Sunday's New York Times, a forum on TheSchoolBoards.com and pre-K parent conversations currently seem to revolve around the same question - are you starting or holding back your summer/fall child. The gist of the conversation is what is the decision parents can make that give their child an edge. How do you "game the system" is what I've read and heard.
The real question is what are parents trying to do by trying to "game the system" at all. Some children are smarter, some are more athletic, some are sensitive, some are creative. There's no finish line and there's no guarantee of lifelong success and happiness. I value education tremendously as the gateway to life's possibilities - but my experience has been that the admissions criteria of some of our areas "top schools" for kindergarten are ill-informed and not supported by research. Here's an example - many top schools use aptitude testing on 4 year olds to determine academic ability and readiness. The problem - the IQ test, for example, has up to a 30 point average score change for the same child between ages 4 and 8 (see NurtureShock for the detailed research).So a high scoring 4 year old has the distinct possibility of being an average 8 year old. All you are testing at age 4 is the rate of maturity - and it basically balances out (early, average and late bloomers will be what they will be) by 3rd grade. And the behavioral tests to see if the child can "endure" kindergarten have also been proven to be misguided and non-predictive of later academic success - NurtureShock again.
The holding back phenomenon started with the self-esteem movement and the thought that children who are younger feel worse about themselves. That's been thoroughly debunked. Self-esteem doesn't have to do with age in kindergarten. The children who do better in kindergarten because they are older KNOW they are older than the other children. There's no self-esteem benefit from "beating" someone you should beat. Self-esteem comes from working hard towards a goal and accomplishing it - not coasting to it.
The New York Times article quotes parents who are very concerned about the maturity span in each grade. As Dr. Jessica wrote on Friday, there needs to be a date when children MUST start school so that we can eliminate 18 month age spans. But even then, some children will physically mature before others and as parents, we have to figure out how to navigate that with our kids. I suspect parents always did have to do that...
At the end of the day, parents need to stop worrying about getting into the "top" or most prestigious schools and look a bit longer term. Are the gradutes succeeding in middle school and high school? Are the parents committed to a well-rounded education that includes creative efforts, collaboration and critical thinking? Setting up our children on a "Race to Nowhere" (good movie - we're screening it at our school in early November) is the most likely path to burn them out.
We started our children true to grade at a progressive private school that doesn't believe in the testing I mentioned above for the reasons I mentioned above. Our graduates are independent thinkers, strong collaborators and campus leaders - and they genuinely love learning. That's about all I expect of the school - the rest of their success is up to them.
What do you expect of your elementary school?