Early learners held-back may perform better through college

Early learners held-back may perform better through college

(Mass.) In a departure from past studies that urge parents to start their children in school on time, new research suggests children who start kindergarten later than their birthdate might dictate perform better academically—beginning in  primary grades  through college.

Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Affairs–a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in Massachusetts–found that holding off on enrolling children in kindergarten can increase their likelihood of enrolling in college, earning a degree and graduating from a competitive institution, while also decreasing a child’s chances of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system.

The practice, known as redshirting, is also being pursued by more families, according to the research, where increasingly, parents believe their children will be more successful if they're slightly older. The term “redshirting” comes from college athletics, where underclassmen are sometimes held back to take advantage of eligibility rules that extend for five years.

Currently, up to 5.5 percent of parents delay their child’s entry into kindergarten in the United States.

“An increasing number of parents in the United States have been delaying sending their children to kindergarten because they believe doing so will give them an advantage over their peers, whether academically, socially, or even athletically,” authors of the report wrote.

Researchers noted that they were “able to document significant effects on longer-run outcomes that show, despite some literature finding that test-score effects fade out of age by later grades, that the age at school entry may still impact children through their lifetime via their educational opportunities.”

What could be considered the appropriate cutoff age for kindergarten enrollment has long been debated by those who argue that even just slightly older children are more mature and ready to handle the classroom structure, and those who say that younger children will adapt and that allowing children to enroll at an earlier age will allow parents to go back to work.

States have been making an effort to address concerns from all sides. In California for example, where the cutoff date was in December, some children were entering kindergarten when they were still 4 years old. Lawmakers have gradually moved the cutoff to September so that students would be at least a few months older, and implemented a state-funded transitional kindergarten program so that teachers could focus more specifically on the needs of younger learners and parents could re-enter the workforce.

In 2008, researchers from the University of Michigan and Harvard University found that children who are redshirted tend to have lower IQs and earnings as adults. Two years prior, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that while redshirted kids were more likely to play varsity sports in high school, they also performed worse on 10th-grade statewide tests, were twice as likely to drop out of school and were less likely to graduate from college

Other studies from as early as 2000 suggest that students who are redshirted become less motivated and engaged than their younger peers in high school and that they are more likely to require special education services. Researchers have theorized that decisions to keep from enrolling children in kindergarten once they’re eligible because of behavior or learning problems can at least partially explain why more redshirted kids may need special education services. What parents view simply as immaturity can actually be a sign of existing problems, but if students are kept out of school they may not receive support services until much later.

The study released this month from the National Bureau of Economic Affairs contradicts many of the above findings. Researchers used birth records from the Florida Department of Health for all children born in Florida between 1994 and 2000, combined with school records maintained by Florida Department of Education for the academic years 1997-98 through 2011-12, to track nearly 1 million children–and determine by age who would naturally be the oldest in the class based on birthdate, and who would have been deliberately enrolled later.

White males with high socioeconomic status were more likely to be redshirted than African-American or Hispanic children, or those from lower-income households, the report found. Those children who were older in kindergarten were 1.5 percentage points more likely to attend college, 1.4 percentage points more likely to receive a college degree, and 1.5 percentage points more likely to graduate from a competitive institution than their younger peers.

Those same children were also .16 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated in the juvenile justice system by their 16th birthday.