Redshirting Childhood

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As Fort Worth expands its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program, some parents may be left wondering when their child is ready for school.
Fort Worth ISD’s Capital Improvement Bond Program provided for the expansion of the pre-K program. It also expanded classrooms at 16 campuses in the district. Six campuses are already building classrooms to accommodate for the added pre-K students for the start of class in August.
Tracy Gunn, an early childhood curriculum specialist with FWISD, said that 7,000 kindergartners and 4,500 pre-kindergartners are expected for the 2015-16 school year.
However, the pre-K program is only being offered to “at-risk” children first, and those children must qualify through federal eligibility guidelines. Districts are required to serve students who qualify before they open up spots to others.
Children entering pre-K are required to be 4 years old. Those entering kindergarten are required to be 5 years old. But some parents are delaying the entry of their child into kindergarten to give them an advantage.
Some parents claim that they “redshirt” their child, not because the child is not ready for school, but because holding them back might give them an academic, social and even athletic edge over their peers.
The practice of enrolling a child in a grade lower than the one for which he is eligible is known as “academic redshirting.” Redshirting, a phrase originally used to describe the practice of holding college athletes out of play until they have grown larger and stronger, is a recent phenomenon in academics that has created controversy.
In the state of Texas, a student must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 in order to enroll in kindergarten. Along with the age requirement, students must bring immunization records, a birth certificate or affidavit showing proof of age and proof of address.
Reasons for holding a child back
“Parents often choose to wait a year for children born from April to August because the competition among students is so great in high school,” said Jennifer McIntosh, an early childhood educator for 26 years.
Gunn said that kindergarten is not compulsory in the state of Texas, so students do not have to attend kindergarten. Once they attend their first day of kindergarten, however, it becomes mandatory.
According to a study of the 2010-11 school year by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 9 percent of parents don’t send their children to kindergarten until they are 6 years old.
According to a Remedial and Special Education study, the parents of these children typically cite one of two reasons for doing so: either the child’s birthday occurs late in the year (May through August), making him or her younger than peers, or the child has displayed less mature behavior academically or socially than others of the same age.
Benefits to redshirting
Parents usually consider redshirting their child to give him or her an advantage in terms of popularity, sports and academics. They also may do this if their child appears to be immature in preschool.
Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote the book “Outliers,” examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. He researches what makes these high-achievers different. He argues that the month in which you are born can dictate your success or failure in later life.
Gladwell says that the kids who are born closest to the cutoff date, because they are the oldest in their class, have a small but not insignificant advantage, not just in first grade, but throughout their schooling history.
“It’s all about the football culture,” said Sara Gillaspie, principal at Westcliff Elementary School.
Conner Sullivan is a placekick holder and quarterback at the University of Southern California. He is 22 years old and is a junior in college. He was sent to kindergarten at 6 years old and later held back in 8th grade for “athletic reasons.”
“For me, the benefits from being held back were endless and the downsides were none,” Sullivan said. “Being at the top of a group of people, for example, a classroom or sports team, maturity-wise, is essential for a child’s development because, by being more mature, a child is naturally looked upon as a leader.”
There can also be developmental benefits to delaying a child’s enrollment in kindergarten. Development of speech or fine motor skills can allow for a better kindergarten experience with no frustration on the part of the child’s, said McIntosh.
“It is usually better to delay initial entry into kindergarten than to recommend that a child be held in kindergarten for a second year,” said Dr. Michelle Bauml, an assistant professor of early childhood education at TCU.
Research opposing redshirting
There is little evidence that being older than your classmates has any long-term, positive effect on adult outcomes, such as IQ, earnings, or educational attainment. By contrast, there is considerable evidence that entering school later reduces educational attainment (by increasing high school dropout rates) and depresses lifetime earnings (by delaying entry into the labor market).
Lower-income children are at greater risk of dropping out of school when they reach the legal age to exit school. Increasing the age of entry into kindergarten therefore decreases their completed education.
“We can say with near certainty that increasing age at school entry intensifies inequality in human capital and social welfare,” according to Nation Bureau of Economic Research. “Both redshirting and increases in the legal age of school entry have this variance-increasing effect on social welfare.”
According to the Journal of Education Psychology, a study showed that delayed entry students experienced some academic disadvantage in motivation, engagement and performance, while the age-appropriate students, particularly the younger ones, fared best.
Suggestions for parents
Bauml offers three suggestions for parents to help their child be successful in kindergarten:

  • First, read to your child every day. When children are read to, they are more likely to find enjoyment in reading and express an interest in learning to read.
  • Second, communicate with your child’s teacher. A strong parent-teacher relationship can only benefit a child.
  • Third, be patient with your child. Some children simply need more time than others to develop in areas, such as learning how to read or making new friends at school. Attempting to rush the developmental process with intensive academic work outside of school can often lead to frustration rather than real progress. Be patient.

Connie Smith, principal at Tanglewood Elementary School, said that parents should talk to their kids and build life experiences with them. These experiences, she says, might include going to the zoo, sporting events, the rodeo or museums.
How this relates to FWISD
Gunn said that kindergarten teachers prepare their classrooms to receive kids at all entry levels because not everyone is served by kindergarten in the district.
“The teachers realize that they may have students that just aren’t ready for kindergarten,” she said. “Our teachers are very prepared to deal with students and are willing to meet them where they are when they come in.”
Pre-K roundup will take place at various elementary campuses in Fort Worth on April 15-30.
To learn more about the opportunities for 4-year-olds in FWISD, visit www.fwisd.org. To learn more about enrollling your child in school, visit the Texas Education Agency.