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The Biggest Kid in Class: How Redshirting Affects Teachers
Kindergarteners are getting older. Not just in the rite-of-passage, welcome to education, “I can’t believe you’re this old and you used to fit in the crook of my arm!” sort of way, but in a literal and measurable way. School districts report that an increasing number of parents wait to send their children to school.
The practice of waiting to enroll students for an additional year after they qualify for kindergarten is called academic redshirting. Some parents delay their child’s entry to kindergarten for the potential academic or sports-related advantages while others do it because they don’t feel their children are socially ready to start school.
The benefits of redshirting: surprising news for younger classmates
The decision to redshirt kindergarteners gets mixed reviews. The original philosophy of delaying entry into school was inspired by data that showed that the older a child entering school was, the more potential for athletic success he or she had. Further studies noted that older kindergarten classes were linked to higher test scores — a big benefit to schools where testing is used as the primary measure of success.
At the same time, researchers uncovered a correlative rather than causative nature behind redshirted student testing performance. Two long-term studies also seemed to suggest that late kindergarten entry might have significant long-term risks. When tested at age eighteen, Norwegian children who had waited a year to start school had lower IQs than their younger classmates. A study of the entire Swedish population indicated that those who started school late earned less money over the course of their professional lives.
In the New Yorker’s Against Redshirting, Maria Konnikova reports that the constant struggle of younger students to find their place and keep up with their older academic counterparts makes them more likely to be successful in the long run, while the academic benefits of redshirting tend to disappear as students get older.
What redshirting means for kindergarten teachers
Even if the benefits are debatable, according to the New York Times, approximately seventeen percent of all kindergarten students are six years old, up from four percent in 1968. Redshirting is growing as a method used by parents to ensure their child’s success in school. How does this choice affect teachers and their classrooms?
Larger age ranges in the classroom
Delayed kindergarten entry creates a more significant age range in the classroom – about 18 months. As such, teachers need the power and freedom to respond to these changing populations. In Redshirting in the Age of Academic Kindergarten, Lori Day suggests that teachers face difficulties in managing group behavior and differentiated learning with these varied student populations.
Do different-aged students require different behavior management?
A broadly-populated classroom to requires teachers to understand the needs and talents of both younger and older students. Appealing to school-wide behavior management tools such as Positive Behavior Support (PBS) or Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) can create school culture expectations for students of all ages to be used inside and outside of the classroom, regardless of the age range or specific student grade. Familiarity with expected age-related behaviors will help teachers be responsive to the youngest students, for whom some gross-motor movement may be necessary before settling into learning.
Differentiation for reading and math support
In some ways, it could be helpful to change the classroom environment itself. Modern differentiation increasingly breaks classroom and age-based barriers in ways that it hasn’t before. Some schools find that older students are better served moving into higher or lower classrooms for reading or math support.
School-wide communication is essential for making these moves possible, but such flexibility readily increases the relative-difference highlighted in Maria Konnikova’s piece. Taking the oldest students from a lower grade and temporarily grouping them with students from the higher grade pulls them out of their previously-defined classroom roles and gives them the opportunity to struggle that proves so helpful to youngest students over time.
Is redshirting fair to all families?
Research on redshirting also raises an ethical consideration: there is a socioeconomic tie to the ability to delay entry into kindergarten. While upper middle-class parents can afford the economic burden of an additional year of staying home with a child or paying for preschool or daycare, others cannot. The majority of redshirting happens in districts with wealthy families.
In the age of No Child Left Behind testing and pay-for-performance teacher salaries, these older students tend to score better in their earlier years, further widening the elementary-level achievement gap.
Educators, administrators, and policy makers must be aware of the influence of redshirting on performance. Teachers need the flexibility and administrative support to provide students excellent educations regardless of their initial enrollment age.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.