“Redshirting” preschoolers may do more harm than good
Educator and researcher agree that it’s generally not worth it to delay kindergarten start time
April 6, 2017—Each year, millions of parents nationwide must make a seemingly life-altering decision for their soon-to-be kindergartener: to redshirt or not to redshirt. “Redshirting,” or the act of delaying a student’s kindergarten entrance by one year, many parents believe, will give their child time to develop cognitive and social skills that will make him more successful in school. But is redshirting preschoolers really advantageous? In a new article for Education Next, Diane Schanzenbach, an education professor at Northwestern University, and Stephanie Larson, director of Rose Hall Montessori School in Wilmette, Illinois, weigh the evidence and conclude that postponing a student’s entrance into kindergarten does more harm than good both academically and socially and that where there are academic advantages, they are short-lived.
Using data from the Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Schanzenbach and Larson find that among parents of the kindergarten class that entered in fall 2010, 6.2 percent delayed their child’s entrance into school by a year, with that share 2 percentage points higher for boys than girls. The redshirting rate is higher among children of highly educated parents, with college graduates approximately twice as likely to redshirt their sons as those with a high school degree. The rates are particularly high for boys with summer birthdays. As many as one in five summer-born boys with college-educated parents was redshirted in 2010. (See figure below).
Though it is difficult to isolate the effects of redshirting from those of other characteristics, such as family background, two recent studies that take advantage of either variation in state birthday cut-off dates or the random assignment of students to kindergarten classrooms have enabled researchers to measure the impact of being among the oldest students in a class. Both studies find that a redshirted student is likely to perform better on standardized tests in early grades, simply by virtue of being older, but that this academic advantage disappears by high school.
The authors also consider the influence of peers, noting the research shows that being among the youngest in a class is actually beneficial in both the short and long run. Younger students gain an advantage by learning from and competing with older students, who tend to be higher achieving and better behaved. Meanwhile, a redshirted student may find herself bored in class and socially isolated from less mature peers. Schanzenbach and Larson also note that the perceived developmental delays that often prompt parents to choose redshirting in the spring have often resolved themselves by the fall, when kindergarten begins.
“Both research and experience suggest that the gains that accrue from being an older student are likely to be short-lived,” say Schanzenbach and Larson.
To receive an embargoed copy of “Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? ‘Redshirting’ may do more harm than good” or to speak with the authors, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at firstname.lastname@example.org. The article will be available Tuesday, April 11 on www.educationnext.org and will appear in the Summer 2017 issue of Education Next, available in print on May 24, 2017.
About the Author: Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Stephanie Howard Larson is the director of Rose Hall Montessori School in Wilmette, Illinois.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit www.educationnext.org.