September Birthday May Mean Edge in School

September Birthday May Mean Edge in School

David FiglioChildren who start school at an older age do better than their younger classmates, an advantage that extends through college, according to a new working paper co-authored by Northwestern University economist David Figlio, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

“Many parents already delay enrolling their children in school, believing they'll do better if they're a bit older,” Figlio told NPR reporter John Ydstie. “It's sort of ‘academic redshirting,’” he said, referring to recruits in college athletics who are held out of games for a year.

Using Florida birth and education data, researchers compared the performance of August- and September-born children in the same families.

They found Florida children who just missed the Sept. 1 cutoff date for starting kindergarten and enrolled a year later performed better than their younger August-born classmates, all through their academic careers, according to the working paper “School Starting Age and Cognitive Development” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In an interview with NPR, Figlio, the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, said that test scores indicate the achievement gap could be equivalent to about 40 points on the 1600-point SAT.

But the study’s most surprising finding, Figlio said, was that the gap between August- and September-born children occurs at all socioeconomic levels and is not easily closed, even in high-income families which have more resources, Ydstie reported.

Still, not every child should wait to start school, Christina Samuels wrote on "Early Years" an Education Week blog. Redshirting can have economic costs, including one less year in the workforce and generally isn’t worth it, according to SESP Professor Diane Schanzenbach, who coauthored the essay “Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?"

Schanzenbach, a professor of education and social policy and the parent of a young kindergartener, told Samuels that Figlio’s recent paper doesn’t change her view.

“Parents have to think about their individual children, rather than try to squeeze them into a statistical analysis, Schanzenbach said," Samuels wrote. "For example, her daughter thrives on striving to do the same things as her older siblings. Going to school with children who are a few months older will give her peers to look up to. Children with a similar personality might be bored if they are surrounded by younger classmates, she said." 

Regardless of the decision, however, kids are going to be OK, Schanzenbach said.

"That's my mantra. You know your kid best, do you what you think is in his or her best interest regarding redshirting, and it's going to be OK."

In addition to Figlio, the study was co-authored by Krzysztof Karbownik of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, Elizabeth Dhuey of the University of Toronto and Jeffrey Roth of the University of Florida.

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By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/18/17