By: Elizabeth Weil, New York Times
Thursday, May 14, 2009
From the article:
According to the apple-or-coin test, used in the Middle Ages, children should start school when they are mature enough for the delayed gratification and abstract reasoning involved in choosing money over fruit. In 15th- and 16th-century Germany, parents were told to send their children to school when the children started to act "rational." And in contemporary America, children are deemed eligible to enter kindergarten according to an arbitrary date on the calendar known as the birthday cutoff - that is, when the state, or in some instances the school district, determines they are old enough. The birthday cutoffs span six months, from Indiana, where a child must turn 5 by July 1 of the year he enters kindergarten, to Connecticut, where he must turn 5 by Jan. 1 of his kindergarten year. Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early. As a result, when the 22 kindergartners entered Jane Andersen's class at the Glen Arden Elementary School near Asheville, N.C., one warm April morning, each brought with her or him a snack and a unique set of gifts and challenges, which included for some what's referred to in education circles as "the gift of time."
After the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance, Andersen's kindergartners sat down on a blue rug. Two, one boy and one girl, had been redshirted - 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. Six of Andersen's pupils, on the other hand, were quite young, so young that they would not be enrolled in kindergarten at all if North Carolina succeeds in pushing back its birthday cutoff from Oct. 16 to Aug. 31....
Redshirting is not a new phenomenon - in fact, the percentage of redshirted children has held relatively steady since education scholars started tracking the practice in the 1980s. Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics in the 1990s show that delayed-entry children made up somewhere between 6 and 9 percent of all kindergartners; a new study is due out in six months. As states roll back birthday cutoffs, there are more older kindergartners in general - and more redshirted kindergartners who are even older than the oldest kindergartners in previous years. Recently, redshirting has become a particular concern, because in certain affluent communities the numbers of kindergartners coming to school a year later are three or four times the national average. "Do you know what the number is in my district?" Representative Folwell, from a middle-class part of Winston-Salem, N.C., asked me. "Twenty-six percent." In one kindergarten I visited in Los Altos, Calif. - average home price, $1 million - about one-quarter of the kids had been electively held back as well. Fred Morrison, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan who has studied the impact of falling on one side or the other of the birthday cutoff, sees the endless "graying of kindergarten," as it's sometimes called, as coming from a parental obsession not with their children's academic accomplishment but with their social maturity. "You couldn't find a kid who skips a grade these days," Morrison told me. "We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways - into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant." So parents wait an extra year in the hope that when their children enter school their age or maturity will shield them from social and emotional hurt. Elizabeth Levett Fortier, a kindergarten teacher in the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, notices the impact on her incoming students. "I've had children come into my classroom, and they've never even lost at Candy Land."...
To read the entire article, visit the New York Times website at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/magazine/03kindergarten-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.
Morrison was interviewed live for the ABC News Now program Healthy Living on Monday, July 2nd at 10:30 a.m. Tune in at http://abcnews.go.com/abcnewsnow/. Once you are on the ABC NewsNow page, click on Health in the CHANNELS list, then on Healthy Living. Then choose the "Kindergarten Start Age" 7/2/07 program from the Healthy Living Playlist.