Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sac Bee: Proposed kindergarten cutoff date would mean some California kids start school later

This from the Sac Bee:

For decades, millions of Californians with children who have fall birthdays have struggled over whether to pack their 4-year-olds off to kindergarten – or hold them back because they might be too young to start school.

This week, California state legislators may be the closest they've ever come to making that decision for parents, with room for some exceptions.

A bill by Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, would roll back the date that entering kindergartners must turn 5 from the current Dec. 2 to Sept. 1.

In 2008, a Public Policy Institute of California review of 14 studies found that students who start kindergarten at older ages perform better on math and reading tests into eighth grade.


  1. I really wish they would compare these studies to how students do as older seventeen or even eighteen year olds in High School. My brother graduated his junior year as an eighteen year old (due to being held back before Kindergarten) and there are a lot of things to consider when you have an eighteen year old adult in a school full of minors. Are there increased drop out rates? How do they perform after the eight grade mark? I wish that these articles would give us more information to truly consider all options.

  2. I think they should also have a maximum age cut off (along with the minimum). That would help narrow the age range in a class room. I know a red-shirted March b'day boy. He is bored and huge. Tells anybody that will listen he should be a grade ahead. He's a full 1 1/2 years older than some in his class. At this point I think his parents did him a dis-service by holding him back.

    Does anybody know when this will be voted on?

  3. As the mom of a now-college student who was "red-shirted" before the term was ever known, I can say that none of this was an issue at all for him. It's not like they magically take some maturity leap at 18! (Unfortunately...)

    I had an interesting opportunity to see who in my son's high school was older for this unique reasons: He turned 18 just before the November 2008 presidential election, in his senior year. Many of the kids were big Obama supporters and were dying to vote, and were envious of the ones who could, amid much discussion. So I know which of his classmates (at least his circle of friends) were 18 in the fall of their senior year and thus had been "red-shirted." I'd never have known otherwise. If you look at a group of teens, it's not like you can spot their ages from their appearance of behavior -- it's not like little kids where the first- and second-graders have missing front teeth.

    From this perspective, the fretting about all these issues is pretty unnecessary. As to the dropout rate, even if it WERE higher, which seems unlikely, the question would be correlation vs. causation. Would the issues that led parents to choose to hold the kid out of kindergarten a year also issues that would remain, and would lead to their dropping out early?

    But realistically, only kids with involved, concerned parents would be red-shirted, and kids with involved, concerned parents would be less likely to drop out overall.

    Plus private schools routinely have older age cutoffs and thus experience the red-shirting effect.

  4. 7:51 here - I don't believe that fretting is completely unnecessary. It's important to consider all sides of an issue and my concern lies mainly with the ramifications of an eighteen year old's decisions versus a seventeen year old's. Kids at that age make stupid decisions and the consequences for minors versus adults can be very different. Just something to consider, but I do agree with Caroline in that 17 to 18 isn't going to "magically change maturity" or that age that you can visibly "spot" the older kids. I think that there can be negative effects of red-shirting and that these concerns are valid.

  5. I'm sure it varies from kid to kid, but I've literally never seen a negative consequence, in my child's case or those of his friends/peers. That includes the families we knew in his preschool who made the same choice we did (thus the ones I knew at a young age) and the kids who I discovered had been red-shirted only because of the fact that they could boast of being able to vote for Obama (mainly the ones I didn't know till high school age).

    There was a boy a grade ahead of my son in high school whose mom I became friends with -- he was a troubled kid, doing drugs and getting busted for tagging. He had been a promising, ambitious academic achiever at elementary school age who started going awry in middle school. I learned that he was only a day older than my son, though a grade ahead -- thus a fall b-day (Oct. 29) who had NOT been red-shirted. That mom worried that if she had held him out a year, he wouldn't have gone off the rails in his teens. I don't agree -- I just don't think the effect is that strong or lasting either way.

    Oh, and my cousin's daughter, in Marin, almost exactly my son's age: All the elders in the family thought they should red-shirt, but the parents chose not to. The girl ended up with lots of problems and graduated from a continuation school. In this case, I think the issues that led the relatives to urge them to red-shirt are related to the issues that led her to go off the rails later. But I'm just giving those examples -- parents who regretted that they hadn't done it.

    The item below was just posted in another discussion forum, with the poster's summary. It's the self-regulation issue, and self-care to some extent, that led us to red-shirt:

    School Readiness Project Assessment Results

    The gist of it is that of the four areas of readiness that Kindergarten teachers identified (pre-academic skills, self care and motor skills, social expression, and self-regulation), they view:
    -self-care and motor skills readiness as the most important (with the ability to self-regulate as the 2nd most important)
    -academic skills as the easiest to teach and self-regulation as the hardest to teach
    In addition, they report that they spend the bulk of their time helping kids self-regulate (e.g. sit still, pay attention, hands to self etc..)

  6. It's true that the LEGAL issues at 18 are very different. I don't see how that's really affected by what grade the kid is in, though.

  7. Given that kindergarten has become so academic, I think the benefits of an earlier birthday cutoff outweigh any burdens most of the time. California public schools have one of the latest cutoffs I've ever heard of. Certainly most private and parochial schools require kindergarten students to be 5 by September 1 or earlier, and although I haven't researched, I believe most states have earlier public school kindergarten cutoffs too. If a kid is really mature and academically advanced enough to move ahead, they can skip grades later on so high schools should not be full over over-mature seniors.

  8. Given that kindergarten is the new first grade, I have no problem with moving the cutoff dates; many K teachers will tell you that it is hard to teach 4-year-olds.

    However, it will only really work if they do two things:

    1) Establish maximum age boundaries as well, as the previous poster suggested. There could be a waiver process to deal with learning delays and IEP issues, but overall this would deal with the "arms race" aspect of red-shirting and its effect, which is the 1.5 year (or more) age spread. Pretty soon kindergarten will be the new second grade if the schools don't establish these boundaries--eager parents will see that the average age is creeping up and will hold their spring boys back.

    2) For equity, we need to establish universal preschool including TK programs that are accessible to low-income families. One of the issues facing teachers is very young, and doubly unprepared, low-income kids. Families who can't afford preschool are eager to send their kids to school as soon as possible to address the child care issue. The fact that these kids are, on average, younger than their more affluent peers only compounds the disadvantages they enter with such as smaller vocabularies, lack of exposure to books, malnutrition, and so forth. Full universal preschool including TK (which is like the old kindergarten) for kids who need it can make up some of these deficits.

    I wonder if any of the SIG money for the failing schools will be used for preschool services, as part of the wrap-around community supports they are talking about.

    These are the real issues: To have classrooms that are within a reasonable age range and as much on par in terms of preparation for school as possible.

  9. I also think there should be a process to allow some 4 year olds to enter K if they are ready.

    It is crazy to think that all kids with fall birthdays need to be "Red Shirted".

  10. I also think there should be a process to allow some 4 year olds to enter K if they are ready.

    It is crazy to think that all kids with fall birthdays need to be "Red Shirted".

  11. I have a story to tell you of a red shirted girl who just started K class today. She has a March birthday, so she is walking into K at 6 1/2. The teacher read the kids a book to start off the day before the parents were dismissed. The book had the word "nocturnal" in it. The teacher asked if any kid knew what that word meant, and this little girl raised her hand and nailed the answer. Other parents there were terribly impressed. What they didn't know is that this girl is up to fully a year and half older than other kids in her class. I'm not sure whether this story is funny or sad, but it does reflect a lot of what is happening in K classes with red-shirted kids!

  12. My kid knew what "nocturnal" and "diurnal" meant when he was 4. He's no genius. Those just happened to be words we taught him, because he likes to be active at night:-). Still, 6-1/2 does seem to be pretty old to be starting kindergarten.

    But this is public school, people. They simply don't have the resources to evaluate individual kids whose birthdays fall after the cutoff date and decide whether they're ready for kindergarten. they've got enough to do dealing with the language immersion people. Can you imagine all the people who are convinced their little tyke is incredibly gifted swamping the district offices?

  13. Actually California is not the only state with a Fall cut off.


    New York
    New Jersery

    Lots of states have a Nov. 30 or beginning of Dec. cut off.

  14. This was in the NY Times 8/20. The Littlest Redshirts Sit Out Kindergarten


  15. FYI - there was also a topic recently in the WSJ Juggle blog


    A lot of interesting insights in the comments

  16. We sent our 4 year old to K and we are thrilled. This child is ready.

    I actually think that our child likes school so much because it is developmentally appropriate. It's like our child is being challenged enough and this challenge is exciting.

  17. August 25, 2010 11:53 AM

    I bet her parents will complain that K is "too easy" for her child and complain that the teacher is not providing enough extension materials for her child to challenge her...

  18. "August 25, 2010 11:53 AM

    I bet her parents will complain that K is "too easy" for her child and complain that the teacher is not providing enough extension materials for her child to challenge her..."

    And it may be awkward if she enters pre-pubescence in 2nd grade. 8 1/2 is not that early for a lot of girls these days to start that process (takes about 2 years). It's hard because they grow so much during that time and they also become tweens in attitude and orientation. This could be hard if her classmates are still feeling and acting like little girls.

    --mother of teens

  19. A child is really 6 1/2 starting kindergarten kindergarten? Were they planning to put their child in an independent school with a really early cut-off date (June is pretty common?) I redshirted my kid but she was 5 turning 6, not 6.5! That's a huge difference. I wonder why they didn't start her in first grade?

  20. I'm a bit skeptical myself. Not that anyone is intentionally misrepresenting, but I gather you don't know this child or her parents -- you just saw her for the first time in a new K class last week? Is it possible you misheard her birthday? Or it's a March birthday but she was born a year later than what you heard? I always take these "I heard that people said said..." or "A friend of mine told me that..." stories with a grain a salt, and this reminds me of that. It's so easy for things to get distorted as stories get retold on the internet.

    And even if this girl really is 6.5, I'm just really taken aback by all this judgment about a situation we really know nothing about. We haven't walked a mile in this family's shoes. Maybe the girl has learning differences (that don't prevent her from having a good vocabulary). Maybe she had some serious issues last year that led her preschool teachers to recommend that she be held back a year. Or maybe her parents misjudged what she was ready for, and the school will identify her to be moved ahead in the middle of the year. Who really knows?

    I realize I'm a bit sensitive on this issue, probably because I used to be incredibly judgmental about what I perceived to be a bunch of indulgent parents holding their kids back to give them some sort of false advantage...until I had a child whose preschool teachers were all telling me that my child should not start K at 5. It was hard enough dealing with all the issues that let the teachers to make this recommendation, but it was also hard dealing with having to reevaluate our expectations about when our child was really ready for K. (We did hold our child back, and we do not regret our decision. However, the choice was truly an agonizing one.

    I wish everyone the best for making good decisions for your children.

  21. I am the fellow with the story about the girl. No learning problems. They thought this would be crucial to getting her into a good college! And I agree. I am sure I will hear that she is bored.

  22. I've been emailing with Senator Simitian's office asking questions about the kindergarten entry age legislation. They are very responsive. I asked about an maximum age and was told:

    SB 1381 would help to right-age future cohorts; however, since kindergarten isn’t mandatory in California, there will still be differences in relative age but the range will be smaller, not larger, than before.

    The age issue has been discussed for the past 25 years in the Legislature. It is a difficult one because the first day of school has to start sometime and there has to be a cut-off at some point. One policy solution could be to make kindergarten mandatory which has been considered before in the Legislature and has its drawbacks; both fiscal and political. Another option could be to set a minimum and maximum age for kindergarten entry…something like 5 before Sept. 1st, but not 6 before July 1st. This could reduce the age range within cohorts, yet still allow the gift of time to the youngest in the cohort. Yet another option, as you’ve mentioned, could be to provide for a needs-based transitional kindergarten program by assessing all students upon entry to school in order to determine which children need additional academic preparation and/or developmental growth. There are certainly policy merits to this approach but there could be unintended fiscal consequences (e.g., shifting education funding away from suburban districts to urban districts). Some countries, like the Netherlands for instance, require children to start school on their fourth birthday, so children show up in the middle of the school year; they then get assessed at the end of the term to determine whether they advance or remain at the same level. There are lots of different policy options and SB 1381 is a compromise with many different stakeholders, so it isn’t perfect.

  23. I also asked about a process for letting Sept. b'day kids into K. I was told that "A child born after
    September 1st may still be admitted to kindergarten on a case-by-case basis, if the parent or guardian applies for early admission and the school district agrees that it would be in the best interest of the child." that this was already part of the existing law. And then that "The early admission provision you reference is already existing law...it shows up in our bill because it is contained in the code section we are amending to make the entry-date change. The details on how the early admission process would work are left for local districts to decide. We
    suspect that this early admission provision doesn't get used very often currently due to alifornia's very late cut-off date. It is likely, however, that more parents may wish to utilize this option should our legislation be successful in moving the cut-off date up to September 1st."

  24. Last comment from me. This will be voted on by Aug. 31 b/c that is the last day of the session. So we should know the outcome soon.

  25. Just to counter Caroline's examples a bit - I have a college age boy who started kindergarten with a birthday a few days before the cut off and both he and I have been extremely happy about this decision. As one poster said, it kept him engaged, and he's always been really tuned into school, even in areas where he's had to work hard. As a result he turned into a truly excellent student (who was at the top of his class and goes to a good college). Though not brilliant in all areas, he loves to learn and, as he agrees, it would have been a serious disservice to keep him out of kindergarten.

    His preschool teachers as well urged him to wait a year, but the truth is he was just a lot happier in kindergarten than preschool. He wants to move ahead. It depends on the child and usually the parents know their child best.

  26. The reality of today's k is that many kids are red-shirted and many are boys. What I have observed is that older students set the behavioral and developmental expectations of teachers and parents. It is expected that kids must sit still for extended periods of time and learn the curriculum that would typically be given to a first grader. If kids entered K at a normal age range, there would not be as many disparities among students and there wouldn't be so many issues with fall 5's versus 6.5's as there is now. If there is to be a K birthday cut-off, there has to be a maximum age limit as well. Otherwise, behavioral expectations and curriculum will favor the older students while the younger kids potentially suffer.

  27. 3:41, thank you for your post. I completely agree with you. There needs to be a maximum age cut off date with exceptions made for special cases. The same goes for the Sept. 1 cut-off.

    The more we can narrow the age gap of kids in a class, the easier it will be for teachers to teach effectively. Having some kids who are 1.5 years older than others is obviously not ideal. It's common sense.

  28. Unless we are willing and able to fully fund universal PreK, this is not a panacea. In my experience, older students in K sometimes have better motor development and may have better self-regulation skills than very young students. Very young (November birthday) boys often have some difficulty, at least at the beginning of the year.

    However, motor development and self-regulation do not arise solely from age; they are developed through experience and teaching. Students who enter Kindergarten a year later under this proposed legislation but who are not able to access preschool are unlikely to enjoy the experiences they need to build these skills.

    I teach at a high-poverty school. Most of my students cannot access preschool; there are insufficient Head Start openings and other free/low-cost programs are also over-subscribed. All I anticipate from this bill, should it become law, is slightly older students who have largely the same needs as they would have a year before.

    That said, I do wish we would have a serious conversation about what we want Kindergartners to know and be able to do, and whether our learning goals are compatible with what we know about child development. I would also like discussion about developing standards and expectations for self-regulation, emotional resilience, etc. I am concerned that in our "new first grades" we are not paying enough attention to nurturing healthy, happy and empathetic people.

    I would like legislation mandating and funding full-day Kindergarten in all districts and mandating Kindergarten attendance (it is still not legally required). I wish Simitian would look into these issues instead - or at least fund some local pilots of the 2 year transitional K model LAUSD is testing.

  29. I heart E Rat. She's so sensible.

  30. I'm pretty sure the bill includes plans for free transitional kindergartens throughout the state...

  31. It does, although I don't think $700 million will cover the cost. And if entirely age-based, they will be difficult to implement even allowing for combination classrooms. Some transitional K students would probably have to travel pretty far for a seat, and it still wouldn't be mandatory.

  32. I'd be OK with moving the date, so long as parents, who have kids that are ready, can get in. My child was ready at 4. My child did not fit the mold a lot of parents concern themselves of for a 4 year old. Not only did my child, at 4, know the word nocturnal, he (yes, a boy) knew other large words like plethora, etc. He could sit very well in class and did really well in K. So we are glad we sent him.

  33. Add me to the E. Rat Fan Club.

    My daughter is an early Sept Birthday with high quality preschool experience. We agonized over sending her to K. But for practical reasons we did it. Her pre-K teacher who normally supports holding back young 5s, encouraged us to send her. A early childhood specialist tested her readiness and said she was ready. But I really wish we had to option to keep her in Pre-K or a good transitional program for one more year. She does well academically but I can see where one more year of social development (an important precursor to problem-solving and academic skills)and gross and fine motorskill work would have made a big difference. She can't print well, has a hard time sitting and listening, and she is stressed from the sitting still and worksheet routine that is her day. Now a first grader, she can read very well and knows big words but kindergarten was really not developmentally appropriate for her and the other young 5s.

    No matter how smart a child is, age and developmental appropriateness needs to be considered even more. I skipped 8th grade and graduated a top high school at 17 years and 4 months. I was never able to fit in with my peers. As a result, I was intimidated and did not have confidence in the classroom either.

  34. My kid is 4 too and could handle kindergarten intellectually, no problem. But I am so glad not to have the choice to send her early (she has a January birthday). One more year of preschool is one more year of play instead of worksheets. And at her play-based preschool where she does all kinds of creative cool things, her academic development hasn't suffered a bit. She can read, write, add and subtract single-digit numbers, and knows all kinds of overblown words. This without direct instruction. And she can sit in a circle, raise her hand, stand in line, listen, stay on task, and all that good stuff, without behavior charts and the like. I credit this to the play-based approach and wish K were more like that. In fact, I wish she qualified for the transitional kindergarten at her school! Early academics are overrated.

  35. I'm glad those of you with four year olds are convinced your kid can handle it but it's still not fair to the other kids. Witnessed today in my child's K class- at least three or four kids who were obviously younger and even more painfully obviously not ready for K. It's disruptive for the other kids and unfair to the teacher. Sorry but it works in other states and it's worth CA trying to do anything to make our schools a little better. Knowing the words nocturnal and diurnal by the way have zero to do with K readiness. If your 4 year old knows their address and phone number by heart that is more along the lines of what the schools are looking for. There are some kids in the K class I was in today who didn't know their birthdays and sorry but that is just not K ready.

  36. I have such conflicting feelings about this bill. I have a younger daughter with a November birthday who started kinder at 4. There was never a question about it - her preschool thought she was ready, she always had excellent executive functioning skills, and now as a 6th grader, has been regularly testing at the advanced levels every year. She also socially has no problems.

    She would have been bored to tears had we held her back. But I agree that many of her classmates, especially boys and ESPECIALLY boys with similar birthdates really seem out of their element.

    My older son has an August birthday so in this case would still probably have entered school at the age he did - I've often wondered if he'd been held back a year if school would have been easier for him (he does fine, honors and all that, but doesn't sail through school like his younger sister.)

    I agree with ERat about the need for universal K and serious preschool support. The thing driving all this is the budget - how to cut it for education in the short term.