Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Redshirting--It's Not Just for Athletes Anymore

There was an interesting article in the paper this weekend about the growing practice of having kids start school late rather than early, due in part to studies that show higher academic achievement among the late-starters.

The "birthday cutoff" is usually set by the school district, and tends to work like this:
The birthday cutoffs span six months, from Indiana, where a child must turn 5 by July 1 of the year he enters kindergarten, to Connecticut, where he must turn 5 by Jan. 1. Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early. As a result, when the 22 kindergartners entered Jane Andersen's class at the Glen Arden Elementary School near Asheville, N.C., one warm April morning, each brought with her or him a snack and a unique set of gifts and challenges, which included for some what's referred to in education circles as "the gift of time."
So how is this extra time a gift? Here are some examples:
Gaps in achievement have many causes, but a major one in any kindergarten room is age. Almost all kindergarten classrooms have children with birthdays that span 12 months. But because of redshirting, the oldest student in Ms. Andersen's class is not just 12 but 15 months older than the youngest, a difference in age of 25 percent.

Ms. Andersen walked her kindergartners single-file to P.E. class, where the children took turns running laps for the Presidential Fitness Test. By far, the fastest runner was the girl who had been redshirted. She strode confidently, with great form, while many of the smaller kids could barely run straight. One of the younger girls pointed out the best artist in the class, a freckly redhead. He had been redshirted as well.
And one of the other advantages of redshirting is that the high-stakes standardized tests are cropping up earlier and earlier, so kindergarten has become more academically demanding. (Ugh--that's a sentence I thought I'd never have to write. But I'll save my standardized-testing rants till February, like I always do.)

Read the whole thing; there's sort of a "dark side" to all of this, as it's also been shown that part of the mindset behind redshirting has to do with how society tends to value self-esteem over individual achievement; the parents are hoping that the extra year of maturity before starting school will shield them from some of the problems faced by the youngest kids in the class. (But in the parents' defense, the things being taught in kindergarten now--thanks to the standardized tests--are the same as what was being taught in first grade a generation ago, and some parents may well feel that their kids aren't quite ready for that type of material at not-quite- or just-turned-5.) And, needless to say, the dynamic may be totally different in less-affluent areas, where it would often be best to get the kid out of expensive day care and into public school as soon as possible.

I grew up in exactly the opposite system as the one discussed in the article; many of my friends started school in systems where a kid could start kindergarten as long as he/she turned five during the fall semester. With a June birthday, I was the second-oldest of my group of friends, with one of them not turning 18 until the end of his first semester in college. While I don't have a personal dog in this fight, I do have two nephews with late-summer birthdays (one in mid-August, the other in mid-September), so this may be an issue for them in the future, even though their private school may have a completely different cutoff date.

So how about you--did you start school early or late compared to your classmates? And if you have kids, what did they do? Do you see any advantage to one method over the other? Please respond in the comments.

Best wishes to Joe: Our thoughts go out to Joe Zawinul, who's hospitalized in Vienna with an undisclosed illness. He's the fusion pioneer who made his name with Cannonball Adderley and co-founded Weather Report with Wayne Shorter; he's also known as the composer of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Birdland."

The dog bites back: A company in Florida has come up with a dog chew toy that looks like Michael Vick.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My daughter has an early September birthday, and the FISD cutoff is Sept 1. When she was 4, we thought about trying to get her into kindergarten a year early but eventually decided to let her start on time. As it is, I think she likes now being one of the oldest kids in her classes.

My son, with a late November birthday, starts kindergarten on time this fall but is probably ready both academically and physically for 1st grade. He already reads some unfamiliar words on his own, counts from 1 past 200, can start him counting at 990 and he keeps on trucking past 1000, does simple arithmetic in his head, and physically he's always been in the 95th+ percentile for height, weight, etc for his age. Last year, as a preschooler, he was taller than most of the kindergarten kids and wouldn't have looked out of place in a lineup of 1st graders either. I hope he's not bored with kindergarten, but he definitely needs the socialization side of it before starting 1st grade.