Tuesday, September 15, 2009

School cut-off date woes

When we lived in Tucson, the cut-off date for entering kindergarten was September 1st. Even though I knew all along we'd most likely be moving away from Tucson before Miriam started school, it made me a little uneasy. Her birthday is September 4th, putting her juuuust this side of the line. In other words, she'd turn six right around the same time she started kindergarten. Alternatively, we'd have to jump through lots of hoops and make a lot of phone calls (shudder) to get her started a year early, in which case she'd turn five right when starting kindergarten. Either way, it was not an ideal situation.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we came to Ithaca and found out that the cut-off date here is December 10th, putting Miriam solidly in the kindergarten class starting in 2010. I was glad to have the difficult choice of whether or not to start her in school next year (what would have been early in Tucson) quickly and decisively removed from my hands. I had been gearing myself up to fight for her to start "early" in 2010 anyway, so to have the school district here tell me that that's where she belonged was fantastic, and took all of the controversy out of the situation.

Except actually, it doesn't. As I talk to more and more parents around here, I am realizing that the decision of when to start your child in school is far from cut-and-dried. Just as you can petition to have your child start school early (as I was considering doing with Miriam if the deadline had been September 1st), you can also choose to hold your child back.

So now I don't know what to do. It seems like this is one of those topics like childhood immunizations - I do what's best for my kid, you do what's best for yours, and we smile nicely and tiptoe around the other's opinions because we know we don't agree. But just as with immunizations, I believe that the seemingly personal decision to hold your child back in school actually affects everyone's children, and not always for the better.

The fact that so many parents want to hold their child back in school is alarming to me, because in some ways, it punishes those of us who follow the rules (wow, this subject really is similar to immunizations). The reasons for delaying the start of school for a child that I so often hear citedItalic - we want him to be physically as big as his classmates, we want her to have a developmental edge in the classroom, we want him to have a better chance of success in sports because he'll have an extra year of maturation under his belt - only make things worse for those of us who follow the school district's guidelines. And cheating in this way makes the perceived problem (that all the other kids in the grade are bigger, smarter, and better at sports than your child) worse. So then parents have even more evidence to point to when they're considering holding their child back.

Meanwhile, here's me, playing by the rules, putting Miriam in school with what I naively assume to be her peers, when in fact they are kids a year older than her.

It seems to me that if we all just put our kids in school according to the district rules (making exceptions, either way, when necessary), it might not be perfect, but at least it would be fair. What I think would help would be if schools set the cut-off date at December 31st. That way, all the kids in a given grade would have been born in the same calendar year, which seems to take the arbitrariness out of the system and lend a certain sense of cohesiveness to a class. It would also help if all schools, across the nation, had the same cut-off date so that parents don't have to take future moves into consideration when figuring out school schedules.

Of course I realize that there are exceptions, and some children really do need to start kindergarten later (or earlier) than others, and the parent is probably the best judge of that, and blah blah blah, but if the great majority of us don't do things by the rule, then there really isn't a rule, is there?

Two final notes:

1. Yes, I know I need to read Outliers.
2. My own personal experience is unusual in that I was the oldest in my grade through seventh grade (I have an early October birthday so I was legitimately after the cut-off). Then I skipped the eighth grade and ended up being the very youngest in my grade, graduating from high school and going to college when I was 17. Honestly, I preferred being the youngest. So please don't be too hard on me for feeling so strongly about erring on the side of sending kids to school who are slightly young, rather than much older. I lived through it myself and liked being younger better, even though I recognized that I was giving up a few advantages.

Did you have to deal with the finicky school cut-off dates as a child, or are you dealing with it now for one of your own children? What is your honest opinion? Obviously I haven't tried too hard to avoid stepping on anyone's toes in this post, so don't be afraid to tell me how wrong I am.


Scotty P said...

The decision is obviously yours. And I have to say that, given the amount of time between her birthday and the cutoff, I wouldn't holder her back, either.

Your experience of skipping eighth grade, and subsequently liking ninth grade (and subsequent years), though, perhaps should not affect your decision.

Gladwell in Outliers explains that the alleged advantage of being older in class arises early on--within the first several years in school.

As such, your experience of being older through seventh grade might actually weigh in favor of holding her back.

Grace said...

As I live in Arizona, I had to deal with the Sep 1st cut-off with my daughter. She was born Sep 24th so she is WEEKS past the deadline. But she is such an intelligent girl so my angst about kindergarten started once she turned 4.

In Phoenix, the districts (at that time) would allow parents to have their kids tested to determine if they could start early. In Tucson, there is no such testing.

Even though the calendar said my daughter wasn't supposed to start school, I knew she was SO ready. You see, both my husband and I are September birthdays and we both did great in school.

Since no public schools would test her in, I ended up visiting private and charter schools. She now is a happy 4th grader doing 5th/6th grade work at a charter school where she's the youngest in her class.

So I think in this situation rather than look at the date deadline consider your child's personality/disposition & evaluate if you think she's ready. You know her best and that's all that really matters (IMHO).

Crys said...

Put her in school! October birthday here and I did exactly the same thing you did, and skipped a year in high school...and have absolutely no regrets! Redshirting your kid is interesting. If she were a hyper active boy I'd take a moment to pause, but she is an incredibly intelligent girl, who is going to be a little on the small side no matter when she goes to school so why not get her started early...or I guess on time :)

Bridget said...

Ooooh, Scott, you make an excellent point.

I do realize I am trying to argue an indefensible position - I'm OK with people breaking the rules as long as it's to put their kid in early. I guess what I'm really trying to get at here is this: people holding their kids back in school *just to get an extra edge over the kids who actually belong in the grade* isn't really fair, is it? I'm not trying to speak to parents whose kids are developmentally not ready to start school, or whose birthdays fall within a week or two of the cutoff.

Grace, I had heard rumors that Tucson absolutely did not entertain requests to put kids in school early. I guess that's the truth! And I'm glad you can share an example of it turning out OK.

Aimee said...

Personally, I was an "older" student December 24 being my birthday with the cut-off of December 1. I would prefer my child of either gender to be older. I think another year being with mom or pre-school can only be beneficial. There is no question if I have a summer child I will be holding them back a year. We can always re-assess the situation as the child gets older. Studies have shown that boys, especially, perform (and I am talking academically here) and are more emotionally ready for school if held back that first year. Of course, its for every parent to decide. And also, I don't think a national school cut-off would help, because I think each parent has the right to choose when their child goes to school or whether to home-school, etc. I think if a child needs to be challenged academically there are many other ways to do this. Luckily, we don't have this issue with Jameson, he is smack dab in the middle, March.

Amanda said...

Both Tyler and I have August birthdays. I went in after I turned 5, and Tyler went in after he turned 6. I never felt like I was at a disadvantage, and the only advantage Tyler has ever talked about was that he could drive sooner, so everyone was asking him for rides.

Anna said...

Hmmm. I was thinking about this subject but from a very different angle. I was thinking that I would hold my boys back a year in school (uh, if I ever have boys).

We're members of the LDS church and my brothers who had a year of college before turning 19 and going on missions almost flunked out of school. When they came back, they were more grown up and were straight A students. Unfortunately that first year really took its toll on their GPAs. My thinking was, send them on their missions right out of high school and help their GPAs in college.

I never thought about the way that would influence other kids. I will have to think about this.

For the record, I was always the youngest in my class and I loved it. Superficially, I was always younger than the boys I had crushes on and that was extremely important to me in middle school. Ironically, I ended up marrying Chris who is 2.5 years younger than me.

The Ensign's said...

Well maybe I've already talked to you about this, I can't remember, but I had this difficult decision weighing on my shoulders for a good part of the summer. My sister ,who's daughter is a year older than Shay, just put her daughter in 1st grade (skiping kindergarten). She told me that she really regreted not putting her daughter in early to kindergaten last year and it got me thinking..... was I making the wrong choice to wait until Shay was suppose to fo to school? The more I thought about it the more stressed I would be. So I talked to people that have put their kids in early and those that waited. I also talked to people that experianced it. I, for example, too was young in my class. My b-day is sept 18th (yes.. this friday. I know you'll be thinking of me all day.) and although I don't know that an extra year in school would have helped me academicaly I do wonder if that extra year of maturity would have helped. So I have to say that the best advice I got was from Gigi. She told me to think about when they are older. Do I want Shay to have that extra year of muturity before she hits high school and the hard decisions that come with your teenage years. I remember not being able to go to the school dances when my friends all could. Anyways.... this is going on forever, but I have to say I realized I had my decision when I realized that everytime I was going to put her in school this year I would get soooo stressed and then when I decided to put her in next year I realized I felt really good about it..... and that was my answer. I figure that if she REALLY needs to move up we can skip a grade. I think it's a lot easier to skip a grade then have to keep them back a grade.
okay.... I'll get off my soap box.

Liz Johnson said...

I have a hard time believing that when you put your child in school is the key to either lifetime success or failure. Generally speaking, I think the kids should follow the rules. I can see how there would be occasional exceptions, but assuming your child is always the exception can be dangerous line of thinking, in my opinion. Also, I think holding them back for a competitive advantage in sports is SERIOUSLY RIDICULOUS. I'm sorry, but it's time for parents to let go of the dream that their child will be an NBA star and build them their dream house.

Mikael said...

I haven't even thought about it, to be honest. I am still wondering if pre-school is necessary or if it is just an "educational" daycare. But I am nervous about the kindergarten here. they recently had budget cuts which cut it back to 2 days a week for 2 hrs, pretty bad. I am going to homeschool makenzie for kindergarten.

Fromagette said...

Amen, Liz. You said it well

Emily said...

I too have had the same qualm. Alyssa went in this year. She is 5, but will turn 6 in October. She will be one of the older ones in her class. She has done really well so far. I wasn't expecting her to learn much academically in school yet as she already knows how to read. What I was expecting and what has happened is on the social end. She has learned how to make friends, and hopefully will continue to learn how to solve problems on her own. Now my next daughter Malia is a July birthday. She will be quite young in her class, but the HUGE advantage is that she will be only one grade younger than Alyssa. This was so important to me. I want my girls to be able to depend on each other. I think being 2 grades apart in school puts kids in two different realms. One grade apart, and they are still participating in a lot of the same things, and can share the same friends. Thinking about putting Malia in school next year is scary because she will be almost a full year younger than Alyssa was. Obviously I am and will continue to work with Malia at home so she is as ready as she can be for school next year. Having my girls one grade apart in school is worth it to me.

Bridget said...

Woah woah woah, Mikael, are you saying that kindergarten in your district is 2 days a week for two hours?!? That's less than most preschools. Sheesh.

Aimee, I agree with your comment except for one little part - that another year of preschool or being with mom can only be beneficial. I think in some situations, that is true, but not always, and not always for both parties. I think that all-day school has a lot to offer for a certain kind of kid, and not just academically, as Emily points out.

Anna, that is an interesting Mormon take - having to consider "the mish." I think the situation is different for boys anyway (as some of these moms of boys have said) for social readiness reasons. Girls seem to be ready for school much earlier than boys in general. But does that mean we should hold the boys back?

Nancy said...

We just discussed this at dinner, because of your post no doubt.

Andrew's a September birthday and he started kindergarten at age 4, turning 5 shortly after the school year started. I'm in June and so I turned 5 shortly before school started and was among the youngest in my class throughout school. And still ended up skipping out on high school early anyway.

I don't know. Tricky decision. Personally, I'd just start her this upcoming year when she's supposed to start. Or maybe just ask her what she'd rather do.

Neither Andrew or I ever cared that we couldn't go to dances or date or drive when everyone else in our class could. We never felt slighted. But maybe that's just us.

On an entirely different note, the idea of all-day kindergarten is strange to me; I went to half-day kindergarten. 2 hours for 2 days a week seems like too little, but full day seems like too much.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

It may come as a surprise to the younger blog readers that historically in this country students began school at various times of the year which better accommodated their age and abilities. In the 19th century children came and went depending upon family circumstances--if you were 5 but your mom needed help at home w/ the babies, then you started school in a later term. During much of the 20th century there were two starting times for school--fall semester & winter semester. Being an October birthday in a state where the cutoff was December, I began school at age 4. But my friends who had birthdays after me in the spring began school at the end of January (when they also might have been 4), rather than waiting until the next fall. So in third grade for instance, I would be in grade A3 & they would be in grade B3. That was done away with in the late 60s when the As & Bs were combined into one group. If we had that system now there would be less concern about when our children begin school.

In my opinion it would be a disservice to an academically ready child to hold them back for the sake of sports or size. One of my boys was reading & was understanding math concepts at age 4 but was small and socially an introvert which in a child can give the impression of being less mature. No way was I going to hold him back even though he was near the youngest in class. If we had delayed him a year he still would have been small and still an introvert.

Jennifer said...

I can only remember ever being the youngest in my class after essentially skipping second grade (end of December birthday). Overall, I had no problem with it. The only time I seriously hated it was the first four months of my junior year of high school when I couldn't drive yet. Other than that, I never felt any disadvantage.

I'm glad there's no debate with Ellen (Feb b-day), but, like you, I have been surprised at how much debate there is out there and how much "holding back" is going on. Among the people I've met here, it is almost abnormal not to keep your kid back if their birthday is July or later. I'm glad this isn't a bridge I have to cross anytime soon...

Alli E. said...

Oh don't even get me started!!! I get a little fiesty about this topic!! Finally someone who understands my point of view!! People are always talking about holding your kids back so they will be bigger and better at sports. I would have to hold my kids back several years for them to catch up height-wise!! Also I think kids might be sensitve to the fact they were "held back" or think they aren't smart. I think there are certain, understandable exceptions to the rule, but the exception shouldn't be the rule!!I believe in following the rules and keeping your children in the right grades barring any major problems...(or if their birthday is within two weeks on either side of the deadline...) I was always young in my grade and I thought it was great! Whew!!

Alli E. said...

I really liked Suzanne's comment about it being a disservice to keep back an academically ready child.

Bridget said...

Yeah, Allison, maybe we feel the way we do because we realize that our kids will always be petite. No amount of holding back will ever change that :). And I agree with your idea of maybe having a cut-off date, and then a two-week period on either side of the date where parents can easily petition to have their child start late or early. It makes the deadline a little softer.

EmmySue said...

I wish I lived in Ithaca... then Alexis could start a year earlier... her birthday is Dec. 9th. She is not that much younger than Miriam. She is so ready for school and is already starting to read. I think every kid is different and should take an "entrance test" to see if they are ready. Kind of like a college placement test that tells where they stand and what they need work on. I think if she has to wait another year to start school that school will be boring to her. Kinda' a "been there... done that". And it doesn't help that schools are not the best to begin with. You know... "no child left behind/ no child allowed to excel". Touchy subject here too... Maybe homeschool is a better solution?

Jeanerbee said...

I like the idea of Dec 31st as a cut-off. It was always weird in Primary to have kids in your primary class that weren't in your grade because school cut offs were different.


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