Saturday, October 21, 2006

Keeping Them Back In Order To Get Them Ahead

In order to give their kids an academic advantage, many New York parents are choosing to hold off an extra year before enrolling their offspring into kindergarten, reports The New York Times:
Jack Haims, who turned 6 in late September, started kindergarten this year with an enviable skill set under his tiny belt: He could already read simple rhyming books, count to 100 and write his name.

“He has a lot more self-confidence if he tends to be the older one,” said his mother, Charlotte, 37. “I wanted him to have an easier time.”

Jack acquired his confidence and abilities thanks to an extra year of preschool, or perhaps simply an extra year of life. He is not alone: From Bronxville, where he lives, to Manhattan and beyond, parents are strategizing more than ever to keep their children out of kindergarten until they are nearly, or already, 6 years old.

Children who turn 5 even in June or earlier are sometimes considered not ready for kindergarten these days, as parents harbor an almost Darwinian desire to ensure that their own child is not the runt of the class. Although a spate of literature in the last few years about boys’ academic difficulties helped prompt some parents to hold their sons back a year, girls, too, are being held back. Yet research on whether the extra year helps is inconclusive.

Fueled by the increasingly rigorous nature of kindergarten and a generation of parents intent on giving their children every edge, the practice is flourishing in New York City private schools and suburban public schools. A crop of 5-year-olds in nursery school and kindergartners pushing 7 are among the most striking results.

“These summer boys have now evolved to including girls and going back as far as March,” said Dana Haddad, admissions director at the Claremont Preparatory School, in Lower Manhattan, referring to children who turned 5 in those months but stayed in nursery school. “It’s become a huge epidemic.” In some corners, the decision of when to enroll a child in kindergarten has mushroomed from a non-issue into an agonizing choice, as anxiety-generating as, well, the private school kindergarten admissions process itself.

“It’s kind of crazy to hold them back,” said Jessica Siegel, 40, whose daughter, Mirit Skeen is back for another year at Montclair Community Pre-K in New Jersey, although she turned 5 in late August and the public school cutoff there for kindergarten is Oct. 1. “Someone’s going to be the youngest. Someone’s going to be the smallest.”

Ms. Siegel and her husband considered the decision for months, waiting until the week before public school started before making it final in case Mirit “suddenly had some kind of huge emotional shift.”

“I felt like her whole experience is about being the smallest and the youngest, and I wanted to change that experience for her,” Ms. Siegel said, adding, “The more people do it, the more people do it — partially because you don’t want yours to be the last.”

To stave off preschool fatigue, some city parents send their children to public school kindergarten for a year, hoping to transfer them to a private kindergarten the next year. Columbus Park West Nursery School on the Upper West Side is considering opening a “junior kindergarten” to accommodate children who in the past would simply have headed for the real thing.

In the New York City private school world, demographics play a role. Because so many children have applied for kindergarten slots in recent years, schools can be picky. While most city private schools maintain an official policy that kindergartners must turn 5 by Sept. 1, many routinely ask children born in August, July, and in some cases June to wait a year. Nursery school directors, mindful of the trend, may also encourage immature 5-year-olds to wait.

“Nobody ever was successful because they were the youngest in the class,” said Betsy Newell, director of the Park Avenue Christian Church Day School.

“The gift of a year, that’s what I always say to parents,” Mrs. Newell added. “The gift of a year is the best gift you can give a child.”

But research on the practice is inconclusive. In May, a federal Department of Education study found that of 21,000 children who entered kindergarten in the fall of 1998, results for the 6 percent who started late were mixed. By the end of first grade, the study found, the late starters were slightly more proficient than their classmates at reading, but less proficient in math.

Still, many parents are convinced that the year makes a difference.
Read the whole thing.

We're not really a fans of the "later is better," school of thinking.

Still... we are fans of giving parents as many choices as possible, and this seems to us like one that they should be able to make.
See our latest EduPosts and this date's Extra Credit Reading.