Is it smart to redshirt boys?

Students who are young for their grade risk an attention-deficit diagnosis, researchers say. The youngest students are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest students, concludes a Michigan State study. A North Carolina State study reached similar conclusions. Both are scheduled for publication in the Journal of Health Economics.

Misdiagnosing children can have long-lasting effects, says assistant professor of economics Todd Elder, author of the Michigan State study. In fifth and eighth grade, the youngest kids in a class were more than twice as likely to use Ritalin, a stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD, compared with the oldest students, his study says.

Here’s Why Smart Moms Redshirt their Sons, writes Richard Whitmire of Why Boys Fail. Don’t Rush to Redshirt, responds Sara Mead on Ed Week.

It’s become conventional wisdom — particularly among status-conscious professional parents and people concerned about the so-called boys crisis — to advocate redshirting as a way of give children an early leg up academically and compensate for the fact that boys, on average, hit developmental milestones (particularly for verbal and fine motor skills) somewhat later than girls do.

But the redshirting advantage fades over time, Mead writes. And students who start school later tend to do worse over the long haul in educational attainment and earnings. (I see correlation-causation issues there.) I don’t see a clear answer here: Whether a child born near the deadline should wait a year depends on the child’s maturity, the demands of the kindergarten program and a bunch of other factors. Parents of young-for-the-grade children would be wise to question an ADHD diagnosis. If your child hyperactive? Or does he need a little more time to settle down and grow up?

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  1. In the rural school district that many of my husband’s nieces and nephews are served by, the administration is pro-active in this issue. In essence, they screen all children who are approaching kindergarten age and divide them into regular K and “young fives.” The latter will attend 2 years of K, then be ready for Grade 1. Of course, the “young fives” are disproportionately just barely 5, and disproportionately boys. But it seems to work out well for all concerned.

  2. My kids grew up in an affluent suburb where redshirting was pretty common when my older kids started and almost universal (even for girls) by the time my younger kids started. My kids were the rare ones who bucked that trend; my two sons with January birthdays (cutoff date 12/31) went ahead a year and my other son and my daughter, with late-calendar-year birthdays started on time. In all cases, it worked out well, academically, athletically and socially, despite the fact that they were all 1-2 years younger than their classmates. Based on that experience, i would say that it depends on the child.

  3. Schools apply age grading to students for administrative convenience, not for any benefit to kids. Age-grading was a bad idea when the State moved into the education business and the institution has learned nothing in 150 years.

    The survival of age-grading depends on the policy which restricts parents’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by government employees. “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer. In the realm of public policy this means local control or a competitive market in goods and services. A State-monopoly enterprise is an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.

  4. DeepThought says:

    here is a thought, that today’s classroom’s are now designed to be too boring for much of today’s boys. Classroom rules reward behavior that girls specialize in and disocurage behavior thatboys specialize in.

    Boys most definitely should be allowed to be boys…and they could grow up more mentally and emotionally healthy…if government schools would stop trying to force boys – whether by the use of drugs, or the use of punishments – to act like girls. To better understand the destructive treatment of boys in today’s society, I highly recommend The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers. Our culture is greatly harming our boys and creating problems that will germinate and grow to proportions unseen since Jack and the Beanstalk.

    I know the mindset ont his blog and I can just imagine the teeth nashing as this is read. No wonder boys can not stand today’s classroom experience. it stifles their creativity and bores them to death.

  5. No teeth-gnashing here. Schools have become much more artsy-crafty and touchy-feely, both in content (literature choice, especially) and in method (groupwork, lack of competition, creative writing, journaling etc.). That change is not only bad news for boys but is bad news for many girls. Since my kids are spread over a wide age span, I could see the changes as they happened. Normal boy behavior has been re-defined as pathologic; boys are seen as defective girls.

  6. You know the mindset of this blog?  You had me nodding up to the point you got confrontational.  Either you meant to post this elsewhere, or you have no idea of what sort of people are on this blog—which, sad to say, calls into question the parts I was agreeing with.

  7. Cranberry says:

    Any serious study of this topic should be required to consider the effects of intelligence and/or learning disabilities on timing of formal enrollment in elementary school. The NBER study doesn’t seem to do that, so I’m at a loss as to its value.

    In our circle of friends, some parents have elected to wait a year to enroll their children in kindergarten. Most of the redshirted children have been boys, although a few girls have also waited a year for formal schooling to begin. A significant number of those children had diagnosed learning disabilities in preschool. Thus, the delay in enrollment did not cause a lower level of educational performance. The LD caused both the delay in enrollment and the lower level of achievement. As the school system of today is far more likely to enroll students who would earlier have been excluded from the average classroom, the composition of the student body in those classrooms has changed.

    I also know of some very smart little boys who are the youngest in their grade. It doesn’t mean that enrollment at an earlier age improves achievement. Any study which purported to determine the effect of changes in enrollment age should attempt to exclude the outliers.

  8. I was just having a discussion about “red-shirting” the other day on a different forum. Some lady was advocating “red-shirting” not just fall birthday kids, or summer birthday kids, but SPRING birthday kids. Where does the insanity end? By definition SOMEBODY is going to be the youngest in the class.

    I think it’s time for schools to re-organize such that the cohort of winter & spring birthday kids start in the fall semester after they turn 5 and the cohort of summer & fall birthday kids start in the spring semester after they turn 5. No more “red-shirting” unless there’s a proven disability. Then have a “transitional” grade between K & 1st for those kids whom the school feels are not ready for 1st (whether they started K in the fall or the spring). So the progression could be:

    full year of K -> 1st
    full year of K -> transitional -> 1st
    half year of K -> 1st (presumably uncommon but it should still be an option)
    half year of K -> transitional -> 1st

  9. GoogleMaster says:

    Arbitrary age cutoffs are a crock. How about a preschool test of kindergarten readiness at age three or so? Simple stuff, like letters, numbers, colors.
    Kids who breeze through those can be tested on reading, arithmetic, money facts. Then place the kids where it makes sense. Kids who have not been taught anything at home in their first three to five years can start with the basics in K. Kids who already know how to read and add at age three can enter first or second grade or whatever else makes sense.

  10. Genevieve says:

    Crimson Wife,
    that is a great idea. I have also seen parents hold back children with early spring birthdays. I wouldn’t be surprised to see parents holding back children that turn five in December & January (we have a cut off of September 15).


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