Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BIG FISH IN LITTLE PONDS....This subject happened to come up in conversation the other day, and today Linda Williamson confirms that it's true:

During a talk at our son's preschool, visiting kindergarten teachers talked up the benefits of having children wait until age 6 to begin kindergarten, rather than enrolling them as soon as they become eligible at 5. "They'll be really ready, they'll have the advantage of being the oldest in the class, and when they get to high school, they'll be the first ones to drive." And in response to my queries about the rigorous academics we found in kindergarten, my son's teacher explained that the current kindergarten curriculum was, until five years ago, the first-grade curriculum.

So if we are being advised to wait until age 6 to begin school, and the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten, the kindergarten I once knew has effectively been eliminated. No wonder there is a drive for universal preschool. Preschool is the new kindergarten.

I wish I had an intelligent reaction to this, but basically it's just "Huh?" Apparently parents are increasingly buying into the notion that holding back their kids for a year is a good idea because it gives them a better chance of being tops in their class. It's a competitive advantage, you see. And teachers are encouraging this belief.

This strikes me as nuts. Please tell me there's something I'm just not getting about this.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (161)

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Come on kevin, when are you going to do the 8th grade math test?

Posted by: Amok92 on February 27, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's perfectly in line with college being the 'new high school' and all.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Both of my parents worked in Education, and I have, as you may remember, taught college level pro audio classes. So I can say with some minor authority that this is indeed crap.

It plays into the common mythology that testing and hard results are the only true measure of education, as advanced by NCLB, etc. Followint this logic, let's wait even longer, say, til the kid is 9 to start 1st grade. Instead of challenging and molding the brain, let's just fill it with data to be spewed upon testing. It's so much easier than, you know, doing the actual job of education.


Posted by: SteveAudio on February 27, 2006 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's classic economics. They are conflating relative advantage with absolute advantage.

Posted by: John Forde on February 27, 2006 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I am assuming this is unquantified and "convention wisdom". Therefore who knows? That said, there could be an advantage. I chose an undergrad that was moderately competitive over more competitive schools where I would have been average. At the moderately cometitive school I excelled and graduated with a 4.0 in the sciences. Only one other student out of about 2000 had a 4.0 at graduation and they were not in the sciences. As a result of the 4.0, close mentoring with profs and good receommendations from these profs I was able to get into any grad school I wanted with complete funding. I didn't plan it that way but that is how it worked.

Posted by: Bill Hicks on February 27, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

My birthday was just under the cutoff date and so I was always one of the oldest kids in class, and it does make a difference, but only in the early years. By the time you're in fifth or sixth grade, 6 months average age advantage isn't much.

Posted by: Boronx on February 27, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

She did not say the child "would be at a competitive advantage". She said the child would be likely to do better, given that he appears a bit behind compared to the kids he's now with.

Big, big difference. Don't read too much into this.

Posted by: dan on February 27, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

All the younger kids can tease them until college about being "held back" for a year.

Posted by: knobboy on February 27, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - you have a lot to learn about how big of an issue this is among parents these day. Interviews and competitive placement for 3 year olds is just the start.

Posted by: LHB on February 27, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, if I may:

We are talking about 4, 5 and 6 year olds here. I have some of them living at my house right now. And because of that, I come in daily contact with lots more. Here's the thing about people that small - they are very, very different from each other, developmentally speaking. Some are ready to sit still and learn something at 4 or 5, and some are not. Some can grasp letters and numbers, and some cannot.

So holding back your kid for a year, in order to get him or her to be in the older half of the class, is not only a good idea for the kid, but for the class as well. Because the younger, less mature kids take all the teacher's time.

Plus, trying to teach kids stuff at 5 that they used to get at 6, seems counterproductive, for reasons that are given in the rest of the essay.

Posted by: craigie on February 27, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

It might not be a "tops in the class" competitive advantage the parents are seeking, but rather a social one.

We put our daughter into kindergarten at 5 y.o. instead of 6 because she was already reading and her best friend (who was already 6) was going in that year.

Turns out, my daughter was both short and slow to physically mature, which caused all sorts of trouble throughout her elementary and secondary educational years. Many times my wife and I regretted the decision to start her in school early. But once the child starts school and is OK academically, you can't hold them back a year.

So starting a child "early", even if they're emotionally and academically ready, is not always the best choice.

Posted by: Steve Stein on February 27, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

My aunt taught kindergarten for 30 years. We had a conversation about this very subject last summer. There is a distinct difference in performance between 5 and 6 year olds in kindergarten. She recommended to parents whose children were on the cusp to hold them back. If they just turned 5, they would be at a disadvantage in relation to the other students. She did not find this to be so for kids that were around 5-1/2 or near there.

Bottom line - her 30 years of experience demonstrated that kids who are the youngest did not perform as well and struggled to advance.

There may be something to it, but it definitely doesn't have anything to do with who is going to be driving first in high school. Now THAT is ridiculous.

Posted by: Pennsylvanian on February 27, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

We held one of our boys back despite his intellectual readiness for school because of his somewhat delayed social development, and it was a good idea. His younger brother seemed ready socially for school, even though he was youngish to start, so we let him go. But he did not quickly learn reading and had idiosyncratic views on how to do arithmetic, so he had difficulties in his early years (now smoothing out as he approaches college). So with boys, at least, holding back may well be good (girls are another species, however).

And we're talking upper-middle class kids, right? In my lower class Brooklyn neighborhood, the best thing to do with kids is get them into a structured environment as soon as possible. Better than sitting in front of the TV all day or learning the wrong stuff on the street.

Posted by: David in NY on February 27, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'll second Dan. I've got twins, and we're debating having them start Kindergarden next year, or the year after. It's about what THEY are ready for, not some notion about being first, last, or whatever. (With twins it's more complicated, cause we don't want one a year ahead of the other if at all possible. That would be a stigma for sure.)

Posted by: MobiusKlein on February 27, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

This will probably get me in trouble, but could it possibly be related to gender? For example, I'm a stay at home mom and when I take my little boy to play groups, he's running around, way faster/agile/more mobile physically than many of the other kids, but unlike many of the little girls, he has no patience to sit still.

Posted by: Maggie on February 27, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Most (many) education professionals, when going by a "rule of thumb" approach to age of starting kindergarten, typically look at the childs birthday as the basis. Children who turn 5 in Jan-June are typically more mature and ready for independent schooling than ones who turn 5 in July-Sept. In the case of the latter, it is typically better to wait a year until those kids are ready for school.

Posted by: marceaumarceau on February 27, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Phase 1: Type A parents pressure schools to increase the academic content of Kindergarten.
Phase 2: Schools knuckle under the pressure, and start kids reading and writing too early.
Phase 3: The kindergarten curriculum is no longer appropriate for 5 year-olds, so parents start holding their kids back before enrolling them.

Sad, but it makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Andrew on February 27, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I know what you are missing. It's two things. I have a 6 year old who we purposely didn't send to 1st grade this year in California. There are two reasons.

First off, California is goofy. We're from the midwest and will probably be moving to Minnesota or some other cold state next year. In Minnesota he would normally be in Kindergarten at 6 (He's a September birthday). The cut off is August from the part of the nation I'm from. So instead of him being the youngest by 2 months in his class, we'd prefer he'd be one of the oldest.

Which leads to number 2. It's not about academics, but about the social aspects of school. He could easily handle 1st grade. He reads and does multiplication and he's six. But I think most parent's concerns about pushing their kid ahead is social development issues not academics. They want to give their kids a social advantage. For my wife and I, it also has to do with the fact that we were both the youngest in our classes during grade school and high school (although not as young as our son would be if he went to 1st grade this year) and we didn't like that.

And I'm not sure why this is nuts. Getting my kids to college at 17 versus 18 doesn't seem to be worth anything. Increased maturity will make him and his siblings more capable of succeeding. And since he'll probably live to 85, I don't think he should be in a hurry.

Posted by: kj on February 27, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

And if you hold them back, then think about the advantage when its time to play high school football.

Posted by: Chad on February 27, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's less stupid than you think, Kevin. For a lot of parents, it's not that their child would be tops in the kindergarten at age 6, but that he (and we're usually talking about boys here) wouldn't be able to do the expected work at age 5. Girls are typically ready to learn to read at age 5, but a significant number of boys do better if they wait a year. If those boys get sent to kindergarten at 5, they're facing two or three years of constantly being told they're failures because they aren't reading well enough.

The idea of starting a child (usually a boy) a year later in kindergarten is a crude way of grouping by developmental readiness rather than by age.

Posted by: Cardinal Fang on February 27, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm still blown away by the huge waiting lists for some PRESCHOOLS that have a demonstrably higher percentage of their "graduates" go on to Ivy League.

Then I think most parents get their kids into K-12 as early as possible just to get some peace and quiet in the house.

I solved that problem by not being a parent. ;)

Posted by: alan on February 27, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see some data before I'd conclude that it must be true. My neighbor just enrolled their young 5-year old into kindergarten. That doesn't make a trend any more than this one story.

Posted by: BRussell on February 27, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

My birthday was just under the cutoff date and so I was always one of the oldest kids in class, and it does make a difference

I had the same issue, but somehow my parents convinced the school to let me skip Kindergarten (I went to a montessori pre-school for 3 years) and go straight to first grade. I was always the youngest in class. It felt like an advantage all the way through school, even if it was just an emotional advantage. Keeping up with the big kids tends to give you a boost.

Posted by: enozinho on February 27, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

This will probably get me in trouble, but could it possibly be related to gender?

Yes, absolutely. Boys bring a totally different energy to school, and anyone who denies that has an agenda.

Posted by: craigie on February 27, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

If they start elementary school a year later, you get to keep them around the house a year longer. You get to enjoy them for an extra year and they are more mature when they start college. These are the real benefits.

Posted by: karin on February 27, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

People who look to opinion pieces for facts of any general applicability are likely to be disappointed frequently, and this is a particularly good example of why.

Really, this article is assumption piled on assumption all piled on a subjective impression of the experience of the author at one talk and with their child, to try to generalize the anecdotal without doing the first bit of research to determine whether the experience was typical, and what the real reasons for the trends might be.

And, contrary to Williamson's assumption, I don't think you'll find that there is evidence supporting that the reason for LA's dropout rate is that, with the changes over the last handful of years, school has become "drudgery". I mean, if that was the reason, you'd expect a high dropout rate across all socio-economic strata, and you'd expect the high rate to have emerged in the last 5 years.

Not exactly what LAUSD faces in reality.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

As one who went through my entire academic career (until I took a leave after my sophomore year in college) as one of the youngest and among the smartest in my classes, in retrospect, I wish that my mother hadn't done this (even though I could read at age 4). 7th grade sucked.

Socially and athletically, the guys in my class who were older had it easier, so the football and driver's license concerns are valid.

Posted by: Coyoteville on February 27, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Notwithstanding Enozinho's experience, kids can get a boost in confidence and self-esteem by being more developed than their "peers."

Anyone who tries to snow you with an empirical study on this point must take selection into account: parents who can afford to keep their kids out of school for an extra year have extra money, which is an important factor to confidence and self-esteem outcomes too.

My wife took 6 months out of the workforce when our son was born, and I'm in the middle of a 6 month leave. We don't know what we'll do at the end of that time, but it's a hard decision: we forego money and career development by taking time off (even net of childcare costs), but the boy sees a caring parent every time he looks up.

Posted by: Monkey Daddy on February 27, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Though I have no real information about this, it seems common for male star athletes, through high school, to be the guys that are on the old side for their grade. Their huge advantage at younger ages means that they are the ones "good at sports" then, and it's much easier to stay the star than to become the star: they have more confidence, and get more practice. They get their growth spurt earlier, and so have an extra year in high school as young men, rather than boys.

Of course, they surely suffer more from the academic "insane with boredom" problem, but that's the only downside I can see.

Posted by: Ken C. on February 27, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

You peeps are overthinking this. A class of six-year-olds produces fewer puddles of pee than a class of five-year-olds.

Glad to help.

Posted by: shortstop on February 27, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

This has been going on for years. I have 2 kids, 18(F) and 20(M). My son was born in May, and when he started kindergarten (in IL, with a 9/1 cutoff) we heard that it was quite common for boys born in July or August not to start until the following year. My daughter was born in the first third of October, and her best friends in pre-school were all born before September. We knew that she would have been really pissed if they had disappeared from pre-school to head off to kindergarten and she'd been left behind. So we spoke to the principal and brought her into the school psychologist, who said it was fine for her to start kindergarten 6 weeks before her 5th birthday.

It never caused any problem for either of them, and my wife's one regret about our decision for our daughter, mistaken I think, was that she was a star HS athlete, and my wife thought she might have been even more of one had we waited. I must admit that I was paying lots of attn at the time to reducing the child care fees. I have no regrets, and I always thought it kind of weird for parents to make this decision almost routinely, i.e., to do this for most kids, and do it based on long term expectations about athletic and social dominance.

Posted by: paul on February 27, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is with the whole age gradation system. You're not ALLOWED in kindergarten until you reach a certain age. We've got this system that insists that everyone march in lockstep, advancing precisely one year at the same time, despite varying abilities and maturity levels. I was able to get enough credits to graduate a year early from high school and was so relieved to get into an environment in college where students were interested in what they were learning.

My 7-year-old has a mid-November birthday. We live in California, so she was able to begin kindergarten at age 4. She is at the top of her class and among the most mature --- her teachers have always raved about her. To have had to bore her with another year of not learning would have been stupid.

I noticed a few years back that the idea of "holding back" was very popular among the middle-class moms who are plugged into what the current notion of being a good mother is. (Though I thought it might be dying out some. Aside from the professionals who have been taught to recommend it.)

I guess we all draw on our own experiences, but I was appalled when a friend told me that the preschool teacher of her very mature and smart daughter recommended she be held back a year because she's short. The woman said if she wasn't short, she wouldn't recommend it. That sounds crazy to me, though from what some people have said, they found it a real problem in school. I'd rather see us fix that kind of problem --- stop the bullying culture that exists in some schools --- than give in to the idea that physical differences should play into such things.

Posted by: catherineD on February 27, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

I was brilliant from the get go, I'll just add.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 27, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why doesn't everyone just arrange to have their kids about February/March so everyone will be about 5.5 years at the start of the school year?

Posted by: Solomon on February 27, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

I was 4 when I started kindergarten - my birthday is 6 days before the cutoff date for Indiana (which is October 1, or at least it was back in 1985), so I turned 5 about a month into kindergarten. At the end of the year, my teacher asked my mother if she would consider sending me to a program they called "A Step Up" which was designed for kids who weren't quite ready for first grade. When my parents asked why the teacher thought this was necessary, the teacher told them that I was academically and developmentally ready for first grade, but she just thought it would be socially awkward for me to always be the youngest in the class. Needless to say, I went to first grade the next year. When my family eventually moved to New York, which has a much later cutoff date, I was no longer the youngest. I have since graduated from college, with honors, and law school, with no ill effects from being a few months younger than some of my classmates. The only time I have ever felt the least bit "socially awkward" due to my age is when all of my friends in college turned 21 in the spring semester of my junior year and I still couldn't get in to the 21+ bars.

Posted by: swh on February 27, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Helloooo. This has been going on for years and years. My mother, who was in elementary and secodnary education for 30+ years, knew about parents working the system back then. This is not some new trend--although it's probably "new" to the author of the piece. And since when does anyone take the writer of an opinion piece as gospel? (Of course, I would take Jonah Goldberg's insights on the value of nepotism for career advancement as of some use.)

Posted by: nechiaev on February 27, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Me mum n daddy hold me back five years, so am become huge superior animal and crush little squirts.

So, I was become very smart, and having great career at McDonald's.

Posted by: Matt on February 27, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

This practice is corrosive to the very idea of a meritorious public education. It's like grade inflation for 6-year-olds, but the worst part is: that the parents of rich kids are best-positioned to take advantage of it.

Those kids who have parents that can afford to postpone their schooling are the same ones who are most financially well-off; and therefore most likely to have every advantage to begin with. This creates a vicious cycle where poor kids get the shaft in just about every conceivable way. It is an astoundingly self-serving exercise that I would equate with cheating one's way through school. Talk about entitlement on the march!

For contrast, here in Boston, there was a big blow-up recently about pee-wee football, where suburban (rich) schools quit the league because they accused urban (poor) schools of competing their athletes beyond the allowable age.

How is this any different?

Posted by: Jon Karak on February 27, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK
It's less stupid than you think, Kevin. For a lot of parents, it's not that their child would be tops in the kindergarten at age 6, but that he (and we're usually talking about boys here) wouldn't be able to do the expected work at age 5. Girls are typically ready to learn to read at age 5, but a significant number of boys do better if they wait a year. If those boys get sent to kindergarten at 5, they're facing two or three years of constantly being told they're failures because they aren't reading well enough.

Insofar as that is true, the problem is that we have a system which inappropriately stigmatizes anyone that diverges from what is expected. That's not restricted to those below the expectations either, particularly at kindergarten level where knowing "too much" is most likely to manifest as being bored and disruptive, perhaps especially for boys.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think this depends on the development of the individual child. Not everyone progresses at the same rate.

I was 4 1/2 when I started kindergarten. I didn't have any trouble keeping up with the class. Went to gifted school in 5th and 6th grade; got almost a full scholarship to a very good university.

Was I shorter than everyone else? Yes, and I still am. Holding me back a year wouldn't have changed that.

I knew tall boys and girls who were bullied as much as I was, as a child. Victimization is more of a nerd thing than a height thing.

Posted by: Librul on February 27, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

My conventional wisdom on this is that many boys and some girls are simply 'not ready' for kindergarden at age 5; they will do poorly; not that other issue about being able to be tops in a class.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on February 27, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK


I can see your initial misgivings. Holding your kids back to give them a leg up on their competition does strike me as unduly Socially Darwinistic. In addition, if it is as prevalent that you fear, then the benefits will be significantly diluted. If all the straight A students decided to go to a state school instead of an Ivy, then you will have a bulge of very competitive students and none of the students will benefit, at least not in terms of being the big fish in the little pond. They will have lots of intelligent friends to bounce ideas off of.

In the case of kindergarten/1st grade, if all the smart kids are held back to give them a boost, you will have a dearth of smart kids one year and a bounty the next year and after that it will average out again, only a year later. So I wouldn't sweat it much.

I concur with the other commentators that it is more about the childs abilities socially, not academically. We held back my oldest in preschool even though he was clearly smart enough to go to kindergarten. He was just not socially adept enough. Any difficulty and he would hide under a desk. He is smarter than many of his classmates but that is just because he is smarter than most of his classmates. He also has a late birthday. Many parents, if their kids are close to the age cutoff, often hold their kids back, especially the boys, because they mature more slowly than girls.

My daughter I did not hold back. She is a little on the young side, but much more socially adept.

I would much rather spend my money on a tutor if my child is having academic difficulties than a psychiatrist if my child is having social difficulties. Not the least because a tutor is much cheaper.

Posted by: Coltergeist on February 27, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well, all I know is that I wanted out of High School ASAP. Holding me back for a year for some stupid reason like this would've pissed me off.

Glad my parents didn't do this.

These "year younger, year older' debates are somewhat foolish. You can say this kind of crap about anything. And they do -- especially about sports. When I was in High School, several kids got held back simply to become better basketball players.

Posted by: Tony Shifflett on February 27, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

"I'd rather see us fix that kind of problem --- stop the bullying culture that exists in some schools --- than give in to the idea that physical differences should play into such things."

And how do you propose to pull this off. I think we'd have better luck getting a private tutor for every student in the country.

I guess I start this off by picking on one of your statements, because starting a kid at four seems risky. I'm sure your daughter will do fine but for me the risks of social alienation outweigh the risks of boredom (and I'm talking about once they get to 8 or 9 and older). It seems like you can always make up for boredom with quality afterschool activities and learning at home, but making up for what the bullies might do or the friends not made is much harder. And therein lies my thinking.

Posted by: kj on February 27, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Jon Karak hasn't any kids. Perhaps you are right on a larger level, but so so wrong on a parental level.

Posted by: kj on February 27, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, a friend of mine is already referring to how a preschool is going to look on his son's "resume."

Posted by: brewmn on February 27, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

So in that class where all the kids are above average--in age--do we wind up with a generation retarded by a year?

I was only 4 when I started kindergarten, and I was never intimidated by the material I was expected to learn. Or was this subject in reference to football?

Posted by: mark on February 27, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK
In the case of kindergarten/1st grade, if all the smart kids are held back to give them a boost, you will have a dearth of smart kids one year and a bounty the next year and after that it will average out again, only a year later.

But all the kids will end up dumber, because they'll be exposed to less material while they are still in the golden learning years.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Why doesn't everyone just arrange to have their kids about February/March so everyone will be about 5.5 years at the start of the school year?
Posted by: Solomon

You could try the system in use for thoroughbreds. All foals are deemed to be 1 year old the January 1 following their birth. Handicappers are always moaning about young (or old) 2 year olds.

I began reading at 3. My birthday was 22 frelling days past LA's cutoff and despite my step-dad taking his case (and me) as far as the head of the School Board, they simply would not allow me to start school.

Took me across the street and got me a library card instead. My real peer group by this point was probably in 5th or 6th grade.

As my Mississppi friend Dr. X says "It's a solid mess.

But he also says that the three major food groups are "meat, grease and flour", and maintains that beer is 'liquid bread' since they have the same basic ingredients (grain, water and yeast).

C'est levee.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK
It seems like you can always make up for boredom with quality afterschool activities and learning at home, but making up for what the bullies might do or the friends not made is much harder.

Being older or bigger doesn't make you less of a target for bullies, and being a year younger doesn't stop you from making friends.

And, no, you can't really cure boredom in school with other things out of school; if anything, they just highlight the contrast and make it worse.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

I send my girls to private school. That way, they're not subject to all this Ed.D. nonsense.

Posted by: kimster on February 27, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I missed the NY cutoff by 12 days. I was one of the oldest kids in my class and smart to boot.

The rest of the kids from the neighborhood disappeared one day and I waited a year to join them. I spent the next 12 years a year or more ahead of the classes I was in, even in honors track. Mostly bored, frustrated and not especially disciplined. About the average degree of social awkwardness.

Despite my age, I was in the smaller half the class until I was about 16. Within a few months I was in the tallest tenth of the class. Still had no interest in basketball (although folks asked about it a lot more often).

I'd have preferred going in a year earlier. Challenge kids: they'll grow better.

Posted by: sleepy on February 27, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I had three kids and the oldest was "young" in her class and the other two were "older" in their class. The younger 2 did better socially, academically and athletically than the older one even though the older one was every bit as bright and able. So I agree with the teachers that there is something to this. School is not just about being smart, a lot of it is being comfortable in the environment.

Posted by: MaryAnne on February 27, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

The point of the stated "advantages" is I think really to counter society's belief that a kid starting late is some kind of moron and the sooner you start the more successful that shows your kis is. There has been a definate stigma attached to starting kids late.

As a parent of a 5 year old I really wanted him to be successful and smart. He was just over the line to being eligable to start kindergarten. I think this desire for him to be successful really pushed my wife and I to start him sooner rather than later. We worried about him being labeled as mentally behind. And he was also very physically adept compared to other kids his age. In hindsight, it became clear that intellectually he was just a step behind in his development, not so much by age as by peer group, and that has continued all the way through elementary school. He has just had to work a lot harder to be successful. I dont think he was socially ready yet either.

It has been disconcerting to watch the light bulbs go on in his brain about key concepts one year later than they were brought into the curriculum, well behind 3/4 of the rest of the class.

But early on there is external and internal pressure to keep your child with the kids he is tracking with at any given time. I wish someone had vigourously made some of those arguments to us when our son was in preschool. We had one preschool teacher say "I wish we could keep him one more year." But we just didn't think it would be that big of a deal.

knobboy: I was afraid that if we started our son late he would be ridiculed down the line for "being held back." What I have seen though, is that if a kid starts late with one group for kindergarten that child is then accepted as "appropriately" belonging no matter how old. And up until 3rd grade peers hardly notice when a classmate is "held back" after entering elementary school. Conversely, there is a slightly lower status for children who are younger than others in the class group, and those younger children know it.

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Some can grasp letters and numbers, and some cannot."

4 and 5 year olds? My two year old can recite the alphabet and count to seven, and has grasped the idea that letters stand for sounds, even if he doesn't know which letters go with which sounds yet. And he's not exceptional - a playmate of his could do "A for apple" for the whole alphabet at 18 months.

Kids are getting on the education train a lot earlier (thanks in part to Leapfrog), and that's just a fact. Just go into any kid's store - there are more educational toys than you can shake a stick at.

'FWIW, a friend of mine is already referring to how a preschool is going to look on his son's "resume."'

It's sadly true. Our six-week premature kid was barely out of the intensive care unit when we got a call from a realtor we knew offering to recommend us for an elite preschool. The kid hadn't reached nine months pre-conception yet, for chrissake.

Thank god, we're going the co-op preschool route, which costs less $$$, and also is a bit less hothousing of the kids.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 27, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

This IS nuts.

There's no hidden secret that explains this.

Coupla years ago, there was a spate of articles detailing that the first two weeks in an infant's life is critical to language acquisition. The little tykes are BUILT for this. The principle applies along the continuum of learning/maturation.

The only thing these parents are doing is giving every other child a head start during the years they are biologically (in body and in mind) designed to be most highly attuned and most capable of acquiring new information, grasping new concepts, and learning to apply them effectively.

Yo child left behind.

Then there are those critical social skills.

I just think teachers have an interest in weeding out "problem children," esp in an era where parents don't bother instilling even minimal decorum, respect, etc.

Too bad it'll largely affect the shy, the fearful, the clingy.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on February 27, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

My youngest started K on her 5th birthday. She was soooo ready. At age 2.0, when her older sis started K (at 5.3 yrs) the younger child moped in a stairwell and told some other parents that she was in the Pre-K class and that her parents (us) had left her.

At the school we attended, however, many parents have held their kids back. It is a very common conversation topiuc among affluent parents in the Northeast US.

Posted by: troglodyte on February 27, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, if it works in little league...

Posted by: Scott Herbst on February 27, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Teacher and principals have a MAJOR incentive to increase the average age of their students: it tends it increase the test scores.

In my kids' school, they just raised the age of eligiblity for first grade by several months (you now have to be 6 by September 1, the old cutoff was in December). In a few years they'll be able to proudly point to a bump up in test scores to prove that they have a "successful" school.

It's a clever defense against NCLB.

Posted by: Will on February 27, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I guess the real reason is plain to see even though parents don't want to admit it:
Parents want their children to be bullues, not victims.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

See what I mean? Parents like "Urinated State of America" say "What? Your 2 year old isn't reciting the alphabet and grasping that letters stand for sounds. Ooo. Must be abnormally slow." Then parents begin to second guess themselves. oh shit, did I use the wrong educational toys?

Parents need to be able to give the voices of people like this, inside and outside their head, the big middle finger and honestly compare their kid to the social and intellectual develpmental level expected for kindergarten in the target school. Parents should talk to other parents who have made both choices, find out about the pros and cons, and ignore their socially competitive mother in law.

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Being older or bigger doesn't make you less of a target for bullies, and being a year younger doesn't stop you from making friends."

Certainly, but being older certainly helps in this regard. My 2 sons, age 4 and 6, are constantly talking about how old they are and how old their friends are. It is a big deal to young kids and is certainly a source of status. And when they get to be 9 and 10 and older, size and maturity will play a huge role in their social position in school. That's just the way it is. Is it always that way? Will some younger kids to fine? Of course, but as with anything, we're talking about the odds here, the over-under, the percentages. In general, the older kids in a class, simply have an advantage.

Of course, I'm completely ready to be proven wrong with my kids if they end up being bored out of their mind at school. But I'm not convinced that will happen. I was always the smartest kid in my class and I was never bored. I just goofed off like the rest of the kids and got an easy "A" at the end. It was fun and I made up for some of the lack of challenge with lots of books at home. And besides, I found that the teachers appreciated smart kids and usually found subtle ways to challenge me.

Posted by: kj on February 27, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -

They're nuts. I'm in this field - research, evaluation and testing, at the Pre-K - 2 level (mostly). What we have here can be termed the Education Misinformation Hall of Fame. Here are some points:

1. First, in my department, we joke about this: "Why don't they just wait until they're 18?"

2. None, and I mean NONE, of about 100 years of education research, supports this practice. When other professions rail, "The education profession is the most anti-resaerch based profession in existance" - this is one example. But it also highlights the problems educators face - policy-makers and parents have made up their minds, and don't confuse them with facts. (The best example of research vs. practice is, of course, grade retention, which has never been supportable by rigorour research.)

Parents, for their part, try to game the system (yup, and who can blame us?), but in the end it gets to be a ridiculous game.

3. For example, rigorous research has repeatedly demonstrated (and has never been credibly challenged) that a younger child will catch up by approximately the third grade.

4. We like the British system: You start school on your fifth birthday - big party, rotate you in, continuous schooling. (On that note, national research also reveals a loss of one-tenth of a standard deviation in IQ points over a ten week summer break, with "normal" middle class students. That is non trivial. It's more for high poverty students.

5. Talk to Kindergarten teachers - since the late 80's I've worked with 140 - 180 of them annually. Each class has their own characteristics. They rarely if ever see a relationship between developmental level and age. It is not uncommon for a teacher to report a really high achieving class made up of kids born mostly in the fall they turn 5.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

After nearly a year of kindergarten my boy, who loves to play and hates to work, makes it plain that he doesn't want to go to 1st grade yet. This discussion is helping me decide that he's right.

Posted by: redacted on February 27, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

ChetBob, I'm so with you. It's fine that some kids are reading at age three. I know quite a few kids who read at age three. That doesn't mean that every single child should be reading at age three, or at age five, and it further doesn't mean that there is anything a child's parents could have done to make their child read at age three. Just because some kids can do it doesn't mean that all kids can do it.

My son is dyslexic, and didn't read until he was eight. Now he's fifteen and taking a college class and an AP class. He's fine. I'm so glad I didn't shove him in a class where he would've had three or four years of teachers telling him he was a failure.

So ChetBob, give those bragging parents the middle finger, and do what is right for your son. When he's thirty, no one will care whether he graduated from college at age twenty or at age twenty-four.

Posted by: Cardinal Fang on February 27, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - Do you have kids? They're all different. Some are emotionally, physically and intellectually mature and some aren't. There's no problem with holding back kids who are very young compared to their peers in one or more ways. It has nothing to do with wanting them to have a competitive advantage. Most often it is just an attempt to place the child in a class that he or she can keep up with.

Posted by: DBL on February 27, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

"I guess the real reason is plain to see even though parents don't want to admit it:
Parents want their children to be bullues, not victims."

That's some beautiful black and white thinking. Actually we take care to make sure our kids use their social position to stop bullying. In fact, I can't think of anything we work on more. Our 4 year old is quite popular and kids are very attracted to him. This creates jealousy which causes at least one of the more aggressive kids to pick on a kid with a more gentle personality. We worked with our son to correct this by being sure he plays with the picked on one. He invite him for more playdates and worked with all parents to make sure all were included.

Social status used for good is possible. I smell a cartoon series here. Captain Popular using his popularity for good over evil. I'll let any of Kevin's readers run with it.

Posted by: kj on February 27, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK
When he's thirty, no one will care whether he graduated from college at age twenty or at age twenty-four.

The fawning over Condoleeza Rice demonstrates that this generalization is, at best, hasty.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

heh, cmdicely, good point. Though my experience was that out of the half-dozen people I knew who started college at 16 (I was so jealous of them), half burned out in a blazing ball of fire, 2 "did ok" though didn't develop professionally into anything that blew me away, and 1 ended up off-the-charts amazing... and this was at a top university. I'm not saying that, proportionally, those who started college at 18 or older had a greater proportion of hotshots, but certainly I see a lower proportion of burnouts among them.

Posted by: Constantine on February 27, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

From talking to parents at other elementary schools it is clear to me that bullying is mostly related to the social norms of the school rather than the age of the kids relative to eachother. I have been shocked by the type of bullying some schools, principals, and parents find acceptable between kids who I know are not so menatally unstable that they couldn't easily be brought in line by laying down a clear set of behavioral principals.

I dont know about middle school, but it is amazing how much influence a principal can have on the social values of an elementary school, although more is required than just putting out anti-bullying policies in newsletters!

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Uhh, I have a son in kindergarten and I feel like I follow public ed trends pretty closely -- lots of educators in the family etc. -- and this is the first I've heard of this. I doubt this is any sort of trend sweeping the nation.

However, there is less of a tendency to promote kids ahead than there used to be. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was relatively common for kids to skip a grade or start early. It seems the general consensus is that was not necessarily good for the kids and is not so common anymore.

Posted by: Drew on February 27, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, in twenty years, a college or even a graduate degree won't be worth much.

Posted by: Thinker on February 27, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I have seen some research that suggests kids that are old for their grade generally do better in school. The added maturity helps both with sports nad acedemics, plus they tend to be more popular.

Posted by: bryce on February 27, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

>>And up until 3rd grade peers hardly notice when a classmate is "held back" after entering elementary school.

I'll take you word on that.

We all did notice those guys in the 10th grade who were let out of school to vote. This was when the voting age was still 21.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

"I was 4 1/2 when I started kindergarten. I didn't have any trouble keeping up with the class."

That is nothing. I was solving quantum mechanics at the age of one, unified gravitationl theory, accomplished by age two.

Then, at the age of three, I entered high school and tried out for football. I made the team! As the football!

Posted by: Matt on February 27, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I enrolled my son early, and he was born Oct 28 -
His year of kindergarten was terrible, teachers ignored him when he needed to go to the bathroom, because he didn't assert himself, bigger kids picked on him, etc. We pulled him out, and homeschooled him for two years, and put him back in in first grade - essentially the grade level he should have been in in the first place.

He had none of the social problems he had had before. Better still, he maintained freindships with the kids a year ahead, which kept his classmates in awe. For the kids in his grade, he's a leader, gets consistently great grades, doesn't get picked on - nor have there been any complaints about him bullying. I'm pretty sure we made the right decision. Is it the right decision for all parents? I don't know. But I do know a couple of other families who tried to get their kids into public schools as early as possible (in one case, the mother falsified documents to make it happen) - and social maladjustment, along with other problems is the general result.

Posted by: NOise on February 27, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

As a parent I found Andrew's analysis priceless:

Phase 1: Type A parents pressure schools to increase the academic content of Kindergarten.
Phase 2: Schools knuckle under the pressure, and start kids reading and writing too early.
Phase 3: The kindergarten curriculum is no longer appropriate for 5 year-olds, so parents start holding their kids back before enrolling them.

Sad, but it makes perfect sense.

Education has become just soooo.. wound up. But there are a few notes:

1) Trying to decide how and when to get your kid started is a hard choice. You can't tell how every kid will develop (sports draft example here...)

Will they be bored or be unable to sit still? Hold back, higher chance of boredon. Push forward, small socially more awkward kid. That's a tough call.

We made it by pushing the boy forward because that's what we had to do to get him into a bi-lingual program. And it's worked out pretty well, but it took a lot of work from mom to make it.

2) The lack of exercise and gym is just killing schools. Boys show you immediately by acting up in class, but girls lose as well when they get no exercise.

3) The testing mania is nuts. There are too many standardized tests - Federal and state. And they require too many goals to be hit for categories that are NOT statistically significant. And the constant drive pushes people to only look at what can be measured easily and not the "holistic" child. You know the creative, sporty, nicely socially adjusted kid we all wished we had?

4) The US school year is too short. We and Canada are the only industrialized countries with fewer than 200 days of school a year. To try and keep up, schools cram more and more into the 180 to 190 scheduled school days (most school systems build in extra snow or other down days). Something's got to give, and too often it's gym or art or something else that won't hurt the test scores - in the short run.

Again, great catch on the story, Kevin.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 27, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

IMHO redacted has it right, MaxG and Kevin's cited article miss the point.

It will take me a bit to get there, but here is the entire issue.

The real question starts with, especially for boys, are you willing to ban or severely limit television and video games, which (certainly in the case of video games and, as to 24 cartoon channels on cable, did not exist a generation ago)?

If you are, proceed to "kindergarten at age 5, or, for that matter, whenever" because that means that your child will likely spend ages 1-5 playing, hopefully mostly outside, and developing a sense of responsibility.

For many, especially this LA times writer, a couple of things are true. First, no one that I know in metropolitan Los Angeles simply does what my parents did in rural Wisconsin -- "go outside and play, I'll call you when dinner is ready." I'm not saying this was especially brilliant, but if you are given responsibility, you tend to learn from it.

In contrast, my sons are very good at responding to adult requests, but have never, at ages 10 and 6, been told to head out on their bikes over a two mile radius and be back by dinner time.

So, with what I will call the "Wisconsin ideal" a non starter, you are left with time at home. At home, there is a television, and, after about age 3, 4 or five, video games if they are not banned.

We all know, as adults, the problem with T.V. and video games are not that they are inherently evil, its just (i) childhood is no time to spend any significant party of your day "watching" any activity, and (ii) perhaps even worse, video games ADJUST TO THE PLAYER PLAYING THEM, whereas in the rest of your life it is YOU WHO HAVE TO ADJUST TO WHATEVER STANDARD PRESENTS ITSELF.

Going back one generation, there was reading. Today, I have to admit, that the beginning books one could read, say, a Hardy boys series for k-2-2 grades, are just not as interesting as the average vidoe game, or, for that matter, the Simpsons.

Thus, there is a battle to read earlier, not so much to catch the Japanese, or to become the school bully, but simply to get to the point where Harry Potter and above literature can be read, and that type of literature IS BETTER THAN TELEVISION.

So, with the background, what to do: (i) pre-school is the new kindergarten. For my kids, Kindergarted was their fourth year of "school." As a result, we were not choosing based simply on their age, we were basing the decision on three years of analysis as to how they were doing socially, and, for that matter academically.

Its true that there is more pressure to read earlier, but, I don't think its wrong given the current competiton reading has in kids life.

The author, who, remember, lives in metropolitan Los Angeles, omits quite a bit of this, the article looks at the issue as if nothing had changed in the last 25 years but a bunch of paranoid parents.

Posted by: hank on February 27, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

All the younger kids can tease them until college about being "held back" for a year.
Posted by: knobboy on February 27, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Uh yeah. That happens all the time. Younger smaller kids picking on bigger kids.

When kids are held back for academic reasons, or behavioral reasons, for instance, if they're delinquents or borderline retarded or something, then yes, such teasing occurs. But not if the kid is otherwise normal.

Posted by: NOise on February 27, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Someone forgot to mention they'll be bigger football players by the time they make varsity.

Posted by: JJF on February 27, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's an interesting, and somewhat troubling phenomena. And let's face facts... the nursery school and kindergarten we knew ceased to exist loooong ago.

As for starting kids at 5 vs. 6 - it really depends on the child. If they're developmentally ready, then why hold them back? But if they're not ready, pushing them forward is only going to lead to huge problems. Alot of the kids being diagnosed with ADHD, etc. in the Kindergarten/First grade simply weren't developmentally prepared to sit still, focus, etc.

It's a tough call - and I don't particularly agree with the accelerated curriculums (first grade material in kindergarten) either.

Posted by: Kevin on February 27, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Just want to point out in light of SK's comment - no, the kindergarten curriculum was not the problem for my son. He had started reading at age three. But even a kind who's able to handle the curriculum can have trouble if social stress doesn't let him concentrate on the work.

My son still complains about the other kids acting up and making noise, making it hard for him to concentrate on work. He also complains (but not so much) about having to repeat curriculum learning that he did on his own last year (and this year, he's doing next year's and beyond, on his own, as his interests evolve). - yes, he feels his time is being wasted doing simple multiplication and fraction problems when we've already messed around with polynomials. He's in public school, but the homeschooling habit is hard to break, I guess.

So no, I don't think that the curriculum has ramped up to be too hard for an average 5 year old. I just think that, maybe some kids develop the social skills a little later in life, and putting them in a stressful situation at that age can set the stage for some real problems that can follow a kid all his or her life.

I also tend to be a big fan of the montessori approach as well - especially for younger kids. All of my kids have gone to montessori schools pre-K. My son didn't benefit as much as say, my daughter did, but my daughter benefitted a lot.

Posted by: NOise on February 27, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'm struggling with this issue now. My daughter is in kindergarten now, in an academically rigorous setting - reading, writing, math, Spanish, Computer Tots, etc. Her birthday is Sept. 26 - the cutoff date for school enrollment in October 1. She is actually doing well academically, but I don't know if she has the emotional maturity to sit quietly all day in a first grade classroom. She's very outgoing, strong-willed, and chatters like a magpie. I'm worried that if I send her to first grade next year, she'll get tagged as a "discipline problem." I've made an appointment to speak with her teacher about this, as I have to decide about enrollment fairly quickly. I'm not worried about her chances of getting into Yale, or playing on the football team. I am worried that she'll come to hate school if she gets off on the wrong foot in first grade.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on February 27, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

The comments by hank are apt. First, few in the affluent middle class lets their kids out unattended to play in the late afternoon and evening. When I was a kid, the unstructured time spent in the yard was great. My kids almost never get that time. The next generation will lose something important.

I can also agree with the parents motivation for early reading. We dont have much TV or video games in the house, but the level of noise was high (or else the level of boredom) until the girls began to read. I had been waiting for this for years, and it is wonderful.

Also, there is plenty of justification for keeping a kid back for year if he/she is developing slowly, socially or intellectually. "Plays well with others" is sometimes considered an insult by adults, but any K-teacher will tell you it is an important skill.
The child will catch up in his/her own time. However, the practice of holding kids back is applied to more cases than seems necessary (in my experience, which isnt that large admittedly) and parent seem to worry about it a lot more than they need to.

Posted by: troglodyte on February 27, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

That's why my kids attend Montessori school. Five year olds are very capable little people but these "advanced" elementary cirriculums being pushed in the public schools are mostly disconnected academic fluff.

Unfortunately, most private schools are out of reach to the average family. I'm almost tempted to support school vouchers. But instead I would like to see reforms in the public schools to move away from a "teach to the test" cirriculum toward a more developmentally appropriate model. Sadly, this has become a political issue with the failed NCLB.

Posted by: The Bogstone on February 27, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"I have been shocked by the type of bullying some schools, principals, and parents find acceptable between kids"
Yup. I remember very well being the youngest in class and bullied by a bunch of kids who were about a feet taller than me (k, my memory maybe exaggerating). The teacher didn't do anything. Later in class, I was snubbed because "real b don't kick, but fight with fists". But three against one seemed to be ok. Thank you very much, Ma'am.

So I obviously I have had a traumatic experience that led to a prejudice against parents and all who are supervising kids. Sry!
On the other hand, I hate children and dogs so I'm not an all bad person :)

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Another perspective on it, I was the always the youngest in my class and a bit emotionally immature. The teachers at my small rural school though I was slow and a bad student, I struggled with that all through elementary and middle school, and it really hurt my development until I caught up in college. Eventually I got my Ph.D. from a top economics program, so I guess I wasn't that slow, but school would ahve been a lot more enjoyable if I wasn't always the youngest in all ways.

Posted by: CalDem on February 27, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the best Pre-K's and kindergartens utilize developmentally appropriate practices, which includes emphasis on social skills and motor skills, as well as APPROPRIATE academics. While in the current battle, the skill-and-drill crowd has the current administration's ear, the developmentalists are winning the war.

Montessori works fabulously well for some kids, but for many it's a bust. If it works for your kid, then it works for your kid. But even Montessori teachers and principals will admit to a 10% "wash-out" and privately admit there are more.

Beware of "policy by anecdote," as in "When I was a kid, such-and such" or "my kid such-and-such" do not policies make. Not to negate our own histories, but, at the same time: Hey, I have a friend who was cured from cancer. Should we therefore abolish all federal funding of cancer research? Some of the inferences made in this thread fall into this faulty thinking. And there is not a credible study that says anything other than put your five year-old in kindergarten, and under no circumstances should you retain them. Period.

Parents need to work with school to ensure the school meets their child's needs, not the other way around. This inapprppriate pushing of curriculum down into the primary grades has not worked. Rather, good practices at Pre-K and K need to be pushed up into the primary grades. This will be especially true as the gender gap issues get highlighted. Why? For example, the disappearance of gym and recess is harmful to all kids (and does not raise test scores; quite the contrary), but is especially harmful to boys, who need to be able to "reset their intenal clocks." Addressing motor and other neurological issues IMPROVES reading and esp. math.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

This is something each set of parents needs to decide for each child. If a teacher is recommending this as a polite way to try to tell parents that their particular kid is not yet properly socialized, the parents need to hear that message and respond in a way that best helps the child's development. If the parents are merely hearing general chatter, they should just go with their best judgement and not second-guess themselves.

Our son, a July baby, skipped 2nd grade on the advice of his teachers, so he was always quite young among his K-12 classmates. Sure it mattered socially. Was it negative? How can you tell? No one gets to do it both ways with age difference the only variable. Things that caused temporary pangs may have had advantageous but unrecognized side effects, and vice versa. We were never in a hurry for him to grow up, so we encouraged him to do "2nd grade" after he graduated from HS. He spent 6 months living in London with a family and hosteling Britain. Then he toured the continent by Eurail pass. He reported that lots and lots of young folks from other countries were out doing the same. Point is -- you can make good use of an "extra" year any time in the sequence, not only before first grade. By the way, he didn't date in HS, but he caught right up on that score when he went to college.

Posted by: gm on February 27, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

It really isn't that complicated. Teachers, especially the ones in the early grades, like older kids because they cause fewer discipline problems and are easier to teach. The best I can tell, starting kids later became popular in the 80's, about when the boomer's kids were starting school. Seems to me boomer's kids are much less disciplined. Today, a grade school teacher will scream if they have 25 kids, I don't believe any of my grade school classes were ever smaller than 25.

This is an issue that is almost always blown out of proportion. It really doesn't make much of a difference, your kid will adapt. A large part of your child's education is on your shoulders, whether or not you like it. Their performance will be more affected by your support than when they started.

You know your child, just be honest and make the decision which is best for them. This is what is called parenting.

Of course, if you are looking for that slight edge in high school sports, go for it and hold them back a year.

I have 4 children, 4th to 11th grade, and have seen and heard most of it.

Posted by: TT on February 27, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

CF: I'll take you word on that.

We all did notice those guys in the 10th grade who were let out of school to vote. This was when the voting age was still 21.

In stitches over this one.

Posted by: shortstop on February 27, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

The current push-push-push attitude amomg a very specific class of students (i.e. children of an anxious, intelligent, middle class) is insane. It's the Orient's commoditization of education gone wild.

The question that is rarely asked is "why?" Kids aren't sponges. People learn at their own rate and balk or rebel completely when shoved. There's no Royal Road to intelligence, imagination, or character. As parents, you can't simply mimic what William Shakespeare's or Albert Einstein's parents did and expect to have a little Willie Shakes or Einstein of your own. Life doesn't work like that.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 27, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I never had any problems in obtaining good grades. In my case, the decision for early enrollment was right, only the techers were not up to their task. All that was on their mind was doing their lessons and not being bothered by any other problems. And I really dunno if todays' teachers care more about social development and responsibility...

So there's one thing I want the parents here to consider: If your kid is physically not at the same level as the others that would be in the same class with him, check if the teachers will prevent bullying! Or else he/she will never become a socially succesful person like George W. Bush (hmm, what's wrong with this picture?).

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

We all did notice those guys in the 10th grade who were let out of school to vote. This was when the voting age was still 21.

In stitches over this one.
Posted by: shortstop

They generally had a heavy 5 o'clock shadow by Civics.

You can't make this stuff up.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Things that caused temporary pangs may have had advantageous but unrecognized side effects, and vice versa." This doesn't sound like you had similar negative experiences in your childhood, gm. So your son said that he didn't like being the youngest and smallest in his class and you think there maybe are positive aspects to it, too, ptrobably that he will learn the hard way how to prevail? Yeah, sounds good, sounds really good. Just like the US interrogation tactics.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Noise - I'm guessing that I'm the SK.

And irony of ironies - we sent our kid to Montesorri too! For the reasons you cited. Especially liked the fact that it gave kids many different ways to think and conceptualize the world. We plan on sending number 2 as well.

So please don't take my experience as questioning other people's choices. Trade offs are hard and decisions are tough.

But my general takes on the system remains the same: too few school days, too little exercise, too much standardized testing.

One odd thing I've noticed recently is how completely female our primary education system has become. Almost all principals are women, as are the teachers and administrators. And at PTA meetings I'm about the only human with an "Y" chromosome in the room..

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 27, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Moral of the story: every kid is differnt. But, I would recommend not holding a kid back for "academic" reasons, maybe for social reasons. My son, now 13 and born in November, went to Kindergarten before he turned 5. He played well with all his buddies who were a few months older. My pediatrician actually gave me the "first to get his license" line in suggesting I hold him back! And, my kid is WAY small for his age. But my husband and I knew he was ready, and so did his nursery school teacher.
SOMEONE has to be the youngest in the class. Whether you're the youngest, oldest, shortest, tallest, kid with the worst skin in junior high, we all have particular memories of things that weren't perfect about school at different stages in our lives. But I mean, really, we need to teach a bit of resiliance and send the message that things in life are not always perfect, instead of worrying so much. My kid has been fine all along, and he's still the shortest kid in his class. I'm 49 and so am I (4'11"). By the way, in the suburb I live in outside Boston, the cutoff for Kindergarten used to be December 1st, so all the parents of fall birthday boys would freak out trying to decide if they should send their kid. Now the cutoff has been changed to September 1st. Guess what, now the parents of kids born in July and August are the ones freaking out. It was a relief when my youngest was born in May, and no one questioned that he would go to Kindergarten after he turned 5. Everyone relax a bit!

Posted by: Jan on February 27, 2006 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Parents need to be able to give the voices of people like this, inside and outside their head, the big middle finger and honestly compare their kid to the social and intellectual develpmental level expected for kindergarten in the target school."

And I like you too. But the fact is that kids are picking up on reading and writing skills earlier and earlier.

Sesame Street had to revise their format because they realised that the kids watching and *learning* from them were shifting from ~4 years old to ~3 years old.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 27, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

'knobboy: I was afraid that if we started our son late he would be ridiculed down the line for "being held back." '

Anecdotally, one of my classmates at high school was held back. Went on to get into Vet School.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 27, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Urinated SA: That story is a classic example of Policy By Anecdote.

An again: No rigorous research supports holding a student back. None in 150 years. That's quite a record.

But 68% of all U.S. teachers and administrators think it's great. We're unique in the western world in this respect. Those countries whose kids outperform us? Guess what? They have lower than 1% grade retention rates.

Another data point: 100% of all U.S. drop outs were held back in elementary schools.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Top-performing children are the new black.

Posted by: merciless on February 27, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I find it pretty remarkable that this should even be considered news -- maybe the "trend" of red shirting kindergartners or first graders is just taking time to spread across the country.

I had to deal with this issue with my kids over 15 years ago, when THEY first entered first grade in Lexington MA. We were urged to hold out kids back a year, not least because so many other parents were doing so. We made the choice to go ahead in put them in first grade without the advantage; honestly, I just couldn't justify what struck me as simple cheating -- how would THAT get explained in the long run to our kids, the supposed beneficiaries?

One can never know of course whether they would have done better had they been red shirted. But they've done well in any case.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 27, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Why do so many parents spend their time comparing their children to anyone else's? Our decision was based on both what we thought their academic capability was but more importantly what their emotional development was. As a result,one went early and the other we held back (well,actually I assented to my wife's dicta,but I swear it's as if I had a say).

Posted by: TJM on February 27, 2006 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK
When kids are held back for academic reasons, or behavioral reasons, for instance, if they're delinquents or borderline retarded or something, then yes, such teasing occurs. But not if the kid is otherwise normal.

At least when I was in school, if you were held back, the rest of the students presumed it was for educational and/or behavioral reasons.

I'd be rather surprised if that had changed much.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

My child was born in Nov., 2 months past the Sept. cutoff in Virginia. She started to pre-school when she was 2 1/2 because she was ready -- she knew numbers, colors and shapes at that age. She began to read before she was 4. She was quiet, but confident. When all of her pre-school friends went on to kindergarten, we were told that Eryn did not make the cutoff and it was suggested that she be held back. It was purely a numbers thing, but they assured us that by waiting a year, she'd be more mature and a leader because she would be older than most kids in her class. Against our better judgment, we kept her back. Although I loved having her home for one more year, I KNEW she was ready for kindergarten. The next year, she entered kindergarten, and she was still quiet and she was still not a leader. To this day, she is still quiet and still not a leader. She does not want to stand out in the crowd.

Posted by: pol on February 27, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I started kindergarten when I was 4. My friend who was a month older was held back. I was stimulated and interested in school. She was bored and got into a lot of trouble. Competitive advantage? Far from it. Really, it's just further evidence of the continued dumbing down of just about everything in America. What a shame.

Posted by: marti on February 27, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

"My birthday was just under the cutoff date and so I was always one of the oldest kids in class, and it does make a difference, but only in the early years. By the time you're in fifth or sixth grade, 6 months average age advantage isn't much."

Yeah, but it does make a difference in terms of self esteem. If you think of yourself as one of the "smart kids" at an early age, that can carry through and motivate you to continue to do well at an older age. Also, it seems it would have a big effect on boys who are usually somewhat behind girls developmentally at a younger age, and who often get really discouraged by school and thus cease to value it. I think this had a really big impact on my professor husband, who had a late birthday (nov) and so was kept with the younger kids and was the top student in the class through elementary school without trying. His sister, with a sept birthday was kept with the older kids, and never developed any confidence in her academic abilities.

Posted by: J.B. on February 27, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Schools should be base on developmental readiness not chronological age; do away with grades and go to differentiate learning. cleve

Posted by: cleve on February 27, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I started first grade at 5 and it had negative effects. I was relatively small and immature until the latter half of my junior year of high school.

I grew significantly both physically and psychologically sometime in the 3rd year of school. The problem is that by then you are permanently type cast as whatever you were like as a freshman/sophomore. There are no do overs in the high school cliques. This can be a very serious obstacle in a child's emotional and social development.

It also affects their participation in sports. If I had started high school at the same age as everyone else, I would have been big enough to play football. But if you're not big enough until your junior year forget it.

Give the smart kids advance classes they can take, but for their social and emotional well being keep them together with kids their own age.

Posted by: Mr. Charlie on February 27, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

You're rock solid research based statements are such bs.

100% of dropouts were held back in elementary school?

I myself was a high school drop out and was not held back in elementary school. One of my elementary classmates also. Not being held back wasn't my problem, but your one size fits all research-bunker certainty leaves me less than confident in usefulness of your expertise.

Since learning is not a competition, starting a child in school when they are metally and emotionally ready to succeed in learning has nothing to do with cheating. Pretending a child has learned something they haven't in order to get some personal or policy benefit can be considered a kind of cheating I suppose.

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

My 2 cents. I taught elementary school for 30 years. I saw many boys who were just not socially mature and keeping them out of k-garten for a year never seemed anytthing but a good idea,
The thing I get really get incensed about is taking recess away from these children. Boys need to run around and yell for at least 30 minutes twice a day. I have a fear the explosion of kids diagnosed with ADD is a direct result of keeping these little boys from the physical play their growing bodies require. There ought to be a law......

Posted by: Mary Alice on February 27, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Since learning is not a competition, starting a child in school when they are metally and emotionally ready to succeed in learning has nothing to do with cheating.

Certainly in cases like this, it's not cheating. But I'm talking about clear cases in which the ONLY reason for red shirting a kid was that it was perceived that they would have an advantage over all the other kids.

Obviously, THAT cannot be generalized; if every kid's parents were to do the same, the advantage would simply disappear; it's all about being sure that one's own child has a leg up in age and intellectual maturity, etc., at the expense of all the other children.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 27, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Chet Bob -
Thanks for your input. Make that 99.99%. No kidding.

Probabilty change of dropping out when held back in first grade: +300%

Probablility change of dropping out when held back in middle school: +1,900%

Mary Alice: Amen, sister. As OT's and PT's note to teachers, when you withhold recess from student as punishment, who are you punishing?

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK


Side note: I think this "recess withholding" that folks are talking about here is not punishment but rather deliberate policy of more and more school districts to squeeze more class time out of the day. I know my son's teachers in 4th and 5th have had a hard time finding the time to teach their regular material and teach the new standardized tests they are taking every year in elementary (!) school. Some schools try to solve this time crunch at the expense of little boys potential for success by doing away with recess.

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

This whole thread bewilders me. I'd never before heard of kids being deliberately kept back from schooling to give them an advantage. Maybe that's just because my parents were all the other way, trying to get me skipped ahead as often as possible.

When I was kindergarten age for the state of Kansas (I'm a mid-October baby, so right on the cusp of differing state rules), they checked out the kindergarten, then shopped around in Missouri (we were living practically on the border), then got me into a private Missouri school as a first-grader. Later on they got me skipped out of seventh grade in NY. Result: in college at 16.

Socially awkward? Well, yep. Actually, everything was more or less fine until we moved at the end of my 5th-grade year, after three years in a school where I actually got along very well. And the second "skip," the 7th grade one, was a perfect Godsend, partly because the 8th-graders were noticeably more mature than the 7th-graders, partly because this middle school started tracking in the 8th grade, and I was suddenly (except for homeroom and the bus to and from school) among other kids who were tolerably serious about learning something. Also, that didn't take your knowing the answer to a question in science class as an invitation to corner you in the library and stomp on your toes and pull your hair.

So, one datum: For me, being skipped helped. I am perfectly certain that not being skipped would've been worse, for me, and being positively held back worse yet. But that's me. That the kindergarten teachers in the article were recommending holding kids back as a general rule (Dan, waaay up-thread, read it again: that's what it says) is amazing.

Posted by: waterfowl on February 27, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: you are totally missing the point. This is my very, very favorite topic as a parent. I should not have started my boys on time.

Here in Texas we are on a September to August cycle. My twin boys are July kids who started on time, hence are pretty much the youngest in their class.

The issue is not academic, but social. School stratifies along lines of maturity, which trends closely with age. My guys run with a group of socially immature boys in HS who also happen to be late in phyically maturing. They do not catch up: they have been at the back of the social pack from close to day 1. It affects everything in HS, including athletics. I would hazard a guess that every bad statistical category trends towards the youngest of the school peer group.

I am currently reading Judith Rich Harris' book the Nurture Assumption. It seems to me that picking the correct peer group in HS (oldest or youngest in a class) is one of the few choices a parent actually has some control over.

And, to compound the problem, most childhood activities like Little Leagus baseball or soccer follow the same schedule. So they have nothing in which they are the dominant kid.

One of my kids did a science fair project on the birth month of major league athletes. Guess what? There are twice as many MLB players born in August than July.

Posted by: Nat on February 27, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

ChetBob -
Sadly, both are at work. You are right in that recess and gym have (with some notable exceptions) scaled back across schools, for more "seat time," which we know doesn't work. But there are numerous instances where teachers do indeed withhold recess as punishment for some infraction; it's more endemic than we wish. It doesn't work either.

You're an interesting Exception to a rule that has been observed for quite a few decades now: someone who dropped out who was not grade retained. That you are writing what you have indicates you're not exactly representative of drop outs. Cheers.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

I went to a private progressive school, and the way they handled the difference in social development (which often had nothing to do with academic abilities) was to have mixed grade classes. So there was a 1st/2nd grade, a 2nd/3rd grade, and a 3rd/4th grade. That way they grouped people who had similar levels of social development, but then we were put into different reading groups and such to address our different academic abilities. I was always very good academically, but was painfully shy (as was my best friend). So when I was in 3rd grade, I got put in a class that was mostly 2nd graders, and then me, my best friend, and a handful of other third graders. It definitely helped me come out of my shell and develop a lot of confidence.

Posted by: J.B. on February 27, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Holding kids back to gain a competitive advantage is ridiculous. Holding a kid back because it's best for their development is legitimate.

I have an 8 and a half year old niece who started kindergarten at five, and emotionally couldn't handle it. She's the type of kid who is always on her best behavior around others and always aims to please. But when she was that young, she'd work so hard at being good that when she got home, she was exhausted and crabby. They took her out and started her the next year. She was in a mixed class of KG, 1st, and 2nd graders (up in Alaska). She progressed so quickly that they skipped her out of second grade and right into third. So sometimes, it's the right decision.

Posted by: Vladi G on February 27, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

A point which may have been lost in the length of my last post was this this issue is vastly different depending upon whether your child is in pre-school or not.

Our kids were in pre-school at age 3. It was a montessorri school, but on the other hand it was also a given that at age 4 or 5 the kids would need to take a test to gain admittance to private elementary school if that was where they were going.

Thus, I cannot stress enough that what the author of the original piece seems to lable "holding back" is really nothing of the sort.

The curriculum of both the private and public schools, at least in Pasadena, CA, is not some sort of secret. When you child is 4, you take a look at what they are capable of, and usually you also get to compare other kids a year older that you know to see how everybody is doing.

Our oldest son, with a Sep. birthday, was either going to be one of the youngest or one of the oldest, so, he is one of the oldest. He'll turn 18 right before starting his senior year in high school. Thirty years ago, I turned 18 in Feb. of my senior year, so over a thirty year span this is only a six month shift.

But, elementary school, and all school seems to be taken a bit more seriously these days, and along with that is going to come more parents paying attention to whether their kids are ready for whatever the teachers are going to ask them to do.

School, even elementary school, is no longer something you just "do" -- killing time until graduation. It seems a bit more important to take it seriously, even at a younger age.

Posted by: hank on February 27, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

In Texas it is common for parents to hold a son back a year so he will be bigger and more mature than the other kids and thus a better high-school athlete.

I live in California, where (in the 1950s) the cut off was March 1, and I was born in late February, so I always the youngest kid in class. My mom later thought that was a bad decision (made because they needed child care with both parents working), but I always liked it.

9/10 in the 8th grade math; all math right, but which of those things is -7?

Posted by: anandine on February 27, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

The only thing to get is that the schools want this because statistically their numbers will be better.

The only real problem is with kids who actually are ready for a challenge being put on hold for a year. No one has researched this side of the equation.

Posted by: eddie on February 27, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Eddie - Actually, this has been researched, and it's just as you suspect and hint at: Most kids do not benefit from being kept out of kindergarten for a year; some are even harmed by it (like a poor Pre-K experience, another year in a dysfunctional home).

Full disclosure: For my son with mild autism, an extra year of Pre-K was definitely the way to go.(He's a fall boy, a premie and was small and well behind.) He's doing fabulously in a regular classroom with an aide - behind in some areas, top of his class in some areas.

But the bulk of quality, rigorous research is strikingly in one direction only: start 'em, keep 'em with the same cohort.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I actually work in preschools with typical and special needs kids. It totally depends upon the child. If your child is socially appropriate for his/her age, plays/shares well, can follow complex directions, and is familiar with numbers, shapes, letters, etc; if s/he is familiar with the skills necessary at the beginning of kindergarten, then go for it.

Kindergarten is no longer play-it is work. Many kindergartens are all day now. So for some kids it is too much, especially if they have never been to school. But again, every child is different, and there is no hard or fast rule.

Posted by: Susan on February 27, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot to add that I believe that size can matter, too. Not always, but sometimes it does.

Posted by: Susan on February 27, 2006 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK


"Urinated SA: That story is a classic example of Policy By Anecdote."

I gave it as a counterexample to a kid being socially and academically stigmatized by being kicked back a year. In reality, he was one of the younger kids in his former year, and an additional year of maturity meant he went from being too young to absorb the material to one who could master it. No problems with popularity either.

"Since learning is not a competition,""

Oh, but it *is* a competition. There's a limited number of places in elite colleges that make one's later life considerly easier, and not every kid can get in. That's why, despite increasing actual academic achievement in schools, you consistently hear complaints of how schools are failing.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 27, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

I was the youngest in my class and it sucked.
My boy will go at six. He will be well prepared
at home. Early success or failure can have a life long effect.

Posted by: Doc on February 27, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to make 'plays well with others' the criterium, I'd probably still be in elementary school.

What will it take to wrench schools out of the 19th century 'factory floor' model where everyone must move along in lockstep in every single area?

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

My apologies for not reviewing the previous comments. However, as a clinical-developmental psychologist, it has been clear that the increased expectations demanded by the "No child left behind" theory are developmentally inappropriate. There is no evidence that children forced to learn to read and learn other skills at age 5 have a better advantage in the long run over those children who simply wait to learn the material more efficiently later. In Germany, school used to begin after the normal developmental period ending about age 7, with no notable disadvantage. The current system simply ignores normal development and known educational research to assert that the fast you are introduced to material, the better.

While many parents may want their children to have the advantage of being oldest, I have advised parents for many years (particularly those with sons) to wait a year before enrolling. This is simply a better developmental choice. Now all parents should be making that choice, because what is expected in kindergarten is educationally stupid, and there is no disadvantage to waiting for your child to be ready a year later.

Posted by: Jim on February 27, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

From where I sit, there are a lot more parents trying to push their kids faster, ala Mr. USofA than holding them back. They are all quite confident of how gifted and mature their children are, but these kids very often pay a price later.

I almost made the same mistake with my younger son, who as a kindergardener was far enough ahead of his contemporaries that teachers recommended putting him in a first and second grade combination class. Fortunately he was smart enough to hate the idea, and we put him back with his agemates.

He was bored with school, but he would have been bored regardless of what grade he was in - school is boring. Instead, I worked with him myself on math, and we found a way that was fun for both of us.

I wish I could believe the self-described education researcher who claimed that the younger and less mature kids caught up by third grade, but education research has such a deservedly bad reputation that I can't.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on February 27, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Amok* - No matter how stoned Kevin was at Caltech, I'm sure he would find the 8th grade math test quite trivial - as did I.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on February 27, 2006 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

>>Someone forgot to mention they'll be bigger football players by the time they make varsity...

Spoken in jest perhaps but very relevent. The fact is that older students will have competitive and social advantages to being almost a year advanced growth-wise...esp. true for boys.

--Spoken as a late blooming AND young-for-my-grade high school athlete...with sons.

Posted by: rw on February 27, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Just had to comment to say that I'm another high school dropout that didn't get held back. I was among the youngest in my class having a birthday in late September. I did very well in school, was even in a Gifted and Talented program, aced standardized tests.. up until high school. It was entirely too boring, nothing could stop me from falling asleep in first period Algebra (that teens benefit from extra sleep time is something I wish more school adminstrators [and parents] would realize), plus I had problems with authority.. though that was just a manifestation of the deeper problems I experienced as a victim of child molestation. Generally don't like to get all personal, but I just wanted to point out that getting held back may be the least of a child's problems.
I imagine most folks drop out due to intellectual difficulties, but I believe you're severely misunderestimating the number of kids that have dropout due to a myriad of other issues, MaxGowan.

Posted by: randominternetchick on February 27, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Urinated SA: Yes, it happens with some kids. I worked with a lovely woman whose son went to "pre-first" grade (a kindergarten retention, once popular but didn't work for nearly all and was in fact harmful) - but who later went on to graduate from MIT. You almost want to say, "put 'em all in there, then." But, really, this is what I mean by Policy by Anecdote: "Your sone does not a policy make."

The best studies (I think Jimeson is doing stuff like this; the great Lauri Shephard [sp? - it's been a while]) - carefully controlled, randomized, the works - revealed the young kids who were behind - if you just hung in there with them - caught up around the intermediate grades. There are no quality studies of which I am aware that contra-indicate this. On the contrary, it's been replicated quite a bit.

And, yes, your mileage may vary, as may your son's (it's usually sons). Susan is dead-on right about that. And I'm my own policy-outlier: a young (Nov.) boy who was saved from failing K by means of a standardized test. (Never mind that on the social intelligence issue - I got the nicest girlfriend in the whole school - wouldn't count. (So I would later grow up to supervise the kindergarten assessments on 3,500 kids per yer, 180-odd K teachers. Funny how things turn out.)

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Randominternetchick -

Congrats to you too! I am appreciative you get the whole policy by anecdote schpiel.

briefly, looking at the national research (which I had to do for work), there are consistenly three factors that run through dropping out - which is not an event per se but a series of events. There are now some studies being released where they trace cohorts back to first grade and even Pre-K ! The three factors in the early years: Behavior problems, poor academics (not broken down, which is important), being grade retained. As the years progress, other factors - poor attendance, parent expectations, student expectations - start to manifest.

Two of the best studies I've seen - Shane Jimerson, U Cal Santa Barbara; Karl Alexander, Johns Hopkins.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 27, 2006 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

Smaller children who aren't ready to learn take up all the teacher's time...

...And larger children who are bored or more physically able beat them into submission.

Yeah, great.

Posted by: Crissa on February 27, 2006 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

Union teacher, I bet?

I have a way to make the kid not feel kept back though. Lie too him on his age.

Posted by: McA on February 27, 2006 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

40 is the new 30, so it only follows that 6 is the new 5.

I agree, however, essentially with Crissa's point above. Having had two kids in the LAUSD (kindergarten and 3rd grade - both after at least one year of pre-K), I've seen it with mine own eyes. With the new shift to full-day kindergarten, young kids have a tough time just making it through the day. And by young, I mean kids that are 4 3/4. It comes as no surprise that it's tougher for a teacher to get through her lessons with kids that are younger than 5. And this is a growing snowball - teachers have to get through more demanding lessons, because we now have greater demands for higher test scores. Of course, as the LA Times (and Bob Somerby) has recently pointed out - the LAUSD sometimes pushes their kids through school without giving them an adequate education (i.e. in Algebra) and then refuses to give them a HS diploma. It all comes full circle - start them late so they're older when they start flunking Algebra!

I would only consider holding a child back a year IF they were 4 years old going into a full-day kindergarten program.

Posted by: dannyinla on February 27, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

They're eliminating recesses, now? It was bad enough when they shortened the lunch period (I remember when it was called 'lunch hour' because it was). Whatever happened to the 9 to 4 school day? I can remember being told of a ten month acedemic year that existed pretty much throughout the northeast prior to WWII. How about secondary schools housing less than 1000 students?

Every time 'money saving' and 'time saving' changes are made to the school system, it is made worse for the children. And, when the children do poorly the teachers and educational researchers are blamed for changes that were designed through political expediency (usually elected PTA's who care about taxes and personal ancedote) or administrative convenience and power grabs like bigger buildings, larger districts, and micromanaging curriculums.

As should be clear from the majority of the posts on this topic, this is a political argument by ancedote, i.e. typical PTA fodder, full of self-serving vanity that has nothing but distain for facts concerning the overall performance of the majority of students. This is the same sort of crap that generates inflated salaries for basketball and football coaches and massive expeditures on stadiums and other athletic facilities in high schools.

The so-called poor reputation of educational research is due to the media's (and the public's) habit of treating bogus snake-oil quick-fix remedies by charlatans out to make a quick buck from the tax-payer as the product of legitimate educational research. If you fill a bag with 50% raisens and 50% rabbit turds you shouldn't be suprised if every time you stick your hand in the bag you pull out a hand full of shit.

Posted by: joe on February 27, 2006 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Waldorf schools have a two year kindergarten, where no academics are taught. This is because the developmentally appropriate job of the child is seen to be maturing physically through imaginative play with each other and the natural world. Then they are better ready to begin the different kind of learning that is academic. It is developmentally counter-productive to teach academics before the brain has developed to the point where it can absorb and process this kind of information. While you may not choose this kind of school, starting your child later gives him or her the time to be ready for what school demands.

Posted by: in medias res on February 27, 2006 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

No, it's nuts. Some kids are ready for school. Some not. Use that as your guide, not whether they will get "an advantage" by being "older". The competitive advantage stuff is crazy. Of course, getting into USC is tough these days. :)

Posted by: Steve on February 27, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Joe et al:
You have to understand that the job of the parent is to be aware if their child is going to be harmed or hampered by the one size fits all approach involved in emphasis on "the overall performance of the majority of students."

Remember how they instituted the culturally biased SAT to keep jews out of Harvard, but were undone when that guy in New York showed you could teach the test? I hate it that I have to figure out how to get extra help to "teach the test" to my 10 year old so he wont be stigmatized by doing poorly in one section or another of our state standardized test. The test just doesn't give a crap about my kid. The emphasis on "the overall performance of the majority of students" loves stigmatized kids in their little boxes. The job of the parent is to fight to help their kids succeed even if it puts them at odds with what is best for "the overall performance of the majority of students."

Posted by: ChetBob on February 27, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

The appalling over-use of standardized testing is one of the administrative power-grabbing micro-managements I was talking about. These tests dramatically interfere with a teacher's ability to adjust course material to meet the needs of individual classes while reducing the already paltry amount of time actually spent in instruction (as opposed to evaluation). Administrators are not held accountable to parents even though they have usurped a large chunk of control over what the teacher is doing in the classroom.

Posted by: joe on February 28, 2006 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, ChetBob,
"You have to understand that the job of the parent is to be aware if their child is going to be harmed or hampered by the one size fits all approach involved in emphasis on 'the overall performance of the majority of students.' "

Spare me the patronizing. I have three children in school and another soon to enter. I'm painfully aware of the "one size fits all" problem as they are bilingual children in the Japanese school system.

Posted by: joe on February 28, 2006 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

"From where I sit, there are a lot more parents trying to push their kids faster, ala Mr. USofA than holding them back."

Here's the thing: we ain't pushing. He's no different than other kids in his playgroups, whether they're from blue-collar or white-collar backgrounds.

I didn't go through the US system, so I honestly have no idea what the typical start time is in the US. That's way in the future for me.

As anecdotally it seems that kids are grasping concepts earlier, what is the actual research showing?

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 28, 2006 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

Parents are doing many crazy things regarding their kids' education these days.

There are "gifted" classes in private pre-schools and the parents fight about getting kids into them and then act superior once they're in them.

I guess my basic feeling is that schools are a surrogate when parents don't feel they can help their kids personally.

Posted by: jerry on February 28, 2006 at 7:53 AM | PERMALINK

Urinated States - I've not seen any research that indicates kids ages 3 - 8 are cognitively, socially, etc. ahead of previous groups. Doesn't mean it isn't happening - or is. Maybe 50 is the new 40 - but that's an adult conceit. As a father and educator, I think kids are kids. Childhood cannot be perfected.

One thing that irks almost all of us in early childhood education is the phrase "ready for school" (or "ready to learn"). It is the SCHOOLS that need to be ready for the kids. And I've yet to meet a five year-old who isn't "ready to learn" (heck, more than most of us adults). But you have to make your education program fit your kids' needs, not the other way around.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 28, 2006 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

There are 3 prongs of development: academic/mental, emotional/psychological, and physical.

Some children are quite bright, yet very immature for their age; some are quite bright, yet very small for their age; some are physically big and strong, yet not very mature and/or ready for the mental challenges, etc.

It is extremely important for parents to honestly look at their children and determine their overall readiness for school. If a child enters school before he/she is ready, and always feels behind or like he/she doesn't belong, that will haunt the child throughout his/her life. NO child wants to be the 'slow' kid (mentally, physically, emotionally). And, make no mistake, that label comes quickly and leaves an indelible impression.

I have two adopted Ukrainian children. They entered kindergarten at age 6. They are happy and thriving and even making honor roll. They are smart, but importantly they 'feel' smart which greatly enhances their overall confidence.

Our decision to wait an extra year was an easy one because we had adopted kids. Had they been our biological kids, the decision would have been much more difficult -- like an admission your DNA isn't up to snuff. I doubt many parents are too thrilled with the idea of waiting an extra year to enroll their children in kindergarten, so I'm glad the practice is becoming more common.

And, as was noted in other comments, it is MUCH worse to enroll your child too soon and have him/her 'flunk.' The child doesn't just lose self-esteem, he/she loses friends and security.

Posted by: Mr. Pink on February 28, 2006 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Many years ago I did my son a huge disservice by not letting the public school hold him over for another year of 8th grade, due to their assessment of his maturity. I viewed the issue in the light that the basketball coaches basically wanted to red-shirt him, which was also going on, but both coaches and teachers were right and I was wrong. He was one of those boys who started Kindergarten too early and had been struggling from day one.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on February 28, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

I empathize with Michael Cook's anguish. I've seen so many adorable little boys struggle through the middle school and high school years because they never had the opportunity to mature at their own rate and 'catch up.'

They become paralyzed in a sense, unable to find motivation to blossom into a self-actualized being because they never developed an inner core of strength.

These boys grow up to be men who make decisions out of fear. This is a lose/lose outcome for society and the boy.

And, I don't think we have to worry about a huge wave of 8-year olds enrolling in kindergarten. I think it will simply become more socially acceptable for 6 year old children to enter kindergarten. That hurts no one, and may greatly help the 6 year old.

Posted by: Mr. Pink on February 28, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kindergarten is for five year-olds. Who is harmed by this insane trend? The gazillion perfectly well adjusted five year olds.

Kevin is right.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 28, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

MaxGowan and Joe: are there two of each of you?

P.S. Joe: I wasn't trying to be patronizing, only emphasizing that individual parent's objectives and over-all policy objectives can be significantly divergent. Especially when policy gets pushed more and more by budgetary motivations disguised as "improved policies for learning and accountability."

MaxGowan: I have no problem with all five year olds entering kindergarten as blanket policy under certain conditions, but as you said, "you have to make your education program fit your kids' needs, not the other way around." That isn't happening in a lot of schools so I think its better for parents to wait rather than spend a year where the parents and children are being told they just aren't adjusting to the (often social) program.

Posted by: ChetBob on February 28, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

ChetBob - Well, one must certainly take into account the assets and limitations of a school system when you look at your own child. Full disclosure: Although I am an adminstrator/evaluator etc., I moved my family to a different town for a better school for one of my kid's special needs. And it worked.

In good school systems, this is not a problem. In the bad ones, obviously you need to make your own judgment. I think the most important thing is that once your child starts, do NOT let them hold your kid back. I've seen posting of stories that are contrary - hey, every rule has an exception - but I must report that the data is awfully unambiguous on this point. And nowhere is the research and practive more divergent.

You will also see otherwise good schools bend - wrongly - to parents' wishes. There is a good school system near me that has "regualar" and "young" kindergarten (two years). None, and I mean NONE of the good research supports this. Oh, and they choose by a standardized test. So we joke they're just getting "random assignment" anyway. This is anathema to all that we know to be good and right about educating young children. But the push for this came from ill-informed parents. Doesn't work.

So when people justly rail about how education is the most anti-researched based profession (and it's true), parents and politicians have partly themselves to blame.

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 28, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I guess I must have been really weird: I started kindergarten at age 4, and I distinctly remember reading the letter the school sent stating that I had been admitted. A lot of people here are making a lot of generalizations--about age, gender, and aptitude. The decision to start kindergarten should be based on whether the child is ready.

Posted by: Jeffery on February 28, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

As someone with a 5 year old not yet in Kindergarten (he attends private pre-K), and who works for a non-profit that advocates early childhood education, heres my perspective:

1. Ms. Williamson is wrong that teacher performance bonuses are behind the drive to push once first grade curriculum down to Kindergarteners. If anything, this would serve to lower test scores for such children if they are unprepared for the work. However, it could be why so many Kindergarten teachers want 6 year olds rather than 5 year olds.

2. Universal pre-school has many drivers replacing traditional Kindergarten is probably not one of them. More relevant factors are:

a. Ample evidence that early education is beneficial to a childs future academic performance. Moreover, adding years at the beginning of a childs academic life (rather than in the middle or at the end of high school) is actually a good thing if done in a developmentally appropriate manner. Every dollar spent in these early years can have substantial impact later on in increased graduation rates and decreased retention (keeping a child in a grade an extra year).

b. A greater need for such early education in a formal setting because, with two income or single parent households predominating, less is being done in the home.

c. The enormous expense of even sub-standard child care and private Pre-K. Its more likely that some parents view public Pre-K as a form of high quality daycare that is tax funded and not an immediate, direct out of pocket expense or as a substitute for private Pre-K. Good quality private Pre-K in my area of Virginia is over $4,000 per year per student. Others are cheaper but the quality goes down substantially.

d. Parents are facing enormous pressure to compete in the workplace and see public pre-K as a way for their child to get a leg up. Theres a near universal drive to see our children have it better than we did and over achieving preschoolers may be just a symptom of this phenomenon.

Lastly, I would very much like to know what else is going on in her sons life. Often dissatisfaction with school has its root cause elsewhere at home or at school. He may also be in a poorly run program. You just cant tell from her rant.

Posted by: Bob on February 28, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Bob - I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say.

For a series of invaluable reports on what appears to be the best PreK system in the U.S. and Western Europe, go to: www.childrensinstitute.net, go to the research library - Early Childhood - look at the RECAP Annual Reports. (Disclosure: I am a co-author)

Posted by: MaxGowan on February 28, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I held my son back from starting kindergarden last year. He was born 9 days ahead of the cutoff date and clearly wasn't ready. His pre-K uses the same workbooks as the kindergarden he'll go to. Of course, they go at a slower pace, and they don't expect to have them reading by the end of the year.

Re: Boys vs Girls, one teacher said the cutoff date should be two months earlier for boys. My daughter is 17 months younger than my son and she's closer to reading, by a little bit.

Every child is different, but those differences will be magnified when they're younger.

Posted by: American Citizen on February 28, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

As a mom of two kids in this age range, living here in L.A., I am wrestling with this same problem. Many moms I encounter have had problems with their kids -- boys in particular -- entering high-scoring public kindergartens and finding that even three years of private pre-K have not prepared the kids for the nightly (NIGHTLY!) academic homework in kindergarten. When one complained, the principal said that due to testing requirements the curriculum is fast-paced. Those who can't keep up are left behind or branded problem kids or special needs, since the class size doesn't allow for special attention to help kids catch up. Meanwhile, other parents have their age 3-4-5 kids in outside private classes to teach them math and reading before they enter kindergarten so they won't start at a disadvantage. Meaning anyone who doesn't do the same will de facto be starting behind the curve. I call it SUV mentality. It makes financial and environmental sense to drive a Geo Metro, but when everyone else on the road is in a Hummer you start to get afraid you're going to get run over. As for us, we're holding back our son until he's 6.

Posted by: Garbo on February 28, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

little_grape's birthday is about 2 days after the cutoff date for kindergarten locally...a couple of other parents suggested trying to start her earlier...She probably could have handled it, being the smart little_grape that she is...And God knows I could have done without the extra expense for day care...which was good, BTW, with each classroom day built around education, lesson plans, et cetera.

But it kinda hit me: How much would I give for another year of being a kid? The decision was pretty simple, actually...She's the oldest one in the class, and doing wonderfully.

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