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Redshirting Might Not be Magic After All

kindergarten_team_picAs a mom who’s feeling just a bit sniffly today after I dropped off my daughter at kindergarten this morning, I’m liking one of the latest entries on the Nurtureshock blog. Namely, that “redshirting” kids or keeping them out of kindergarten an extra year so they’ll do better actually doesn’t help much at all.

Two new studies found that at most, there’s a 4-percentage-point difference in how well the oldest kids do versus the youngest, and much of that can be explained away by who has babies when. Kasey Buckley and Daniel M. Hungerman of the National Bureau of Economic research recently looked at detailed birth certificate data from every child born in the United States from 1989 to 2001. Surprisingly, poor women and wealthy women tend to give birth at different times of the year, meaning that wealthier, better-educated women’s children are almost always a little older than their schoolmates.

According to the authors, the seasonal birth pattern explains away fully half the achievement gap between younger kids and older ones.

Two other researchers, Todd Elder and Darrell H. Lubotsky, found that how well a child was able to absorb information from her teacher is not driven by age, but by how well-prepared they were by home and preschool.

Interestingly, a further entry on the blog looks at the search that got people started on this redshirting idea. It looked at data from Denmark that showed older kids who didn’t start primary school until age 7, as is the rule there, did better than American kids who atart at age 6. So people extrapolated this to mean that starting first grade at age 7 would be better for kids.

Turns out, though, that while kids start primary school at age 7, the vast majority of Danish kids have had high quality preschool or daycare experiences, or both, and have universal preschool starting at age 3. It’s likely that that is why they do better than American students who start younger, not because age 7 is some magic cutoff.

Whew. My daughter was born eight hours after the school cutoff in our state, and had she been born when she was due this wouldn’t even be an issue. But despite the belief of her preschool teacher, her kindergarten teacher, both her parents and, well, herself, that this kid is absolutely ready for kindergarten, the only reason we could start her was because she’s going to a private school this year. I think we made the right decision for this particular little girl who lives with us, and having research to bear that out was reassuring to find on the eve of the first day of school.

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