. My son was born at the end of September. I believe the cut off date is at the beginning of September. He has to sit out a whole year. But I guess it depends on what state you are in. This applies to the state of Louisiana.

Doctor B
Doctor B

My husband and I are high school teachers and parents of three. We are planning to red shirt our second child who has a May birthday.


We call this a 15 year-old decision, not a kindergarten decision. We're choosing to red-shirt because of the academic and social pressures in high school, not our child’s present level of kindergarten readiness.


At age 15, the stakes are high, academically and socially. Today, high school is extremely rigorous. Many of the standardized tests are ranked on a national scale, and college acceptance is based on ability, not age. Peer pressure and emotional maturity go hand-in-hand, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about a teenager who was “too mature”.


My child will never be the smartest or the most mature in the class, regardless of whether we red shirt her or not, BUT I would like to give our daughter a small advantage and set her up for success. I know that SOMEONE has to be the youngest in the class, and we simply don't want it to be our children, and since we have the means and the ability to keep her in pre-school for another year, we will. Is red shirting the magic ticket? I’m not sure; but we are planning to gamble on it.


Plus, have you ever met anyone who regrets holding back a child? I haven’t. Try asking your friends and family who red shirted and those who didn’t. My husband and I have asked well over 100 people who held-back children. Every single one said they’d do it again. In fact, the only regrets we heard were about children who weren’t held back. 

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

this discussion shows how idiotic it is to group kids together by age in school.

rdh
rdh

"In sum, we find that redshirting at the kindergarten level bestows few benefits and exacts some substantial costs. Both research and experience suggest that the gains that accrue from being an older student are likely to be short-lived. Because of the important role of classroom peer effects, redshirted children can be educationally and socially harmed by being with others who are performing and behaving at lower developmental levels."


What a pile of malarkey!  Consider someone born on Aug 31, and someone born on Sept 1.  if  this were true,  the children born at the beginning of September would suffer   all of these social harms that they are claiming for the redshirted person born on Aug 31.  And that would be a big, BIG pile of BS.  You see,  you can always boil down the results of these stupid articles by giving the Aug31 vs Sept1  children's case. Whatever the claimed results for red-shirted kids applies to Sept/Oct children as well, where we find , like in this article, those negative conclusions break down under scrutiny.   Virtually the same information can be gleaned just by examining the results of Sept children vs. August children in the same classes over many, many years.  If, at the end of twelve years, we find that the September birthdays are doing statistically better than the August birthdays... you have your answer.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@rdh If you read the linked Education Next article, you will find studies have tried to do that: 

Here is an excerpt:


A study by Todd Elder and Darren Lubotsky leverages cross-state differences in birthday cutoff dates for kindergarten entry. In some states, a child must turn five by December 1 to be eligible for kindergarten in a given year; in others, the cutoff date is September 1. In states with earlier cutoff dates, eligible children who enter on time (and not a year late or early) are, on average, older than their counterparts in states with later cutoffs. These differences in state policy allow researchers to estimate the impact of the child’s age at kindergarten entry.

Another study, co-authored by Elizabeth Cascio and Diane Schanzenbach, uses data from the well-known Project STAR experiment in which students were randomly assigned to classrooms prior to kindergarten entry. Project STAR was initially designed to study the effects of reductions in class size. The random assignment of students to classrooms, however, meant that pairs of children with the same birthday fell into different positions in their classroom age distribution by the luck of the draw.

Both studies find that the benefit of being older at the start of kindergarten declines sharply as children move through the school grades.


http://educationnext.org/is-your-child-ready-kindergarten-redshirting-may-do-more-harm-than-good/

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @rdh I am not sure of that, based only on my observations.  The "babies of the class" even now are more likely to drop out.  I think it is because, early on, they get tired of the struggle.  And I can tell you, with a September boy, it was a huge advantage socially for him to turn 16 right after his sophomore year started!


With the Common Core and Milestone testing, there is quite a bit expected that is not developmentally appropriate.  I would generally err on the side of caution with May-August birthday children.


I think redshirting for sports, which I understand some parents do, is silly, and puts the emphasis on the wrong thing