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The Truth About Redshirting

UVA researcher finds only certain communities delay kindergarten for their children

Curry School of Education assistant professor Daphna Bassok didn’t buy in to media reports that redshirting—delaying children from entering kindergarten for one year—was gaining popularity with parents.

“We had read in news outlets like the New York Times that it is becoming more common to start kindergarten late,” says Bassok. Those reports had the practice of redshirting reaching nearly 20 percent of all kindergarteners.

A new study conducted by a UVA researcher found that redshirting—delaying children from entering kindergarten for one year—isn't as popular as the media makes it out to be.
But a new study conducted by Bassok and Sean Reardon from the Stanford School of Education shows that only 4 percent of students start kindergarten a year after they are first eligible.

“The media numbers are way off,” Bassok says. “They were [only] capturing certain communities in higher-income areas.”

Parents who redshirt their children may do so to ensure they are not the youngest children in class, which could make it more difficult to “stand out academically, socially or physically,” Bassok says. “Parents are worried about the child’s relative position in the classroom.”

Bassok and Reardon began their research by accessing data from the federal government’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, an ongoing survey that examines child development, school readiness and early school experiences. They wanted to see if redshirting was related to developmental concerns or issues associated with gender, socio-economic status or race.

As the researchers dug into the data, they found huge disparities in the types of children being redshirted. For example, about 6 percent of white children nationwide were held out of school for another year, compared with just 1 percent of African-American children.

In addition, children from higher-income families redshirted their children twice as often as low-income families.

Bassok says that is likely because more-affluent parents can afford to keep their children in preschool or day care—which families typically pay for themselves—beyond the time their children first become eligible to enroll in public school kindergarten, which is free.

“Redshirting is far too expensive for less-affluent families,” Bassok says.

She says her results suggest that redshirting gives children from high-income families an advantage over children from lower-income communities. “If there were high-quality, affordable preschool programs across all communities, you wouldn’t see these disparities,” Bassok says.