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.