Friday, June 8

The kindergarten enrollment debate

House Bill A03425 was the topic of a recent notice sent out by one of the area listserves. The bill would change the enrollment cut-off birth date for children entering kindergarten in the state of New York.

Currently, children enrolling in kindergarten are expected to begin attending in September of the year they turn five. Thus, any child with a birthday between the first day of school and December 31 will enter kindergarten as a four-year-old. This has raised opposition from some parents and policymakers, who contend that many four-year-olds just aren't mature enough for today's kindergarten. One such policymaker is Assemblyman Robert Barra, who proposed bill A03425 in January.

The bill would change the birth date cutoff from December 31 to September 1, ensuring that all entering kindergarteners would be at least five years old. Anyone whose fifth birthday falls after September 1 would be required to wait until the following year to enroll. Although the stated justification for A03425 says the new cutoff date is "more logical" since it coincides with the start of the school year, the roots of the kindergarten enrollment debate usually lie in disagreements over when children are ready for school.

This debate, covered last Sunday in a thorough New York Times Magazine article, has two parts. The first deals with what the optimal absolute age for kindergarten enrollment-- e.g., whether four-year-olds are mature enough for kindergarten. The second part deals with the relative ages in a single kindergarten class. This is really a separate issue from the cut-off date question; any cutoff date will inherently result in kindergarteners who are up to a year apart. As discussed in the Times article, a key issue in the "relative ages" debate is the issue of "redshirting":

The term ["redshirting"], borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.
Although redshirting is legal in New York, the education system in New York City strongly discourages, and sometimes prohibits, the practice. Thus children in New York City kindergartens are not usually more than one year apart, and thus the debate over relative ages is less important. Nevertheless, the debate about what the cut-off date should be is more intense.

Although A03425 seems unlikely to be passed this year (the end of the legislative session is fast-approaching and the bill has been before the Education Committee since January), we encourage you to contact Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan or your local representative to voice your opinion on the matter. Given this bill's multi-year history and the Board of Regents' interest in mandatory, full-day pre-K (a topic for another blog entry), we think the kindergarten enrollment debate is far from over.

Also, tell us your comments, either below or in the Insideschools forum!

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