The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 42 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, Host
Gonzalez: This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode 42 of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, we’re talking about the long-term effects of kindergarten redshirting.
Gonzalez: My son has an August birthday. So a few years ago, in the spring before he turned five, my husband and I had to make the decision about kindergarten. Our district website told us our son would qualify for kindergarten that fall, just a few days after he turned five. The cut-off date was September 30, so any four-year-old who would turn five by that date was eligible for kindergarten.
But we had talked to lots of other people, and it seemed like more and more families were opting to hold off, to delay their child’s entrance into kindergarten for another year. At the time, we’d never heard the term “academic redshirting,” but it turns out this is what it’s often called. The term comes from college athletics, where coaches delay some athletes’ participation on a team until their sophomore year, when they are called “redshirt freshmen” and have better-developed skills. The thinking in kindergarten is that this delay will allow the child to grow physically, cognitively, and emotionally, making their eventual kindergarten experience better.
Many parents struggle with this decision, as we did. So when I heard about the research of Dr. Suzanne Jones, I was curious. In her dissertation, Academic Redshirting: Perceived Life Satisfaction of Adolescent Males, she looked at how boys fare in adolescence depending on whether or not their parents opted to redshirt them in kindergarten. Rather than focus on academic success, which has been covered by a number of other studies, Jones evaluated her subjects’ overall life satisfaction; in other words, how happy they were in general. I think her research makes an important contribution to the discussion of kindergarten redshirting, so I interviewed her for this episode.
Before I play the interview, I want to thank those of you who have left a review for this podcast on iTunes. Every review helps to bring more listeners to the show, and I know everyone is busy, so I really appreciate you taking the time to go to iTunes and leave those reviews. If you’re just hearing this podcast for the first time, I would love for you to visit my website, Cult of Pedagogy, where I share tons of resources for teachers. I also have a very active Facebook page where I share not only my own resources, but lots of excellent articles from other sites. I’m on Twitter and Instagram as well — my handle is @cultofpedagogy in both places, and I have outstanding boards on Pinterest, so this podcast is really just the tip of the iceberg. Come on over to cultofpedagogy.com and you’ll find links to all of this stuff.
Now let’s learn more about the impact of academic redshirting from Suzanne Jones.
Gonzalez: I am happy to welcome Dr. Suzanne Jones, who is a professor of education at Collin College in Frisco, Texas. She actually did her doctoral dissertation on academic redshirting and I thought this would be a really good time of year for us to talk about this. The dissertation is actually called ‘Academic Redshirting, Perceived Life Satisfaction of Adolescent Males’, and I will be providing a link to more information on that in the show-notes. But Suzanne, welcome.
Jones: Thank you so much.
Gonzalez: I’m just really glad that I had a chance to talk with you about this, and I’ve just got a couple questions and I’m going to let you talk about what you learned.
What is Academic Redshirting?
Gonzalez: If we could start by just giving us a definition of what is academic redshirting and why has it become so common?
Jones: OK. So the term ‘redshirting’ comes from the athletic side of college. When they recruit a player to play a sport in college, they sometimes redshirt them, or don’t start them for another year. They allow them to spend that year getting stronger, more mature, learning plays, learning skills and strategies, and then they play the following year. So, that’s where the term came from. Academic redshirting is when we hold out students who are age-eligible to start kindergarten, and therefore it happens a lot with summer birthdays, because they fall right before the cut-off date in most states being September 1st, most of the time. Therefore boys, who are seen to be less mature, get redshirted more often and those summer birthday boys are the ones that I wanted to study.
Gonzalez: Interestingly enough, I’m doing this interview for my readers, however, I have a very specific vested interest in this, even though it’s too late for me. My son, who is now a third-grader, he has an August birthday and we really struggled with this too. And I did as much research as I could and talked to people, because we were trying to decide whether to place him in kindergarten at age—basically four, I think—the day he walked into the kindergarten he was still four—he turned five…
Jones: Yes, that happens all the time.
Gonzalez: …on the second day of school. So, he was pretty advanced, you know, he could read already and he was seemed pretty bored at preschool, and I thought I can’t even imagine keeping him out another year. So, just to provide some context, because I will probably be asking you questions and we may even want to refer his situation. Right now, he is doing OK, but from what I’ve heard, you don’t always necessarily see the effects for years.
Jones: Yes, and really that is the reason that most parents who struggle with the decision end up going ahead and sending their child, because they do seem ready. And the preschool teacher says that they’re ready, and of course, the district that they’re going in to, if they meet with those teachers, have to say that they’re ready, they cannot legally, they’re not supposed to legally ask a student to redshirt. So therefore parents think: ‘OK, they’re ready, I’ll send them on.’ So that’s why my research was done with adolescent boys. I wanted to catch them at a different time, after those early years had already come and gone.
Gonzalez: So what was your personal interest in this? What part of your background got you so interested in studying this?
Jones: Because both of my boys were summer birthdays, and I was having to make that decision. This was the early years of my doctoral studies, and I latched onto this topic while doing my own research and just, it blew forward from there.
Gonzalez: That’s really interesting. Describe the actual study that you did. What questions were you seeking to answer, how did you set it up?
Jones: I had a mixed methodology where I used quantitative research and qualitative research together. The quantitative piece I was measuring their life satisfaction on an actual scale, that has been verified, credible, reliable, valid. And it’s called the Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale. So, I gave 55 students that scale. 25 of them were redshirted, 30 of them were not redshirted, all of them were summer birthdays. June, July and August is what I define as summer. After that scale, I ran the quantitative data on that, and then I took a sample of that population and did student and parent interviews. I interviewed 10 redshirted students and 10 non-redshirted students, 10 parents that had redshirted and 10 parents that did not redshirt. And I asked them all kinds of questions, just to get basic context for their decision, and their knowledge of it, and then asked them some really detailed questions about their feelings. Now, remember, all of these parents and students are adolescents, or the parents are of adolescent boys, so they’ve already been through the trenches of elementary school and have seen it in a different light.
Gonzalez: They’ve got the perspective now of experience.
Gonzalez: Tell me what you discovered.
Jones: The Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale results were significant. The redshirted students were happier. They were happier with overall life satisfaction, which is how we measure overall happiness. ‘Subjective well-being’ is another word for that. That was significant, meaning the data showed that it was going to happen, it happened for reasons other than chance. That’s what statistically significant would mean. Then the qualitative piece, where I interviewed everybody… all you can do in that regard is code their responses. I decided to code everything as positive, negative or neutral, and then just kind of talk about those findings in my dissertation. For instance: With the redshirted students, every single one of them was happy that they had been redshirted. Some of them knew that they had been, others said that their parents had really never discussed it with them. One boy said that his parents asked him after preschool if he would be interested in starting kindergarten or not, and he said ‘No.’ So he got to make that decision. The interesting part about the non-redshirted students, and I don’t want to misquote my research, is 9 of them wished that they had been redshirted.
Jones: So, 9 of the younger boys, who are adolescents at this time, it’s a hard time of life as it is, did not enjoy being the youngest in the class. And their responses were very candid. It went from, of course, there’s the bigger, stronger, more mature aspect they wished they had. The locker-room kind of atmosphere. Some of them mentioned girls – the older kids got the girls. Some of them mentioned: ‘I’m always trying to keep up.’ They were very candid. However, the redshirted students were just very blunt. They loved it, liked being older, no problem with it, can’t think of any way it’s hurt me, it’s only helped. They were just very cut-and-dry. The non-redshirted students went on and on with their responses. There was one in the non-redshirted group that really was very neutral. He didn’t have strong opinions either way. But nine of them just really felt that they wished they were older.
Gonzalez: And it sounds like most of the content of this feedback had more to do, and this is what you’re looking for too, is life-satisfaction, this was not in terms of academically how they were doing, this was in terms of how, sort of, happy they felt in school, social aspects, confidence.
Jones: Exactly. Because the research tells us that academics even out by fourth grade. There is no reason, no benefit to redshirting for academics. However, a lot of parents only look at that when they’re starting kindergarten. It was interesting to ask them questions about maturity and social groups and peer groups and how they felt within their peer group. Some of the non-redshirted students said their better friends were in the grade below them, which was interesting. I did not want to focus on academics, because, we know. That’s been published time and time again. There is no reason to redshirt based on academics. That’s not going to make a difference.
Gonzalez: The thing is, I know that as a parent, just from having conversations with people, one of the things we often say is: I just want my kids to be happy, and I want them to grow up to have good lives. And that’s what you were measuring.
Jones: Exactly. Because that’s how I was feeling as a parent. That’s all I want for my kid. And it was real easy to find the research right off the bat that it wasn’t going to matter academically. Now, I have my feelings about what starts out at the beginning, maybe when they are a little bit behind when they’re younger, and they have to struggle to keep up. Maybe they form their peer groups and those regards or teachers have certain feelings about kids based on how they’re doing at the very beginning, even though they do even out, they’ve already kind of formed a self-efficacy and how they feel about their experience at school. And I don’t know that that doesn’t carry over to adolescence, even though the academics are fine.
Gonzalez: When you got these results, were you surprised, or did they sort of confirm your suspicions already?
Jones: I was surprised. I was surprised at how honest and open the students were. The parent interviews were actually shocking as well. For instance, the parents of the redshirted students all said they would do it again, no questions asked. When I asked: What would you do with a future child, I had several different questions, like: If you had another child today born in the summer, what would you do? Automatically: ‘We would redshirt.’ No considerations whatsoever. The non-redshirted group, seven said that they would redshirt the next time. Seven of the parents. This was just a sample of ten parents that had not redshirted, but seven of them said, without consideration of anything—how they’re doing at school—they would just automatically, summer boy, we would redshirt. Also, the parents of both groups, almost every one of them said that it mattered more your age in adolescence than elementary school. Which also goes back to: we only focus on what they’re like at five.
Jones: Instead of looking forward to what they will be like and what their peers will be like later. And so it was surprising. It was surprising that many were just completely on board with saying ‘I would do it differently next time.’
Implications for Parents and Teachers
Gonzalez: When a parent, if they are facing this decision right now, and I’m guessing we will have a lot of listeners who are interested right now in this topic, this is actually kind of an obvious question: What does this mean for those parents? How can they use this information?
Jones: Well, you know, I’ve looked at this from a parent’s standpoint. I’m a lifelong educator, but there are severe educational effects to redshirting. Of course it’s nice to be concerned about that, but if you are only concerned about your child, I think that this research alone is very eye-opening, as to the fact that it’s not going to hurt, and it can only help. That’s the other thing, all the redshirted students and parents could not think of a single way that it hurt them. You know, I think some of them in the beginning mentioned that they thought their child would be bored, but I was also only studying students in upper socioeconomic school district, meaning they had less than 20% free and reduced lunch. That’s how I deemed the districts appropriate.
Gonzalez: That’s interesting. I’m glad that you mentioned that, because I would think that somebody would want to follow up on this study, basically, and see if they can replicate it in other situations. I think that’s an important point.
Jones: It is.
Gonzalez: I guess we would be making a lot of assumptions about the home life, and all the other academic supports, but I do think that’s an interesting piece of information. I wanted to go back to something you said just a minute ago. We were talking about academics. You said there are, can’t remember how you said it, significant or serious impacts academically, on redshirting. Or redshirting has significant impacts on academics. What did you mean by that?
Jones: Well, it’s pushing the curriculum down. It’s creating classrooms where teachers have such a wide gap in ability, that it’s hard to teach and deal with…
Gonzalez: Because you’re going to have kids who are pretty skilled already.
Jones: Yes, well an entire year difference between five and six is enormous, in terms of developmental education aspects. And we’re finding that 10% of any given grade is likely to be academically redshirted in an upper socioeconomic district. Ten percent of the grade. So, therefore, that can be a lot of students that are widening that gap and making it more difficult for teachers to meet that. And I think in an upper socio-economic district, maybe they have the resources to provide some pull-out, gifted education, or some training for teachers in the gifted range, which does not mean that they are all gifted, but they can at least extend the learning to those students who come to school so far ahead of the others.
Gonzalez: We actually had the same situation with our daughter, who is an October birthday, so she was clearly in with her right age group in kindergarten. But within the first few weeks they were just recognizing letters and doing letter-sounds and she had already been reading for a year. I’m an English teacher. That was one thing I could do for my kids was show them how to read. So she would just come home, just saying: Mom, you’re not going to believe what they are doing at school. They have told me ahead of time that they would be able to challenge her, and they weren’t. So, we made the decision with the school to just bump her up to first grade. She seem to have the maturity, and with girls I understand that it’s different. She’s doing fine, she’s in sixth grade now, and she does say that she can’t stand being the youngest one. However, noticing that there wasn’t a lot of differentiation actually happening in kindergarten, I really didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want her to hate school.
Gonzalez: So, the rest of your background is in literacy. I’m thinking that some kindergarten teachers listening to this, might be thinking: Oh gosh, they’re going to be pushing more and more people to redshirt, what do we do? So, what would you recommend to kindergarten teachers and even people who do teacher prep for kindergarten teachers, for handling this as a growing trend? What kind of training do they actually need?
Jones: I do not know that I’m the one to speak to the type of training – I know that we need a lot more research or a lot more money put into allowing teachers to go to training. Whether it’s just differentiation, or gifted education can sometimes be an avenue for extending learning, I just think that we need a lot more research to show what this is doing to the schools, and one of my suggestions for further study was possibly breaking those early grades into smaller months. Maybe summer birthdays are together within kindergarten, and September – October – November together within kindergarten. So, kind of opposite of multi-age classrooms, breaking it down even in smaller groups. Because teachers… Another piece of training that is important is that teachers need to learn to recognize if it’s maturity or ability. They’re confusing the two. Often they streamline students into groups and they treat students as if they are at a certain level. Students pick up on this. It’s all based on really more maturity, not ability.
Gonzalez: It’s interesting, because when—you’re right, and I saw this too—because when my kids started formal schooling, they went to a Montessori pre-school. When they started real formal schooling – whatever, public school, and now I’m going to offend somebody by saying that. Anyway, I felt like they needed, my son needed a lot of work on motor skills. His handwriting and that kind of fine-motor stuff still really needed work. And I hated that he was spending so much time on letter recognition types of things, when he needed more work on some of the other stuff that they were doing in kindergarten. It seems like the avenues for differentiation wouldn’t even necessarily need to be that complicated. They could just be a matter of ‘you don’t need to study your reading right now, why don’t we do some more letter writing.’ Or, he needed the social skills, he needed the other stuff that they were learning in kindergarten. He just didn’t necessarily need the literacy piece as much. That’s really the only way that he was advanced, that I felt. Maturity-wise, he was right in there with anybody else.
Jones: Right. This is something else that was interesting, is in my small sample of people that I interviewed, anybody that was an educator was in the redshirted group. All the parents that were educators had redshirted. So, I thought that was very telling. And all of them had something to say within the interview about having those students. I didn’t want my child to be that student. Of course, I had had those same exact feelings. I hate that for kids. Our schools need to meet these kids where they are, obviously. If you’re just looking at it as a parent, you should look at more than just what they’re like at that exact age of five.
Gonzalez: And more than just academics, consider more than just academics.
If Redshirting is No Longer an Option
Gonzalez: If a parent is like me—I’m guessing you redshirted both of your boys?
Gonzalez: Okay. So, if you’re like I and you’ve got somebody who’s well past that point… At this point, I would basically be looking at signs for more sort of social… Academically he’s fine. But if we’re seeing him in fifth and sixth grade starting to have more and more troubles associated with being the youngest, then what you do? I guess it’s just too late.
Jones: At that point I do think it is. But I think in elementary school, what I have seen around, we have a crazy competitive district that most of these students came from. They weren’t all from the same district, but most of them. Many parents in our district in elementary school will change schools, or move, or move to private and then come back to public…
Gonzalez: So that they can repeat that year without the social stigma associated with it.
Gonzalez: I’ve seen that here, actually, yes.
Jones: And than even later in high school, they call it reclassification for athletics. Students do it all the time for athletic purposes, which is a whole other problem. They call it reclassification, and they’ll repeat eleventh grade. Just to have another year…
Gonzalez: Another year to grow and mature. Okay. The thing that’s interesting, is that I feel like your research puts those decisions into a broader and more complex context. If it’s being done for athletics, that’s its own situation, but now there’s even more evidence that there be may be other benefits to that. How can teachers use this information?
Jones: Teachers have to start recognizing the maturity and ability difference and find a way to get past that. That’s going to take training and that’s going to take professional development, it’s going to take money. It might take hiring more teachers to split these grades up, so that you’re not lumping kids… Some people redshirt their kids that are born in April and March. Spring birthdays are starting to be redshirted more and more…
Jones: I know. I just felt that was over the top. Summer would be where I would draw the line, but teachers are having to deal with a lot and I feel like it’s more of a school district situation that they need to address than individual teachers. We need more research. We need to look at adults that have been redshirted/not redshirted and ask them some questions. I’ve done a little bit of that in a lead up to this study, but nothing that I was able to publish or get a big enough sample size with. And that’s pretty telling and interesting.
Socioeconomics Make a Difference
Jones: Students that are young for their grade are underrepresented in college by 11.6%, the research tells us. That’s a problem. We have children that are young for their grade that are less likely to go to college, because of it, and I’m only looking at upper socioeconomic districts, imagine what’s happening in…
Gonzalez: You know, because one thing with the socioeconomics is that, if you have a family who’s been paying for daycare for four plus years, you’ve got two working parents or one single working parent, the idea of giving up the daycare fees, if you need to pay them, and having the kid in full-time school all day, it’s tough. You don’t necessarily have the luxury of: Yeah, sure, they’ll just stay home for another year. It’s an economic decision.
Jones: Absolutely. And then sometimes the students aren’t even in a quality preschool, so they’re missing out on some early intervention for speech, or autism, or any kind of red flag that might occur that a preschool or kindergarten teacher would catch. If they’re not in a school environment of some sort, then those things are not being addressed.
Gonzalez: That’s another year of delay on all of that stuff, which is an important year in a child’s life.
Jones: Yeah. And some districts that have been, for (lack) of a better word, ‘caught’ encouraging redshirting are typically lower economic districts that are looking to reduce the retention rates. So they kind of encourage that, then those students are found to be more likely to drop out later. It’s a totally different phenomenon, most likely because they didn’t get that early intervention.
Gonzalez: I want to repeat what you just said. This hasn’t actually been researched, this is more anecdotal?
Jones: No, that’s the actual research for this.
Gonzalez: This is the academics: In lower SES areas, when schools tend to encourage redshirting, those kids actually tend to drop out at a higher rate later on. Okay.
Gonzalez: The thinking is that this is maybe because they are missing some of that early intervention that would have otherwise gotten. That’s important. I’m glad that you brought that up, because depending on who’s listening to this, and the populations that they serve, that could really make a big difference, because we definitely don’t want to hurt the kids’ academics with this.
Jones: Exactly. Have you ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’?
Gonzalez: I am very familiar with it. I don’t think I read that one, I think I read ‘Blink.’
Jones: That’s wonderful too.
Gonzalez: I have been referred to ‘Outliers’ so many times, that I feel like I’ve read it. But, what piece of it did were you going to talk about?
Jones: If you just read chapter one, it covers, what he calls a ‘cumulative advantage’, which is starting out with that little tiny advantage of being older and more mature, and then that gets you higher reading groups, higher maths groups, teachers that pay more attention to you, think that you’re smart, treat like you’re smart, peers that think that you’re smart and then that accumulates in that snowball effect that gets bigger and bigger and bigger. He has a lot of great metaphors in that chapter to put this exact situation in light. He also calls it ‘relative age’, relative to your peers. He talks about it with sports and academics. If anyone is interested in that, just read chapter one of ‘Outliers’, it will give you a great context.
Gonzalez: Fantastic. That’s a great recommendation.
Recommendations for Future Research
Gonzalez: Do you, Suzanne, want to add anything else before we wrap up? Any other piece of this that we may not have covered?
Jones: I am looking through my notes to see… I definitely think this needs to be replicated with girls too. That’s just a whole different phenomenon. You know, girls do not care if they’re… In fact, they don’t want to mature as early as boys do. They don’t want to go through those changes first. They don’t want to be the first ones. Boys want that. It’s just totally different. I think the adolescent years would be very interesting what the girls’ findings would show.
Gonzalez: I think that’s a great idea. There is a lot of research out there just ready for somebody to take it on.
Jones: There is.
Gonzalez: If anybody wanted to get a hold of you, or contact you, how would they do that, if they wanted more information about this?
Jones: I can give you my e-mail, my school e-mail, do you want me to give you that right away?
Gonzalez: Actually, if anybody is listening and they want to get a hold of you, I will to have them contact me, that way we don’t have to necessarily broadcast your e-mail here. I can just put them in touch with you if they got more questions about this.
Jones: Yes. And I am on Twitter, but just don’t use Twitter for primarily educational – I use it for all different… political a lot of times…
Gonzalez: So, we’ll have people just contact me if they want to reach you, and they probably could find you too at Collin College in Frisco, Texas. Suzanne, thank you so much, for spending this time and sharing this, and we will get this out there, so that parents and teachers can learn about this.
Jones: I appreciate it.
To get links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, including a full transcript, go to cultofpedagogy.com/pod and click on Episode 42. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.
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