Q&A: Red-shirting for Kindergarten

Tricia writes:

"how do people feel about academic red-shirting, ie, the practice of holding kids back before starting kindergarten?

I have a boy with a late July birthday, and am hearing a ton of conflicting info about whether this is a good idea or not.  Regardless of the consensus, the decision to hold back does seem to be increasingly popular.

Data points: My son has been in full-time child care since he's been 6 mos old, he's totally developmentally normal on all scales, and his current preschool (a wonderful Reggio school) says they believe he'll be ready for Kindergarten next fall. (he was born in July '06, so will turn five in July '11, and would be scheduled to start Kindergarten at our public school in September '11). 

My own sense of him is that he's a pretty sweet little guy who excels in the verbal / cognitive areas, is solidly average in physical /emotional areas.  In other words, I think he'd be fine.  but. . .he is pretty easily led.  meaning, he definitely is a "follower" in terms of behavior, and we see a lot of acting out when he's around older kids, or kids whose parents maybe don't share the same parenting philosophy (eg, he seems to relish engaging in more destructive or mean-spirited play when he sees it demonstrated, probably b/c it isn't tolerated at home or at the Reggio-based school).  In a public school, my sense is that there's a lot more of those sorts of opportunities for that behavior b/c it's a different environment. (note that i'm not saying a bad environment–just different.  i'm a believer in public school for many reasons, and the exposure to all sorts of different experiences is one of those reasons).  I wonder if holding him back a year will leave him better equipped to hold his own among his peer group.

i also get the sense–no hard data to back this up, just discussions w/ other moms who work in public school systems or moms who are teachers—that kids who are held back are indeed more capable of exhibiting the skills required in school:  listen, follow instructions, control impulses, etc.–in part b/c they're older, but also in part b/c there then exists a feedback loop.  an older kid who is "better" behaved is likely to get more positive attention from a teacher, and the child is further inspired to a standard of behavior, and so on and so on.  So, i worry that by sending a younger child to school who maybe would not be as equipped to exhibit those standards of behavior due to age, he'll be pegged as a "not-as-good" kid, and thus not get the positive attention and feedback.

am i making sense? overthinking?  did you ever think about this w/ your boys?  have any of your readers?"

I have no dog in this hunt. I didn't have the option, as in NYC public schools it's totally determined by when your birthday is and I haven't heard of anyone ever getting an exception. But both of my kids' birthdays are in the first half of the year anyway, so I wouldn't have considered it for either of them.

So I don't really have an opinion, but I'd like to point out one thing: Cutoffs are all arbitrary. They're different across the country, so when your child starts Kindergarten is solely determined by where you happen to live and when the cutoffs are there.

If the cutoff is "Has to be 5 by the first day of school in August," then a kid with a July birthday is going to be one of the youngest in the class, and red-shirting might make sense. If that same kid lived in NYC, where the cutoff is "Must turn 5 by December 31 of the year in which s/he starts Kindergarten," that same kid with the July birthday would be older than half the kids in his class, so red-shirting probably wouldn't make sense.

So I don't see this as any moral issue at all, just making a decision based on the logistics of when your kid came out (what if school starts next year on August 23 but the pitocin induction you had 4 years ago didn't happen to take so your kid didn't come out until August 24, which was two days before the first day of school in the next school district over, etc.) and what the cutoff date happens to be where you are.

Now, those of you who have a strong opinion, or who have done it or who considered doing it but not done it, or who had kids in your kids' class who were or weren't red-shirted, or are teachers, or just want to talk about how hilarious it is thatw e call this "red-shirting" to begin with, have at it in the comments, please.