60 Minutes Features Dallas Mom Critical of ‘Redshirting’ for Kindergarten

Last night CBS’ 60 Minutes reported on an issue I first remember hearing about from Merritt Patterson in Park Cities People a few years ago: holding your 5-year-old back a year from starting kindergarten so that he or she will be among the oldest, rather than the youngest, in the class.

Holly Korbey of Dallas was interviewed for the 60 Minutes report. (You can first see her at about the 2:50 mark in the video embedded above).

Anyone who’s read Outliers by the great Malcolm Gladwell has learned how the month of a child’s birth can confer academic and athletic advantages because of the way we structure our calendars to determine who’s ready to start school, or slot children into age groups for sports leagues. When you’re 5 years old being 7-10 months older than some other kids in your class can mean a huge difference developmentally. Those older kids then tend to get treated like the top students and receive extra attention, and extra coaching, which further compounds the advantage over the years.

Gladwell’s example in the book is Canadian junior hockey leagues, and the advantage the oldest kids get when they start playing carries over even all the way up to the NHL, where a disproportional number of players are born in the same few calendar months: January, February, and March.

Korbey says she’d never heard of redshirting for kindergarten until she moved to Dallas. “There was lots of talk of ‘I want my son to be a leader,’” she says. She ultimately ended up not holding her son back.

I don’t blame parents for wanting to give their children every possible advantage they can. Yes, the rich have more opportunities to make this decision than do the poor, since they can afford to keep paying for day care when a family of less means wants to get a kid into school as soon as possible to save that money. But the rich also have the unfair advantage of being able to afford private schools, or tutors, or private sports coaches. Life is unfair.

Still, I like the solution that Gladwell proposes. You can hear it in this web-extra from 60 Minutes: Assign classes by birth month.

28 comments on “60 Minutes Features Dallas Mom Critical of ‘Redshirting’ for Kindergarten

  1. My son was born in the first week of September. He will miss the cut off by mere days … so is destined to be the oldest. I had mixed emotions about it because I hate the feeling of him being old enough but still not being able to attend school. The only thing that deters me from not trying to get him tested so he can go ahead is the his maturity development … i know boys are slower than girls at this age. I would never try to manipulate the situation so that he could become a “leader.” I think that is genetic more than developed.

  2. My birthday is the last day of August, so I started school almost a year younger than everyone else. I still was a top student, teacher’s pet, etc etc. I was smaller than my class, but I was never very athletic so that ended up being irrelevant. Iknow it’s just anecdotal evidence, but each kid is different. I think if you intentionally hold brighter children back so they “can be laeders”, you risk them being bored when they hit those crucial learning years (grades 4-7) – an age when being developmentally ahead of everyone in your class (or most everyone) means that you’re going to lose that interest and curiousity in learning.

    I think parents should stop trying to manipulate their children into being leaders – being a leader is, for the most part, an intrinsic character trait that can’t be forced.

  3. The phenomenon is reaching ridiculous proportions in the Park Cities and the private schools. Our son is a May birthday, and when he was 3 or 4 years old, several PC parents with older kids made comments that indicated they just assumed we would hold him back. We didn’t and now he’s one of the youngest kids in his class – with a May birthday! The elite private schools are even worse.

  4. My daughter had a June birthday and we did not hold her back. At her private school, she was younger than most of the children in the grade below her!!!!!!

  5. HPISD needs to step in with a clear cut-off date. I’ve heard of January birthdays being held back. Ridiculous. It is now very common for April/May birthdays to be held back.

  6. Is it really a good thing to get your child into the school system sooner than later? I don’t think so. It seems to me that children who have the luxury to stay at home or in a small-group setting with a high caregiver-to-child ratio are blessed. So, why are parents labeled “manipulative” if they choose to extend that setting for an extra year? Seems to me that they’re good parents.

  7. Ugh. Gotta “love” Texas. Was struggling about putting my DAUGHTER ahead a year (she’s 7, in first grade b/c of a 9/14 birthday) but currently does 2nd grade reading and 3rd grade math at her small private school down the street from us. She’s only there b/c her brother needed smaller class sizes and our RISD school wasn’t accommodating in any way (he didn’t test “low” enough for help. Thanks NCLB.)
    Due to finances, we’re moving both kids back into public school. My son, with an Aug. bday will be fine.
    My daughter also will be fine (straight A student) but we are NOT putting her ahead so that she’s not with, eventually YOUNG MEN who could be nearly THREE years older than she.
    There HAS to and MUST start being cutoffs not just for “by” but for “after” dates, kinda like they do for little league and football around here. (Of course, it’s Texas and sports rule. :-( )
    So now, I’ll have to spend a great deal of time making CERTAIN that my daughter is challenged enough so that she doesn’t become bored and lazy. (What happened to my sister.)
    The school system in Texas blows. And it’s NOT the teachers’ faults.

  8. On the other hand, sometime a kid is just not as emotionally mature has his/her peers. Our daughter’s private school recommended that she repeat kindergarten, not because she was “dumb,” but because she was not emotionally mature enough to easily handle the abrupt switch from a “play school classroom” to the more structured rigors of a “going-to-school classroom.”
    Having no way to make such a judgement, and trusting the folks at her school, we agreed that she would repeat kindergarten–to the concerned consternation of some of her friends’ parents. It was one of the best decisions we made in our job of guiding her through that tough trip from babyhood to adulthood.

  9. As the mother of a grown daughter who was held back (and 2 kids who weren’t) I have to say that I have asked her if she would have wanted us to do it differently and she has replied emphatically no. She was extremely timid as a kindergartner and actually did a “pre-first” class at a local private school. The feed back on the 60 minutes website was similar to the comments here–both for and against the practice–mainly by parent of school age children. The one comment that stood out for me was from a mother of a grown child who talked about her daughter’s struggles through high school and college being the youngest in her class (driving, dating and yes, drinking). Every child is different and parents have to look at the long term not just elementary school.

  10. The examples posted by others tend to be “I held my child back because it was best for his/her maturity” or other reasonable explanation. That’s great.

    The problem, though, are those parents who know their child is perfectly fine being with their age group, but they hold them back in order to make them the tallest quarterback or biggest basketball player later in life.

    One of the women in the “60 Minutes” report was quite clear that her only reason was to give her kid an advantage.

  11. It’s natural for parents to want what they feel is best for their child, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of the entire system. As I mentioned above, my son is a May birthday and he’s one of the youngest in his class because so many parents of kids born in May, June, July and August held their kids back. Is that fair to my son, or the other kids born around that time who were not held back? There will always be a “youngest” kid. If we maintain this pace, in a few years we’ll have 8-year-old first-graders.

    Obviously, if a child has legitimate developmental problems, that’s another matter. But to hold back a kid just because they’re a little shy (or, god forbid, to give them a sports advantage) shows a lack of regard for the school system as a whole.

  12. @1Zima2Many I agree!
    The problem in the PUBLIC school system is that they do not teach to the child but to the test, i.e.
    when I asked if my daughter could simply go to another class for math (the next grade) they said that they don’t do that until Jr High. WT…?? So she has to sit there and go over things she already knows WELL? (not just passing, but 100s?)
    I get that it’s great to have differing abilities in a classroom (have kids on both ends of the spectrum).
    BUT, I think it would be WAY easier to teach if something such as this was implemented:
    Test kids going into first grade and see where they’re at (or at the beginning or end of the year at EACH grade level)
    KEEP grade-level classes for subjects such as Social Studies and Science but hold Math and Reading at the SAME time within the elementary school. Bell rings, everyone goes to their respective class.
    THAT way teachers can teach to a classroom of kids at the same level and really help ALL the kids.
    Sure, some kids (such as my son) might feel odd that they’re with younger kids. But guess what? That’s life. I’d rather have him GET what’s being taught and have him work extra hard to get to his grade level. Would give them some more incentive!
    Some people call this “tracking” (what I had during school and it worked out fine for us). But it’s actually a hybrid where true aged peers will still interact in their science experiments, social studies, gym, etc.
    But then be able to be challenged to where they are in reading and in math.
    And if the schools are worried about state tests, great. The kids who are ahead can take the stupid state “grade level” test with everyone in their homeroom class. Then the schools’ marks would be off the charts without sacrificing anyone or anything.
    Just a thought. ;-)

  13. About twenty years ago we held our late August-born child back (with the blessing of the school administrators) because it was the right thing to do for her, given her development at age 6. She was not diagnosed with any developmental deficiencies or shortcomings, at the time or thereafter. We did not hold back our May-born child and occasionally wonder, years after high school graduation, if we erred. We never considered holding back our November child – nothing about her development suggested the need. All graduated from HPHS and all have succeeded. The point is, parents know what is best for their child or children. Our decisions had nothing to do with athletics or any ill-conceived effort to gain academic advantage.

    To suggest that our actions somehow evidence a lack of regard for the school system is absurd.

  14. Let’s not get hyperbolic here. I don’t think anyone would quarrel with holding back a child born in late August. Nor would anyone (at least not me) quarrel with holding back a child born in the spring if that child is demonstrably behind the developmental curve. That was not the discussion I heard from fellow HPHS parents. Rather, what I heard was the presumption that I should hold back my May-born child simply because he was born in May, and would therefore be one of the younger kids in his grade (because eveyone else was already holding back May, June, July and August kids for no particular reason). If we were to do that, then the kid born 4 or 5 days before our son would be the youngest, unless his parents held him back, and on and on it goes.

    Certainly parents THINK they know what’s best for their kids – and it sounds like your decisions were very well-founded – but that’s not always the case (you’ll have to trust me on that one). But should that factor always trump all others – particularly when we know that oftentimes those decisions are made based on motivations that are highly suspect?

  15. Children are held back for a specific reason
    Usually they are slow and border on mental retardation
    When you see a child held back you know that there is something wrong with the child

    If not, then there is something wrong with the parent

  16. My birthday’s in November, so I (or my parents, rather) had no choice in Wisconsin in the mid 70s…kindergarten was delayed for me. When I started the next year, I was so far ahead that I was in math & reading classes 1-2 grades ahead of me. That continued until the end of the second grade when my teachers and school were tired of catering to me (ha! can you imagine that happening today?) and recommended my skipping the third grade. I did, and then still became the youngest in my class. My grades stayed high through high school. The only time it was ever tough being the youngest was when my friends all got their drivers licenses…and when they all turned 21 before me. :) I can tell you…it was really polarizing for me being in classes above my grade level when I was really young. I didn’t really fit in anywhere.

  17. Oh, I went on to get both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees…and I’m smart, but not extraordinary or anything. My parents never gave me the precious snowflake treatment, so I never felt like I was better than the other kids. When I read about this redshirting, I worry about what happens when the vast majority of the kids involved level out intellectually. We aren’t all outliers.

  18. Let’s get real! It all depends on each individual child’s readiness! It’s not all about age, but age does play a large determining factor, especially for boys. PreK and Kindergarten teachers will tell you that boys generally take longer to get interested in learning. With a child’s readiness, 6-12 months is a huge learning gap, but each child is different. Redshirting should be based on academic readiness, testing, and maturity. It’s the age of a child that is usually the obvious factor, since they are generally the younger ones in the class. Coincidence? No, it’s just the facts.

    What is unfortunate is that parents are redshirting for the wrong reasons! Kids that are up to speed and even advanced are being held back for sports reasons or to be the very best in their grade level. Those children are the ones that should to be denied. The kids that need the extra year to develop, should not be punished by the ones that are abusing the system. Like in everything else in this world, there are the greedy, who ruin it for the rest.

    For any parents who disagree with this, you obviously don’t have a child near the cut off date who is not “ready”, since that would make your opinion change. As for a child with a summer birthday, it is not as though they are a year different than their fellow classmates. Often times they are just a month or a few months older than a majority of the class age. It is no different than most of the children’s age gaps in class currently.

  19. My son has an late May birthday. He was diagnosed with Autism at 3 years old and started in the Early Childhood program. If he was a typical kid, he probably would have been held back. Instead, he is one of the youngest kids in his grade. His little sister with a early September birthday missed the cut-off by a few days…and although she could handle the learning part, she probably would strugggle with the daily schedule of Elementary school. She still needs a nap and occasionally sucks her thumb.

    I think everyone should evaluate their child for readiness emotionally – but not because of size or sports.

  20. the school needs to make a ruling on this and stick to it. such as, if your child is 5, they must start school. if you want your child to be held back you need to file a petition.if you want your child to repeat you need to pay for an extra year of school that other kids dont get.

    my son is in 4th and has kids literally up to 24 months older than him. OF COURSE THOSE KIDS DO BETTER. the older kids skew test scores and expectations. my son does fine but this has reached an absurd level.

    futher my 9th grader is in school with 19 year old MEN. at 19 those are not boys, they are men preying on 14 yr old 9th graders. dont adults that come in contact with dhildren have to have background checks? these boys need them, i am sure you will find some criminals amoung them.

  21. This whole thing is so furiating to me. I think that the way 60 min has portrayed this “redshirting” thing is very negative. I have been considering keeping my boy back a year, having never head of redshirting. I am a stay at home Mom and work with my kid on writing, addition, subtraction, reading etc. As we have entered into VPK I have noticed there are areas that he is not as “in-line” with as the other kids, ie being able to drawing a stick figure.

    His best friend is the oldest boy in the class, they are 8 months apart. That is a huge difference in development. The older boy has a more complex thought process. I feel that my child will do better not with “being the older kid” but will do better by having a more inline apptitude with whats expected in the school years to come!!!!

  22. Obviously strict district age requirements would be unenforceable. Many people who know they are going to hold their child back do it through private preschools from day 1. Would you make a child who hasn’t attended kindergarten go to first grade just because they are 6?? Even though I have held a child back I personally would not even do it for academic reasons. My youngest (Dec birthday) was recommended for pre first by his kindergarten teacher. The reason was that he was not reading by January. He was one of the biggest kids in the class and very confident and outgoing (as opposed to the spring child we held back who was tiny,would not speak in class and still took a nap but could read). He did not need an extra year of school he needed testing and tutoring as he was found to be dyslexic. We caught heat for both decisions from other parents who had to put their 10 cents in. Every child and situation is different and parents should be able to determine what is right for their children without other parents passing judgement. .

  23. The private schools are kind of instrumental on why this happens in the Dallas area. The start date for Primer at several is February 1st (so any child born after Feb 1 is a candidate for primer – the gap year between K & 1st). This spills over – if you have a child who starts in the private school path and then you switch to public, it is hard to switch entire years. Also, as far as “when will it stop” – it won’t go past a certain date – students who are 19 as of September 1st of their senior year can’t participate in extra-curricular activities in the same manner. UIL rule are Sept 1 too. Unless, of course, there is a development delay, or illness, etc. at which point there is sometimes a different categorization of course numbers, I believe.

  24. Like I said, group kids based on their levels for reading and math and let all same-aged kids be in the “homeroom” and social studies and science and gym together.

    WHAT’S SO FREAKIN DIFFICULT ABOUT THAT??

    Teachers would then be able to teach to a class of kids who can be challenged to THEIR abilities
    and not have to stop and start for either end of the spectrum.

    I remember YEARS ago back on Long Island when some teachers had me and a few kids go into the hallway to do our work so that they could teach the rest of the class. Sure. We finished our work well and quickly but then we goofed off beyond belief. What with all of today’s “lockdowns” this could no longer happen, but basically the ideas the same.

    NOBODY’s being TAUGHT one on one enough because teachers are spread too thin.

  25. Our daughter, Angela attended two years of pre school, and because she knew the basics, she skipped kindergarten when we moved to a new state. She excelled throughout her school years both athletically and academically. She graduated at age 17 in the top 10 of her class. Angela attended college on a soccer scholorship and played two years at the collegiate level. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree (with a double Minor) at age 21 and received her Master’s at 23.
    Parents need to remember that everything the child learns begins at home. Not only the ABC’s but social skills.
    Take time with your children, teach them.
    I am not saying that children with legitimate issues should be advanced to the next grade, but intentially holding them back for the purpose of letting them have an ‘advantage’ is wrong.

  26. Hi, this is Holly Korbey, I was interviewed on 60 Minutes and wrote the original Babble essay about my experiences at a Park Cities preschool in Dallas. It’s great to read others’ experiences with redshirting, and I wholeheartedly agree that there are children who need to be held back from kindergarten for a variety of reasons. I find it interesting that parents seem to ignore pretty significant scientific evidence to NOT hold children back from kindergarten (Google “Hold Your Child Back From Kindergarten at Their Peril”). What I also find interesting is that no parent, either here or on the 60 Minutes website, addresses two key issues in the piece: that of unfairness to those who cannot afford another year of preschool/daycare (leaving them up to 18 months behind their peers), and that someone will have to be the youngest in every class, no matter how we parents try to engineer it for our own. Someone will always be the youngest, shortest, least mature, etc. Now the April/May kids appear to be the babies because all the summer kids are moved forward. What happens when their parents tire of them being the smallest and least mature? It does not really cover it to say “Life is unfair,” because we have created the unfairness by our own hands. Right? By redshirting, parents of means have found a way around this truth about life. It’s the complete attention to our individual needs over the view of the whole that Gladwell is referring to when he laughs that he will “take this to his grave” – that we will look back at this time, when parents of children who already have every advantage decide they need even more advantages, and wonder, what were we thinking? It is this cultural trend, currently playing itself out in many areas of our society, that I find worthy of thought and discussion.