The proper age to begin kindergarten has been the subject of longstanding debate. A new study in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis concludes that there is no long-term advantage in delaying kindergarten, based on data from a cohort of eighth grade students who were followed for 12 years, until the age of 26.
Past research has been mixed on the long-term benefits of delayed entry into kindergarten. Some studies have found higher achievement in the early grades in students who delayed kindergarten, but the gap appears to decrease as students progress through elementary school.
While most studies have focused on how students fared in elementary school, some more recent studies have examined the impact of age of kindergarten entry on wages later in life. Researchers Jane Arnold Lincove and Gary Painter take a different tack, choosing to focus on a time in a student’s life that has not received much attention — the period when students attend high school and transition to college and careers. Their conclusion: Little advantage persists over time.
The practice of delaying a child’s entry into school is called redshirting, after the practice in college of delaying an athlete’s participation in team sports for a year to give him or her a year to develop physical strength and improve athletic skills. In this study, students who were male, white and from low-income families were most likely to be redshirted.
The researchers note that this contrasts with recent perceptions of redshirting as a strategy used by wealthy parents to give their children a competitive advantage. (There is no national evidence that wealthy parents redshirt their children more often.)
To focus on a small set of long-term outcomes, the researchers selected eighth-grade achievement test scores, having a child out of wedlock (measured for females only), dropping out of high school, entering college, and wages in 1999.
The researchers identified three groups of students for analysis:
- Young at school entry — students with summer birthdays who entered kindergarten soon after they turned 5.
- Older at school entry — students with winter birthdays who entered kindergarten when they were approximately 5 1/2 years old.
- Redshirted — Students with summer birthdays whose entry into kindergarten was intentionally delayed. Redshirted students entered school soon after they turned 6.
To examine whether redshirting might benefit relatively privileged children who would be likely to have stimulating learning experiences during the year delay, they reviewed data for students from families with incomes above the sample mean and a sample of white students, but again found no effect.
“Redshirting” not being used more
Researchers found no evidence that redshirting is being used less or more frequently. About 9% of students with summer birthdays were redshirted in this study, the same rate identified in other more recent data.
Lincove and Painter conclude that redshirting is not an effective tool for improving student outcomes and, in the long run, has little effect on academic and social success in high school and young adulthood. Their study confirmed previous research by Angrist and Krueger (1991) that young students with summer birthdays have higher wages than students with winter birthdays. But they found no significant differences in wages based on redshirting.
The researchers did find that older students, whether because of redshirting or birthday, were less likely to repeat kindergarten and subsequent grades. Given research showing the profound negative effects grade retention can have, the researchers suggest that “parents and school administrators may still prefer to redshirt students who demonstrate a high probability of grade retention.”
However, there are problems with this approach. Delaying kindergarten for a year is not a guarantee that the child will avoid retention. “The clear policy implication for schools is that both redshirting and grade retention based solely on age should be avoided,” the authors say. For parents, the implication is that they consider a school’s propensity for retaining young students when considering redshirting.
Researchers surveyed 25,000 eighth-grade students, using data drawn from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS), which tracks a cohort of eighth graders through high school and young adulthood. The students originally came from a sample of 1,000 schools (800 public and 200 private). Students were surveyed a total of four times over 12 years from eighth grade to about age 26. (There were 15,273 students in the fourth follow-up.) School histories were collected on these students as well as supplemental data from students, parents and school.
“Does the Age That Children Start Kindergarten Matter? Evidence of Long-Term Educational and Social Outcomes,” by Jane Arnold Lincove and Gary Painter, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Summer 2006, Vol. 28, No. 2, pps 153-179.
Published in ERN, October 2006, Volume 19, Number 7