NYC Should Give Parents More Flexibility on Kindergarten Start-Dates

In New York City, a child is required to begin public school kindergarten the calendar year when he or she turns five years old. Whether the child’s birthday is January 1 or December 31, all born in a single calendar year are required to start elementary school that September. While that may work perfectly fine for some, for others it’s proven to be a disaster

New York State doesn’t impose a cut-off and lets Local Education Agencies (LEA) decide. Yet NYC voluntarily has the second latest birthday cut-off in the United States. Connecticut is a day later at January 1st, but gives parents much more leeway about whether to enroll their child in kindergarten or hold them back a year.

NYC, on the other hand, is extremely firm with its cut-off for public schools. As a result, almost one-fourth of students are compelled to begin formal schooling prior to turning five, much to their parents’ frustration.

That isn’t the case with NYC private schools, which mostly list September 1st as their cut-off. Many, in fact, urge parents to hold back their summer birthday children because age, private schools decree, isn’t nearly as important as developmental readiness.

Public schools, however, have decided that all children mature – academically, socially and emotionally – at precisely the same rate.  Granted, it makes sense that children are tested for Gifted & Talented programs based on their ages, broken down to months and even days. There, they are specifically looking for kids ahead of the statistical curve, and it certainly would be unfair to label a 10 year old “gifted” if he or she were tested against pre-schoolers.

But  general education is supposed to be for everyone, accommodating each child at his or her stage of development, regardless of age (a tenet that goes all the way back to the 1920s).

Meanwhile, in 1992 The New York Times reported that affluent, college-educated parents hold their children back to make sure they’re the most mature and presumably “smartest” members of their cohort. These parents know how to work the system, using legislation such as –

In cases where a student is required to attend 1st grade based upon his or her age, but the principal deems that another grade placement would be more instructionally appropriate, the principal will consult with the Superintendent concerning placement and will provide medical or other evaluative documentation, which has been submitted by the parent or guardian, justifying a different placement. The Superintendent will make the final decision concerning the appropriate grade level for the student.

– to their advantage.

I have no problem with parents working the system. The system deserves it.

The problem is that not all parents have means or resources  to exploit it. While one segment of the population is holding their children back to give them every opportunity to succeed (although conflicting research suggests that isn’t always the case), poor, minority kids are attending kindergarten younger at a higher rate. Anyone want to take a guess as to which of the two are more likely to be diagnosed with learning differences or behavioral problems or ADHD?

Are all of those children truly disabled or “bad,” or are they merely over a year younger than the other kids in their class? Of course they are going to seem impulsive and delayed by comparison! Not only does the early cut-off fail numerous families, but it has a disproportionate effect on those it can least afford to fail.

In 2016, many NYC private schools and, anecdotally,  a good number of charter schools are working with parents to determine the right grade placement for their child, whether that means holding them back or moving them ahead, to ensure the ideal educational experience. Shouldn’t traditional public schools – the ones dedicated to serving all of the public,  not just an elite few, like they accuse private and charter schools of doing – be following their lead?

What do you think?

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