How Redshirting Your Kindergartner Could Backfire

Class: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-138148427/stock-photo-group-of-elementary-pupils-in-classroom.html?src=84odXRnubloTBBnVtYV25w-1-0">Monkey Business Images</a>/Shutterstock; Bearded man: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-74123914/stock-photo-portrait-of-a-man.html?src=DBESdohvYXf-sQb1EyFiww-1-12">siamionau pavel</a>/Shutterstock. Photoillustration by Matt Connolly.


In this era of hypercompetitive parenting, more families are choosing to delay their children’s entry into kindergarten, under the impression that the kids will have an academic and social advantage. In fact, a 2008 study by Harvard researchers claims that since the late 1960s, the number of six-year-olds in first grade has dropped by 9 percent because they are increasingly likely to be enrolled in kindergarten.

No one disputes the immediate results of “redshirting,” a phrase borrowed from the sports world. Six-year-olds categorically test better than five-year-olds in kindergarten, and they enjoy greater social and physical maturity that helps them make friends and win at tag. But there’s a growing debate about the effectiveness of redshirting in the long term—not only for the kids held back, but for their peers, as well.

Some context: Like private school, redshirting is most prevalent among white, Asian, and relatively wealthy families. Here’s 2010 data from the National Center for Education Statistics on the percentages of kids delaying kindergarten:

There are several factors at play here, including the traditional wisdom, backed up by research, that shows little boys to be particularly fidgety in kindergarten. That said, the most striking disparity is also the most worrying. For families earning the least in this country, redshirting is cost-prohibitive (PDF). As higher-income families delay their kids’ kindergarten entry, children from lower-income families end up “competing” against older and more-prepared classmates—at a crucial time for learning and development.

Redshirting stats

Given the increasingly dramatic size of the existing achievement gap—one exacerbated by few affordable pre-K options—some worry that as teachers make kindergarten more challenging to engage the older students, low-income kids will fall even further behind (PDF). Poor students already repeat the grade three times more frequently than wealthy kids.

What’s more, a growing body of research suggests that redshirted kids might not enjoy benefits over the long run, anyway. A 2007 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that “contrary to much academic and popular discussion of school entry age—being old relative to one’s peers is not beneficial.” (Also, unpublished research from 2012 found that the advantages of redshirting “fade out and appear to reverse by eighth grade.”)

Until more-conclusive research emerges, well-meaning parents are likely to continue redshirting their children. And depending on the individual child, that could be the right choice. But as Harvard researcher David Deming says, it’s crucial that parents “make a decision with the whole life course in mind.”

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate