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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Red shirts for all? Older is better through college

Older students do better through college, according to a new study by David Figlio, a Northwestern economist, reports John Ydstie on NPR.

Florida children who just missed the Sept. 1 cutoff and had to wait a year to start school performed better than demographically similar students who just made the cutoff. The September-born students were more likely to attend college and to graduate from an elite university, compared to those born in August, who were the youngest in their classes.

Credit: Chris Buck

The small but significant achievement gap occurred in families of all socioeconomic levels.

Figlio suggested “grouping same-age students in separate classes, rather than having classes where some children can be nearly a year younger than their oldest peers,” reports Ydstie. “He says that in the early primary years, the cognitive and social differences between children who are nearly a year apart can be very dramatic, and teaching for each group could be tailored to their development levels.”

Not every child should wait to start school, writes Christina Samuels on Education Week.

Red-shirting has economic costs, including one less year in the workforce, said Northwestern researcher Krzysztof Karbownik.  “On average, it is the case that August-born children are going to do slightly worse than September-born children, but this has no implication that Mr. Smith should redshirt their perfectly fine kid to give them an extra edge,” he said.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, wrote an article for the magazine Education Next earlier this year arguing that redshirting should not become a normal practice. The recent paper does not change her view, she said. “My kindergartener is young for grade, so this is a topic that I’m super into for lots of reasons, and not just for research,” Schanzenbach said. Parents have to think about their individual children, rather than try to squeeze them into a statistical analysis, she said. For example, her daughter thrives on striving to do the same things as her older siblings. Going to school with children who are a few months older will give her peers to look up to. Children with a similar personality might be bored if they are surrounded with younger classmates, she said.

Her research has found the benefits of red-shirting fade over time.

Twenty percent of college-educated parents red-shirt boys born in the summer. But Schanzenbach thinks most summer-born boys will do fine. “You know your kid best.”

Children who won’t turn five till Dec. 31 can start kindergarten in New York City. Parents talk about how four-year-olds do in formal classrooms.

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