As her daughter’s fifth birthday approached last year, Brandi Sutherland wrestled with whether to go ahead and enroll her in kindergarten or wait another year.

Born on Aug. 16, two weeks and two days before the Texas kindergarten cutoff of Sept. 1, Sloane would have been among the youngest students — or perhaps the youngest — in her class.

“Her (preschool) teachers told me she was ready to start, but I didn’t think she was physically or emotionally ready to take that step,” Sutherland says. “I feel like I would have been setting her up for failure.”

So Sutherland, who lives in Terrell Hills, decided to wait a year, and this fall Sloane will begin kindergarten just after turning 6. “Now she’s excited about it, whereas before she wasn’t really motivated to go to kindergarten,” her mom says. “The thought of it scared her.”

In recent years, the practice of delaying entry into kindergarten — commonly referred to as “redshirting,” after a rule that allows college athletes to extend their eligibility by forgoing freshman-year games — has attracted the attention of academic researchers and policymakers.

They are considering the implications of having children in the same grade separated in age by as much as a year and a half.

In New York City, for example, new rules this fall will cut down on redshirting, requiring that public schoolchildren start kindergarten in keeping with their birth year. That means all children who turn 5 during 2013 must begin kindergarten this fall, with exceptions requiring superintendent approval.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, there is an effort in the opposite direction, with lawmakers considering moving up the kindergarten cutoff date from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, which would shift kids born in the final quarter of the year from the youngest in class to the oldest in the next year’s class.

Sam Wang, an associate professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, opposes that change as well as redshirting.

“We have concluded that there is no demonstrated long-term benefit, either academic or emotional, to delaying entry to kindergarten,” Wang wrote to Connecticut’s education committee. “In the context of the pending legislation, it is our expert opinion that an across-the-board delay would have an adverse impact on the education and long-term prospects of Connecticut’s children.”

Delaying kindergarten has become a hot topic among parents and educators since the publication of Malcolm Gladwell‘s 2008 bestseller “Outliers,” in which he spotlights the rise of Canadian hockey players related to their birthdays. He finds a significantly disproportionate number of elite hockey players have birthdays in January, February and March and draws a link to the Jan. 1 cutoff birth date for youth hockey leagues.

“In his case, he (Gladwell) seems to be arguing that because older 4-year-olds in Canadian hockey camps have an advantage over their younger and smaller peers, older kids must be at an advantage over younger kindergarteners,” Wang wrote in an email exchange with the Express-News. “The evidence points overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. Children learn from their peers, and they learn more if their peers are slightly ahead of them. It’s like improving your tennis game: you get better if you have to stretch a little.”

Researchers have found that children who are redshirted are more likely boys, white and from affluent families.

Delaying kindergarten generally means paying for another year of day care or preschool, costs that can run into the thousands of dollars.

Very poor and black families rarely delay kindergarten entry despite the fact that these families are more likely to indicate concerns about their children’s school readiness,” researchers Daphna Bassok and Sean F. Reardon wrote in a paper titled “The Extent, Patterns, and Implications of Kindergarten ‘Redshirting,’” currently in press by the journal Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Bassok, assistant professor of education policy at the University of Virginia, and Reardon, professor of education at Stanford University, found that approximately 4 percent of U.S. children are redshirted.

Studies on the long-term effects of redshirting are mixed, according to Bassok. While some suggest being among the oldest in class bestows benefits on outcomes such as school achievement and the likelihood of attending college, other studies suggest that in the end, any benefits are washed out since redshirts wind up with one fewer year in the labor force.

In San Antonio, psychologist Madeleine Reichert is regularly approached by parents of children with late birthdays for help in making the decision on when to start kindergarten.

“It really used to be just summer boys, and now I’ll get calls for spring birthdays,” she says. “I do see classes now where we have almost a two-year span in ages.”

Reichert considers each decision on a case-by-case basis.

Some children in this age range, she notes, will try to read signs from the car or decode words in a story.

“When you see none of that happening, I’d much rather give them that extra time,” she says. “To stretch a kid who is not ready and force them into school prematurely, I think is a bad idea.”

With today’s kindergarten often referred to as “the new first grade” for its increased emphasis on reading and other academic skills, kindergarteners are expected to sit still much longer than a generation ago.

“I recommend erring on the side of giving more time,” Reichert says. “I haven’t had parents regret that.”

San Antonio mom Suzanna Borawski spent a lot of time thinking about kindergarten readiness. Her son Jake was born on Aug. 6 — and he was born three weeks early.

It seemed a lot of other moms, especially moms of boys, were choosing to wait.

“A lot of my friends were doing that — they were holding their sons back,” Borawski says.

She took into account her observations of Jake’s social and cognitive development and also solicited feedback from instructors at his Montessori preschool.

And then she went ahead and enrolled him in kindergarten just after he turned 5.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Borawski says. “People were really surprised I was going to go ahead and put him in kindergarten. Many of the boys in the class are a full year older than him, if not more. I felt like it was the right decision for us. It was the right decision for Jake.”

Now 9, Jake is in the fourth-grade gifted and talented program.

“It’s turned out well,” Borawski says. “He has no problems socially or academically. Everything is great. We haven’t had any issues as far as him being the youngest in the class.”


By Michelle Koidin Jaffee

Source: San Antonio Express –