Back to School Considerations: Redshirting

Back to School Considerations: Redshirting

Elisabeth Wilborn
Aug 24, 2012

One issue brought to light by my family's recent interstate move is the matter of a child's age at the start of the school year. In New York, where they have a December 31 cut-off, my October daughter would have been starting Kindergarten this year. Now that we are in Texas, where one has to be 5 by September 1, she won't start Kindergarten until next year. I have to admit, I'm not entirely crestfallen about the whole thing. Many parents these days intentionally hold their children back to gain advantage in a process known as 'redshirting'.

In his book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell enumerates the cumulative advantages of always being the oldest in the class. With age comes maturity, brain capacity, height, and strength. These children then feel naturally "gifted", do better on tests, are picked first for team sports, and overall gain confidence on each rung of the ladder to success. In places where sports are considered of the utmost importance, redshirting is an especially common practice, even more widespread amongst the boys.

All of this got me thinking; if we had stayed in New York, my daughter would have been one of the youngest in her class. There are states (Indiana) where the cut-off is actually July 1, making it a full six months ahead of states like New York. The advantage to programs like New York's is that children who wouldn't otherwise have access to any education can start pre-k in the public school system as young as 3 1/2. The negatives however, are obvious. When someone like my daughter goes to college, enters the work force, or competes in any other national competition along the way, she is at a disadvantage to children in the same grade in other states. There can be as much as a year and a half age gap, and that's just playing by the rules. But redshirted kids? They can gain up to a two and a half year advantage. Private schools know this, and usually have earlier cut-off dates than publics for a variety of reasons. Most transparent and perhaps cynical of these is that holding the kids back will shift the test scores in the school's favor if ever so slightly. Bully for them. It all depends on what side of the coin you're on, doesn't it?

Obviously this is a tremendously personal decision. Parents have to do what they believe is right for their own child, and every child is different. As a mass movement, redshirting strikes me as an extreme measure, but if everyone around you is doing it, the pressure to hold a child back is especially strong.

When we were children, the idea was to have smart kids skip as many grades as possible, that this would help them get ahead in life. Now the thinking is the opposite. I'm interested in hearing from parents and educators. What is your experience with redshirting? Do you think that the beginning age for kindergarten should be the same nationally? Is there a difference in maturity level for boys and girls?

Of course, this move also means that my younger summer daughter, who would have been exactly middle-of-the-pack in New York, will now be one of the youngest in her class. Maybe we should redshirt her.

(Image: by Flickr User Phil Roeder, licensed under Creative Commons)

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