Upon my arrival to Trinity College, I learned something interesting when we shared our birthdays and ages at orientation; something that I hadn’t given much thought to until now. I am one of my youngest friends here and I am born in April, the fourth month of the year! It really surprised me to learn that students are in my class but almost a full year or two older than me. Different states have different cut offs so I assumed that it was as simple as that, but then I learned of the redshirting phenomenon. Redshirting refers to the practice of postponing a child’s entrance to school with the intent that your child will have an advantage. Redshirting has created yet another inequality in the United States public education system. In this paper I seek to uncover: When and how did the practice of “redshirting” for kindergarten arise as a public issue, has the practice become more prevalent in recent decades, and if so, what kinds of factors have influenced it, and what are the broader consequences?
Redshirting arose, by name, as a public issue in the early 1980’s and since, studies have shown that redshirting has steadily increased in the past three decades. There is no single explanation for what caused the shift, but there have been many factors that influenced the increase in redshirting. Redshirting has also come with consequences, causing a greater disparity of knowledge in kindergarten and changes in school curricula.
Redshirting comes from the practice used by college athletic teams, a technique where an athlete takes a season off for development and training purposes. Redshirting kindergarteners, however, has become a recent phenomenon, with scarce mention before the early 1970’s. Some believe that policy shifts in entry laws from 1975-2000 contributed to the rise of redshirting. During this time, twenty-two states increased the minimum age for kindergarten entry. This ultimately led to a steady decline in six-year olds enrolled in first and second grade, dropping 13% between 1968 and 2010 (Bassok and Reardon, 284). Policy is not the only factor that has influenced this change- it is also believed to come from parenting techniques. This delay that parents’ have may in part created, is due to the fear that their child is not socially or developmentally ready to begin kindergarten (Bassok and Reardon, 284). However, parents’ may not have come up with the idea to redshirt their child on their own.
Another factor that is believed to contribute to the rise of redshirting is the rise in standardized testing. Scholars Lincove and Painter found that the No Child Left Behind law has increased pressure for schools to reach the national standard; standardized testing can begin as early as the third grade. Standardized testing in the third grade puts immense pressure on teachers and school boards to start preparing students for these exams as early as grades K – 2 (Lincove and Painter, 154). Some districts feel the need to increase the kindergarten entry age or encourage parents to redshirt students because of standardized testing (Lincove and Painter, 154). The fact that schools have recently made changes to the legal age of school entry is tied to the schools fear of not performing well on standardized testing, and it’s believed that the redshirting phenomenon might be an unintentional consequence of pressure that the standardized testing puts on schools (Deming and Dynarski, 9). It is a common thought that redshirting was challenging the intellectual level of kindergarten curriculum but this is something much larger, standardized testing is the reason for the change in curriculum. Although there is not any data to prove that kindergarten is what first grade was forty years ago, it is quite obvious that the academic expectations of kindergarteners is higher than ever (Deming and Dynarski, 11). Allowing an extra year for students to stay home and develop creates disparity in knowledge in the classroom, which makes it difficult for the teacher to teach the class (Graue and DiPerna, 512). Parents’ decision to redshirt their children can be both individual and communal based. As mentioned before, some research has found that school districts have encouraged parents to redshirt their children to increase the standardized testing results for the district (Lincove and Painter, 154). Standardized testing holds school districts (principals and teachers) accountable for students test scores, which leads them to encourage redshirting. Parents and teachers are only thinking about the short-term benefits it will provide on both parties; not realizing the long-term repercussions it might have (Deming and Dynarski, 9).
Another reason that we presume parents’ redshirt their children is due to the fear of retention. Studies have shown that students who repeat a year of kindergarten often have behavioral issues in their second year and are not as motivated to learn (Holloway, 89). Since parents’ are the ones who make the decisions for their child to be redshirted it is important to look at family influence. This is where redshirting becomes complex because there are many independent variables outside of the school that influence the decision to redshirt. Scholars Lincove and Painter looked at the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988 and analyzed eighth graders and attempted to trace back to their kindergarten entry. In this study, they separated the students into three groups: summer birthdays, winter birthdays, and summer birthdays that redshirted (Lincove and Painter 159). From their study, they determined that most of the students who were redshirted came from nontraditional families and were likely to have been born outside of the U.S (Lincove and Painter, 158). In contrast, today it is evident that students from middle-class families are more likely to be redshirted because of their cultural capital and socioeconomic status (Hansen- Bundy).
In 2006, a study was conducted that found that 5% of children in the United States are entering school a year later than they are permitted to. While this may seem harmless, 77% of these deferrals are students who are born in the last quarter of the year and 30% of these children come from families who are in the top socioeconomic quarter (Bedard and Dhuey, 29). Therefore, this leaves children from low socioeconomic standing in an even greater disadvantage – being the youngest in their class and having less cultural capital. An important consequence of redshirting is the increase in disparity of human capital and social welfare (Deming and Dynarski, 16). In kindergarten, those who are the oldest are the ones with the greatest advantage – typically coming from higher socioeconomic classes and having an extra year under their belts from cultural education experiences. On the other hand, children who live in poverty are faced with the struggle to compete with students that already had an unfair advantage outside of the classroom. There is substantial evidence from an array of programs that are for disadvantaged children. This evidence shows that early assistance prevents grade repetition, reduces crime, and helps prevent teen pregnancy (Heckman and Masterov, 6). The use of tracking in the American school system takes this disparity and puts these students on lower education paths as if they have learning disabilities when, in actuality, they are only behind because they are competing with students a full year older than them (Deming and Dynarski, 16).
There has been much debate on whether or not redshirting has positive or negative long-term effects on a child. In the earliest grades, the redshirted child is said to be at an advantage, coming into school with an extra year of development, which gives them a leg up both in and outside of the classroom. It is proven that the brain development between ages five and six is very significant because these are the fundamental years of children’s lives (Konnikova). However, evidence shows that redshirted students don’t have this ‘leg up’ forever. Being the oldest student in a class reduces their educational attainment (Deming and Dynarski, 3). The younger children attain more knowledge because they are more motivated and carry a good work ethic throughout schooling (Deming and Dynarski, 2). Plummeting High School graduation rates in America’s public education system is a huge issue and correlations can be made to redshirting. Redshirting has created a loop in the public education system, because of the higher age of entry into kindergarten, high school students are able to drop out a year earlier (Deming and Dynarski, 2). The United States doesn’t have a universal age entry law for kindergarten; however, there is compulsory schooling law in place that constrains children to remain in school until a certain age, not for a certain amount of years (Deming and Dynarski, 12). Although there is evidence of correlation between increase in redshirting and increase in dropout rates, most redshirted kids will not drop out. The price of redshirting is that these children will be delayed in entering the labor force and acquiring capital (Deming and Dynarski, 15).
In redshirting, parents are trying to give their child an advantage in the classroom and on the sports field but what they don’t realize is that this ‘leg up’ doesn’t last forever. Choosing to redshirt is also choosing to prolong your child’s childhood, which in turn means they will reach some of life’s greatest milestones a year later than they were supposed to (Deming and Dynarski, 4). This recent phenomenon of delaying entry to school has led to the prolonging childhood and adolescence, most importantly the delay of adulthood – which correlates with the economy (Deming and Dynarski, 2). Education teaches cognitive and other skills that are key components to the labor force and more importantly impacts the economy. This fact ties back into the high dropout rate because it negatively effects the economy, if these cognitive and non-cognitive skills are not embedded in students (Heckman and Masterov, 7). It also ties to the prolonging of childhood because redshirted students enter the industry a year later than they would have. The economy is greatly impacted if the school system is not producing students who have cognitive and non-cognitive skills that are essential to the labor force (Heckman and Masterov, 18). With that said the phenomenon of redshirting and any other educational shifts like it must be closely studied.
Kindergarten once revolved around finger painting, nap time, learning shapes, colors and the alphabet. Today kindergarten curriculum revolves around fast pace preparation for the standardized tests that they will begin taking. The curriculum of Kindergarten is changing and seems to be shifting towards the structure of 1st grade because of the popularity of redshirting. Since redshirting is fairly recent there isn’t one determined explanation for the shift studies have shown that helicopter parents and standardized testing are the leading causes. The pressure for students to preform and achieve has made parents’ fearful that their child isn’t ready to start school. What I hadn’t realized at first glance was the many other social, political, and economic factors that redshirting has created. Educational shifts are crucial to study because if the system isn’t producing skilled and intelligent individuals our economy will suffer. Redshirting seems like it could be an easy fix – if the education system had a universal age requirement. However, educational changes take a lot of time and nothing is a simple, as it may seem.
Every parent wants what is best for their child and say they would ‘ do anything for their child.’ It is a fatal flaw that in our education system that those who have socioeconomic status are the ones who can afford to redshirt and give their child a ‘leg up.’ Redshirting raises the question of whether this practice is immoral or unwise, because of the disparity that it is creating. There is no study that has shown enough evidence of anything detrimental to a child’s future if they are redshirting. Redshirting may create disparity of knowledge in classrooms but disparity is everywhere in society, and if redshirting could potentially help your child there isn’t any parent who wouldn’t do it. The rules and expectations of students in Education are almost always based on their age. America is living on a calendar of age; age determines when we can start school, drop out of school, drive, vote, work, consume alcohol, buy tobacco. Age, by society’s standards determines individuals’ readiness, maturity, and ability to handle certain situations. America has let age define an individual’s experience and progression beyond just celebrating another year of life.
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