Should Boys Start School Later Than Girls? The Benefits of “Redshirting”

In education circles, redshirting may mean postponing entrance into kindergarten, giving a child extra time to develop the social, academic, and emotional skills that allow him or her to better excel. (It’s actually a term borrowed from college athletics.)

A recent article in The Atlantic makes the case for redshirting, citing the value of a delayed entry and how it’s especially beneficial for boys: “Studies of redshirted boys have shown dramatic reductions in hyperactivity, lower chances of being held back, and higher life satisfaction.” However, not every student and parent may have access to, or even knowledge of, redshirting.

What is redshirting?

However, before we get into the statistics and studies, let’s talk a little bit more about what redshirting is. Typically a child enters kindergarten at age five, but if a child won’t celebrate their birthday until summer or fall, some parents may choose to wait until the next year. This is redshirting, and The Atlantic notes that in 2019, about six percent of children were held back by their parents, and the practice vastly increased post-pandemic.

Studies also show that children who are redshirted:

  • Score in math and reading at the same level or above their peers
  • Have more confidence and popularity
  • Are less likely to be negatively singled out for academic performance or classroom behavior
  • Require less special education intervention than children who were not redshirted

Redshirting can have its disadvantages, however. Some children may have difficulties making or maintaining friendships during their teen years if they’re younger than their classmates. In other cases, losing a year can mean missing out on an extra year of special education services, especially if the student has disabilities covered under IDEA.

Redshirting and the gender gap

According to The Atlantic, boys are much more likely to be redshirted than girls, due to the belief that boys mature later than girls. They point out, “The maturity gap is now demonstrated conclusively by neuroscience: Brain development follows a different trajectory for boys than it does for girls. But this fact is entirely ignored in broader education policy, even as boys fall further behind girls in the classroom.”

This gender gap continues through students’ academic careers. For every three women college students, there are only two men

  • The decline in college enrollment in 2020 was seven time greater for men than women
  • Girls are 14 percentage points more likely to be “school ready” at age five
  • A six percent gender gap in reading proficiency in fourth grade widens to an 11-percentage-point gap by the end of eighth grade
  • About one in five boys fails to graduate high school on time, compared to one in 10 girls

On average, “In adolescences, girls are more developed by about two to three years.”

Does redshirting work?

Studies show that redshirting generally works.  A 2016 study conducted by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern and Elizabeth Cascio of Dartmouth College analyzed the results of a delayed school start on children in Tennessee. The students were from diverse backgrounds and disproportionately from poor homes. The results were striking:

Overall, Schanzenbach and Cascio found that being a year older had a positive impact on eighth-grade test scores, reduced the risks of repeating a grade before high school, and improved the chances of taking the SAT or ACT. The benefits for boys were at least twice as big as for girls on all measures through eighth grade. By high school, only boys were seeing any gains. Cascio and Schanzenbach also found that lower-income students benefited most from redshirting.

One of the issues with redshirting, however, is that even though it clearly provides benefits, not every public school allows parents to make that choice. Per The Atlantic:

But in fact it is boys from poorer backgrounds who struggle the most in the classroom, and these boys, who could benefit most from the gift of time, are the ones least likely to receive it. Public schools usually follow an industrial model, enrolling children automatically based on their birth date. Administrators in the public system rarely have the luxury of conversations with parents about school readiness.

The bottom line? A parent knows their child best. Every child is unique and every child’s needs are different, which is why it’s so important to talk with a Nashville education law attorney to ensure your student has access to the best education possible.

At the Law Office of Perry A. Craft, PLLC, we champion the right of every child to receive the education to which they are entitled, when they are ready and able to learn. If you have questions about your child’s schooling and their right to education and learning, please call us or fill out our contact form today. We represent students and parents throughout Nashville.