Q:

I'm facing the problem that so many parents have written to you about: Should I keep my 4-year-old out of kindergarten this fall? His birthday is in late September, so he just meets our district's cutoff date for enrolling in kindergarten. What is the latest research on redshirting? -- Undecided

A:

Redshirting, the practice of delaying children's entrance into kindergarten because of their age, is not happening at as high a rate as is often reported in popular media, where it has been described as nearly 20 percent of entering kindergarteners.

The study "Academic Redshirting in Kindergarten: Prevalence, Patterns and Implications" by Daphna Bassock and Sean F. Reardon found that only between 4 percent and 5.5 percent of children have their entry into kindergarten delayed. While these figures are a nationwide average, the rate varies by community. The study showed that low-income neighborhoods are not as likely to redshirt kindergarten children as high-income neighborhoods, where as high as 25 percent of the children may be redshirted. Incidentally, the majority of children who are redshirted are boys.

One fact that is a certainty about redshirting is that there are strong supporters both for and against this practice, with compelling arguments on both sides. Both sides are backed by research studies.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists are absolutely opposed to redshirting. Their argument is that redshirting "labels children as failures at the outset of their school experience." Other studies claim that there is no long-term academic advantage to this practice, and some say that these children are more likely to drop out of high school and college, have lower future earnings and need special-education services.

On the other side, proponents of red-shirting cite studies showing that these children are more likely to go to college and less likely to need special-education services. They also enter kindergarten with greater social confidence and are more likely to do better in math and reading than their peers in the early grades, and even into high school. Furthermore, they are more likely to excel in sports and have leadership roles in high school.

In making a good decision on whether to redshirt a young child, Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford School of Education, says that parents need to consider the type of kindergarten their child will be attending. She usually advises them "to visit the kindergarten and sit in the back of the room and envision their child in that setting." Finally, she says, "I think it really depends on the kid in the context of what the educational program demands."