Education’s Open secret

I don’t have any kids but I know many people that read this site either will be mothers or fathers in the near future or already have young ones probably tugging at you right now. And as you consider different educational options, the lines are often drawn over to send your kids to public, charter, or private schools, with you choosing the best option available to your family. But as a New York Times magazine article by Elizabeth Weil so elegantly explains, perhaps a bigger factor in your child’s academic and social development may hinge greatly on your kid’s birthday and when they start kindergarten.

The article begins with a discussion of the various birthday cut off dates for when children can start kindergarten. “Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early.” That is the crux of the entire article, the trend of parents who ‘redshirt’ their children — “the term, borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.”

Weil then describes a kindergarten classroom where unsurprisingly the older students were able to master the curriculum at faster rates than the younger students. State legislatures are hip to the game as well because “Since 1975, nearly half of all states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs and four — California, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee — have active legislation in state assemblies to do so right now.” Testing, testing, and more testing is the name of the game as educational funding, prestige, and jobs for that matter are directly tied to test results, especially when these results can be demonstrated as early as the third grade. I would love to see statistics on how well the lowest twentieth percentile score on state standardized tests. This I think tells more about a state’s commitment to education than you would get from the state average. Let me digress for a minute though, if you are a parent, how stressed, if at all, do you get awaiting the results of your kid’s state standardized test?

Getting back, even though redshirting is not a new phenomenon and has been relatively steady since the 1980’s (according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the growing concern over this issue is “because in certain affluent communities the numbers of kindergartners coming to school a year later are three or four times the national average.” 

Can we say inequality? The question you then have to ask is if there are long-range advantages built in for older students?

“Kelly Bedard, a labor economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a paper called “The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects” in The Quarterly Journal of Economics in November 2006 that looked at this phenomenon.”

In the United States, she found that the relatively oldest students are 7.7 percent more likely to take the SAT or ACT, and are 11.6 percent more likely to enroll in four-year colleges or universities.”

If you can imagine, this trend has disproportionately deleterious impacts on low-income communities and for people of color. One of the most universal phrases you will hear from a parent of the 3-5 year old is, “I can’t wait until they go to school!” This is especially true if you are low-income (heck even middle class) and your day care bill is the same, if not more than your car note. Maybe we should push school back to 6 instead of 5 and give families the financial relief to not pay an arm and a leg for day care. It just doesn’t make sense that,

“In 49 out of 50 states, the average annual cost of day care for a 4-year-old in an urban area is more than the average annual public college tuition. A RAND Corporation position paper suggests policy makers may need to view “entrance-age policies and child-care polices as a package.”

I hope so because the package currently burdening the working class is insidiously perpetuating inequality amongst the haves and the have not’s. Investing early in quality education for all children is the most economically straight forward argument, period, and I don’t care if you are conservative or liberal. Let me leave you with a couple questions?

Do you think red-shirting should be outlawed?

Were you red-shirted?

Would you consider red-shirting your own child?

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

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