Kindergarten blues

Jody and Phantom Scribbler and chicago mama all have thoughtful posts up about the NYTimes article about redshirting kindergarteners.

D’s birthday is in January, so he’s in the middle of his class age-wise, one of the smallest kids, one of the most advanced academically.  One of his good friends, with a July birthday, is doing "junior kindergarten" this year — but he has some sensory issues, and I know his teacher were worried about his ability to stay on task.  It’s not clear how much easier he’s going to find it next year, though.  N’s birthday is in October, so he’ll be nearly 6 before he starts Kindergarten.  If I didn’t know that other parents were likely to be holding their summer-birthday kids back a year, I might be in the school office, arguing to let him start a year early.   I was 4 when I started school (November birthday, December cutoff) and didn’t suffer.

I think the points the author made about the class issues are real ones — redshirting kindergarteners is definitely an upper-middle class phenomenon — but am unconvinced that it matters in the scheme of class inequities in education.  For one thing, I’m doubtful that many poor kids are going to be sitting in the same classrooms as those redshirted kids.  EdWeek has a new tool out that lets you generate reports for any school district in the country on graduation rates and school segregation levels. I took a look at the one for Alexandria and was shocked to see that its school system scores a .78 (on a 0 to 1 scale) for racial segregation and a .52 for socioeconomic segregation.  Those numbers are far higher than average for either Virginia or the country as a whole, but what makes them really shocking is that all the segregation is in the elementary schools — there’s only one high school (TC Williams, of Remember the Titans fame) and two middle schools.

And we’re not talking separate but equal either.  My friend who has her kindergartener in one of the predominantly white, middle-class, active PTA schools has been told that her son has been identified as gifted and talented (even though the pull out activities don’t start until 3rd grade) and invited to come in for a meeting to discuss the curriculum.  I’m quite confident that if any such process were happening at D’s school, we’d have heard about it.  We haven’t.

A year ago, in my post about the decision to send D to this school, I wrote " What I worry about is whether they’ll learn that school is something to be endured."  I do think this fear has somewhat come true.  D’s bored a fair amount of the time at school — his biggest complaint is that it takes up too much of his day.  And the whole class often loses privileges when some kids misbehave.  D’s counting days to the end of school.  And frankly, I am too.

18 Responses to “Kindergarten blues”

  1. pink Says:

    I’m feeling very torn about this issue. Miss P’s birthday is at the end of October and our district has a September 30 cutoff. At 2 1/2 her preschool teachers have already confirmed that she’s academically ahead of most of her peers and she’s a good-sized toddler (not that it matters as much for girls). So all along we’ve been thinking that we’ll push the district to have her start k’garten when she’s four-almost-five instead of five-almost-six. And, to be completely honest, the approx. $10K in daycare savings is also a factor. But now I’m questioning whether we’ll be second-guessing the decision 5-10 years down the road.

  2. bj Says:

    I looked up the segregation stats on my district from the report you cite, and they’re very similar to yours (Seattle, 0.69 & 0.55 — more economic segregation, even). My skimming doesn’t tell me how they calculated this number. Does, it effectively, just end up correlating with the percent of minorities/poor children? Are the least “segregated” districts the most homogenous ones?
    bj

  3. robin Says:

    >
    I think you have to be careful with the comparisons. These kindergartens are NOT our kindergartens. The demands are unbelievably more stringent, and worsening every year, developmental abilities be damned. Even now my fifth grader is marveling at the curriculum his second brother has: “Wow, I didn’t learn that until the end of third grade!”
    WRT to red-shirting, it has been going on for quite a while and is completely crazy for my friends and family in the mid-west (cut-off date July 1? “Oh, dear, johnnie was born Mar 1, let’s hold him back so he can shine in high school” (and also, I always remind them, be the first to drive…). The “hockey dads” who hold their boys back so they’ll be on the bigger side of the bell curve also blow my mind.
    OTOH, the ability to bear the costs of another year of probably expensive “pre-school” before you can finally get the kid into “free school” is clearly confined to only a minority of people in this country.
    Also, what some people forget is that some sports and most camps let kids in strictly by birth age, so you can end up with your redshirted kid having to be with kids a grade younger in summer camp or Sunday school or a traveling team.
    I’m sorry D is bored already. It’s a hard life out there in school, esp for the boys. Hope next year is better!
    Robin

  4. dave.s. Says:

    I’d be interested to know why you didn’t put him in the new school for the last month – seems to me that it’d have given him a few friends in the new neighborhood, and that particularly when you weren’t that pleased with the old one there wouldn’t be much loss. Summer can stretch on forever for a little kid who has no one to play with.

  5. Raising WEG Says:

    More on Schools

    Come on, it’s the last week of kindergarten, you knew I was going to obsess. Over at Half-Changed World, Elizabeth discusses whether the red-shirted upper-class kids will be in the same classrooms with the poorest, most at-risk kids in the

  6. Jody Says:

    I’ve put up a brief comment about across-district segregation over at my blog, but wanted to say here that the G&T percentages are so HIGH in our district (a laughable 40-45% of kids score at the 97th percentile or above on standardized tests) that they don’t discuss G&T programs before 3rd grade just to keep the craziness to a minimum.
    Also, G&T programming here has moved toward “ability targeted” learning in classrooms rather than pull-out programs, again because the G/T rankings are so absurdly high.
    University-town enrollment, anyone? Can we get a big shout-out for all the bizarrely obsessive professorial parents? Oh yes we can.
    I wouldn’t want to be a G/T specialist in this district for all the money in the world. Then again, we’re locked in a sudden and strange budget battle with the county commissioners (who decided they wanted to be tax-conscious in the same year that the state mandated a teacher raise AND we’re opening a new school), so half the G/T specialists may be fired any minute.
    But talking about private property taxes as the foundation for school funding is an exploration of the absurd for another day, isn’t it.

  7. jen Says:

    I see Dave’s point about putting your son into a new school for the last month of the year. But as a kid who lived thru that personally I have to say I think you did the right thing! He’ll figure out the summer and make some neighbor friends. The social hothouse that is elementary school can wait until fall.
    I continue to be astounded at the standard deviations when it comes to how kids mature. My two girls just completed 3YO pre-school and kindergarten. Between that 3YO class and the kindergarten class the kids appear to vary in size from about 25 pounds to 60. (My 6YO girls is 4’3″ and 55 pounds, and she’s not the biggest.) The size thing is obvious to even the most casual observer, but there are also wide variations in development status. It can be unnerving for us parents, who are used to being more, shall we say, finely sorted. You want your kid to fit in and be challenged … and you just don’t see how that could happen with these broad ranges. But at least at our school the teachers manage.
    I personally think the hardest thing to absorb in a school is a broad variety of temperaments. Precocious readers can be dealt with. But a screamer sitting next to a kid who shuts down with too much noise? What can you do with that?

  8. Jackie Says:

    I blogged about this today too– Baltimore’s segregation rates are worse than Alexandria’s and Seattle’s, apparently!
    What will D’s new school be like?

  9. Rayne of Terror Says:

    Yes, the more homogeneous your school district and fewer schools, the lower the racial segregation percentage. We live in rural Illinois and when I looked up our school district it is 98% white, 1.5 % Hispanic, and the other .5% is split between African Americans and Asians. The segregation quotient was .01. There is one elementary, one middle school and one high school. So having a low segregation number doesn’t indicate diversity.

  10. Kendra Says:

    I did not get to read all 6 pages of this article, but I wanted to comment before I ran off to a meeting.
    DS#1 turned 6 August 1, 2006. So he was 6 when we entered him into kindergarten. He could have academically gone into kindergarten the year before, but DH and I felt the maturity was not there. I disagree with Fred Morrison’s statement that parents hold their children back based on their maturity….maturity to shield them from social or emotional hurt. On the contrary….DS#1 wasn’t able to ACT as a kindergartener; as someone ready to learn. It was his way or no way. And we are still having some “sportsmanship” type issues – he still HATES to lose. But I have seen a little improvement since he has had to deal with a 3-yo brother – he loses with a “little” more grace now.
    Another thing – he was telling me there was a boy in his class that was 4 – he turned 5 on September 28th….2 days before our states age cutoff. I’ve seen this boy – he is just as tall as DS#1 and outweighs him by an easy 10 pounds. Did his parents start him early because of his size? Hard to say, but DS says this boy is the instigator of a lot of the “picking on” of the other kids.
    I have learned a lot from DS’s kindergarten experience this year….kindergarten AIN’T what it used to be. Among the concepts DS learned this year were reading (he reads like a champ and we have already been told his first grade teacher is where the strong readers go), adding and subtracting (including counting money – which I don’t remember doing until 3rd grade), the scientific method (which I don’t remember learning about until COLLEGE), earth science, and music. He also had art and PE classes. If I remember right, kindergarten WAS art and PE. Near the beginning of the year I read him a book that I had in kindergarten called “We Like Kindergarten.” In it, the little girl goes to school. She sings songs, models with clay, fingerpaints, has a nap and a snack. That’s how it was for me 30+ years ago. DS looked at me and said “Mommy? That’s NOT kindergarten.” Out of the mouths of babes. Sorry to ramble on.

  11. Elizabeth Says:

    I can’t find on edweek any info on how they’re measuring segregation, but the most common index is a measure of what fraction of the population would need to change schools in order for the population of each school (or neighborhood) to have the same distribution as the population of the district (or city) as a whole.
    Dave, you’re not the only person who has made that suggestion. But D wanted to finish the year at his current school, and we think between the camps that we’ve signed him up for, and the community beaches in our new neighborhood, he’ll have enough kids to keep him entertained. And also, Alexandria schools let out next Tuesday, and Fairfax schools don’t let out for another week, which would have run into the first session of camp we’ve signed him up for.
    Jackie, the new school is quite diverse. In the most recent year for which data are available online, the students were 38% Hispanic, 34% White, 14% Asian, 9% Black, and 6% other (which I’d guess is mostly biracial). It’s about 43% eligible for free and reduced price lunch, 25% ESL. And starting in 3rd grade, it’s the gifted and talented center for the cluster of schools.

  12. K Says:

    The funny thing with those statistics, is that we have huge differences *within* our district. (some areas within the district are segregated, others are not.) So, a district wide statistic doesn’t really reflect the situation at a specific school.
    Our elementary school is 63% minority and 66% low income. But there is a school just 2 miles away is only 11% minority and 20% low income. On the other side of town, you’ll have two schools at 40% minority and 40% low income next to each other.
    But we are having a phenomenal experience at our “bad” school. It’s got rock-bottom test scores, a high level of poverty and lots of non-native English speakers. But we’ve had the best teachers in the world and an amazing experience.
    And, I concur that you are wise to wait until the summer to move. We moved every few years (military family), and moving in the summer was ALWAYS a ton easier than moving into a new class at the end of the school year. It’s soooo hard to break into established classroom groups, even at the young ages.

  13. Christine Says:

    I find this tool not that great due to the fact that where I live people are segregated by neighborhood. White students are 74% of the population in my district and yet there was an extremely low percentage for segregation. My neighborhood is next to a Latino community and an African-American one; they have their own school districts. I don’t think this tool takes into account the bigger picture.
    On another note, I missed the cut-off for kindergarten due to a January birthday. That was the year they stopped pushing kids ahead. I really have no idea if I would have fared better. I did have friends in both grades and definately benefited from the maturity of the older kids. What I find strange is putting a child into kindergarten simply because they look older. Part of the classroom dynamic when I grew up had to do with size. We had the classic sharp-witted, shrimp heighted boy who was the bully in the class. In elementary school almost 60-70% of the girls were taller than the boys. Overall, the more I read education articles I think that parents are trying to tailor a classroom to their child’s individual needs. This is the antithesis to learning as a group.

  14. amy Says:

    I am beginning to wonder how much the single-mom gig & resulting lack of time to obsess about these things is coloring my perception here. Or maybe it’s writing K-12 texts (in the midst of wrapping up an 8th-grade science book now), which are decidedly not for genius children (or genius teachers).
    I don’t think any of this stuff matters unless your child is particularly fragile. If the work is too much for the average kid, the kids will rebel or fall apart and the beleaguered teachers will figure it out. If the kids are different ages, or different sizes, then…er…nothing. My 3-year-old kid goes to daycare with other kids aged <1 through 11. On weekends she plays with kids aged 1-7 or so. They just play and teach each other. Had ballet today with 3-and-4-yos. No trauma resulted from exposure to this dangerous, volatile mix.
    My plan: In a year I send the kid to kindergarten and achieve free daycare. After a while I figure out whether she’s learning to pretend to be stupid and lazy so as to get along. If so I make clear that it’s not allowed at home and have a chat with the teacher to see what’s going on. I then deprive her mercilessly by refusing to schlep her 100 mi on weekends for various recitals and meets, saying no to TV and computer in the bedroom, and telling her to go play or read. Occasionally I take her to a major city for dressing up, fancy ice cream parlors, and museum visits. On Shabbos I throw her into the company of doctors and academics who take an interest and prod her in a helpful, friendly way, partly so she grows up seeing what serious & accomplished people look & sound like. She’ll be shrimpy, because I’m shrimpy and her dad’s no giant either, and we live in the land of Nordic giants. Somehow I don’t see the liability. If she cries over lack of basketball talent I’ll take her gently around the shoulder and explain about the sporting prowess of Jews in America. Then I’ll explain what we do with lawns. She’ll glare at me for about twelve years and then everything will be fine, or fine enough.
    She’ll learn to read, write, make useless crafts, achieve whatever kind of meaningless literacy is pedagogically fashionable, etc., and I suspect it more or less doesn’t matter when this happens. So long as she wants to do something and is healthy, she’ll be fine.

  15. amy Says:

    OK, having followed the NYT link:
    “First she read Leo Lionni’s classic children’s book “An Extraordinary Egg,” and directed a conversation about it. Next she guided the students through: writing a letter; singing a song; solving an addition problem; two more songs; and a math game involving counting by ones, fives and tens using coins. Finally, Andersen read them another Lionni book.”
    I dunno, that sounds like pretty good K to me. We do that at home. No Spontaneous Annoying Quiz Left Behind. You want to put the oatmeal in the scale, sure, how much does it weigh? No, you can’t weigh it if you’re not going to tell me, we’re shopping together, you gotta help out. So that’s two, and this is two, how much is that all together? Try it on your fingers. Etc. Leo Lionni’s very nice. What makes green? I don’t know, which green?
    No…again, I suspect that if a kid’s bright, and has focus on her own, it’s helpful to be not so scared about these things and the College Gauntlet off in the distance. Mostly I watch my kid and think she moves and behaves as if she has some kind of music going on inside her. I’m not musical, so I don’t know what that might be like. Maybe someday she’ll tell me about it. Or she might decide I wouldn’t understand, which would likely be true.

  16. Elizabeth Says:

    Ok, Amy, what do we do with lawns?

  17. amy Says:

    Well, it’s a source of shame, you know. It’s a little like the backing-out driving skills. Absolutely the worst driving I’ve ever seen in the midwest, in 15 years, I see after Sunday school in the synagogue parking lot. Incipient carnage at 1.5 miles per hour. That’s how they’ll know who we are next time. They won’t need internal passports. They’ll just say “OK, you over there, back out of that spot.”
    I think with the lawns it might be something for social workers to handle, you know, Failure to Care. It’s not that I don’t try, I do. I mean I’m out there every week with the new environmentally sound reel mower with the 15-year blade, which is great on the thistles and bare patches. The neighbors are very kind and they keep all their seething to themselves. I would tear out all the grass and turn the whole thing into a poorly kept garden but it’s good for a kid to have a place to kick a ball. I figure if I keep up the lawn care long enough and throw in some tires I can create the town’s first abandoned lot.

  18. amy Says:

    But seriously…that NYT piece was sad, and one of the things contributing to it is that the districts have successfully cowed the parents. There is no. reason. in the world. to “assess” kids entering kindergarten unless you’re looking for things like hearing problems, eyesight problems, do they speak any English. No reason to have the kids jumping hoops and implying that they’re folding paper wrong, for the love of God. The kids are [i]five years old[/i] and they’re not looking for citizenship. But the school sent the parents letters, and the parents said yes yes, and showed up with the kids to have them assessed.
    I don’t believe my district does a thing like that, but if they sent me a letter telling me to bring in A., I’d duck it. Miss the party. Once the school year starts, it gets easier to duck, because a) they’re busy; b) presumably the kid is not a problem; c) as the year goes on there’s less and less point to doing a beginning-of-year assessment.

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