Should children have to be five years old to attend kindergarten?
It’s a topic debated among parents, educators, child development specialists and lawmakers. Other factors, including race and economic status, also play a role. Currently in Connecticut, about 24% of approximately 39,000 kindergarteners starting school each year are four years old. In the state’s poorest districts, 29% of kindergartners start at the age of four; in wealthier districts, only 18% do. Furthermore, about 2% of kindergarteners in Connecticut’s wealthy districts are “redshirted” and start school at age six, but fewer than 0.1% of kindergarteners in the poor areas are that age.
As the New York Times points out, many families are unable to pay for private preschool program and often simply need the school support. Regardless of where a child might be developmentally, the child is sent to kindergarten.
Connecticut has been one of the last states to allow four-year-olds to enter kindergarten. But it’s considering changing the rules so that children would have to be five by October 1, rather than December 1, to start kindergarten. The proposed change would take effect in 2015.
Paul Wessel, executive director of a statewide advocacy group, Connecticut Parent Power, says the plan is “an incomplete solution to a larger problem.” Parents who can’t afford private preschool — with tuition that can be as much as $14,000 — may be able to enroll children with late birthdays in free preschool programs but not every district has such options:
Connecticut education officials had called for expanding the state-financed preschool program, known as School Readiness, along with raising the kindergarten entry age, but legislators balked at the estimated $40 million cost. The program subsidizes preschool for 10,000 3- and 4-year-olds, primarily in 19 low-income areas.
Similar concerns prompted California, which voted last year to move its cutoff date to Sept. 1 from Dec. 2 one month at a time starting in 2012, to establish so-called transitional kindergartens for children with birthdays in the fall.
The jury is still out about whether starting kindergarten later leads to better results afterwards. The New York Times cites research that links entering kindergarten later to better performance on standardized tests. But other research suggests that redshirting leads to “higher dropout rates down the road as older students struggle to fit in with their younger peers, and to lower lifetime earnings as a result of a later start in their careers.”
Given the calls for regulations and cut-off dates, it’s regrettable that, in determining when each child should enter kindergarten, we are not truly looking at where each individual child is in terms of their academic, cognitive and social development. I recognize that doing so is most likely not possible for school districts already over-burdened with all manner of issues. It goes without saying that children vary widely in their development and readiness, with some able to read at the age of four and ready for a full day of school, and others in need of more time at home or in a preschool sort of setting.
To rephrase the question that opened this post: Is four too young an age for a child to start kindergarten?
Photo by woodleywonderworks.