Avital Pinchevsky’s heart broke when her little boy came home from first grade a few weeks ago and told her he felt left out. Most of his classmates could read but he is not at that point.
“He is in an environment where he is sinking,” the Chicago mom said.
He’s struggling, she says, because he was thrown into first grade without going to kindergarten.
Pinchevsky has spent the last month and a half since school began writing, calling, and begging any and every public official she can to try to move him back to kindergarten.
But, as she found out the hard way, Chicago Public Schools prohibits 6 year olds from going to kindergarten, and her son, Leo Gadot, turned 6 in August. This policy is in contrast to many suburban school districts in Illinois, as well as other big urban districts across the country.
They allow what’s called “redshirting.” That’s the practice of keeping a 5-year-old in preschool for another year a before enrolling in kindergarten at age 6. And it’s not new, especially among parents of summer babies and boys who worry their children are not socially or emotionally ready for kindergarten.
About 10 percent of kindergarteners are what is termed delayed-entry kindergarteners, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Education report. But some studies put it at 20 percent in more affluent neighborhoods and significantly less in poor communities.
Chicago Public Schools started strictly enforcing the age policy about 10 years ago, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Officials then said the impetus was to make sure parents weren’t trying to give their children an edge for gifted or classical elementary schools that require a test for admission.
There has been — and continues to be — a lot of debate about the value of redshirting. A recent paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that students who are held back in kindergarten are more likely to get a college degree and less likely to spend time in juvenile detention centers.
But Diane Schanzenbach, an education and social policy professor at Northwestern University, said her research shows that while older students initially do better, those effects dissipate in the long term.
“What happens in the classroom is when they are surrounded by kids who are less advanced than they are, by virtue of being younger, it tends to bring them back down,” she said. “Long term, I would argue that we don’t see a benefit of a redshirting.”
As an economist, she also notes that students who start school late lose a year of work and therefore, earnings.
However, Schanzenbach said she sees the case for exceptions when children are really behind.
Pinchevsky argues this is the case with her spirited son, Leo. She said he has sensory, attention, and coding issues. She has letters from a clinical social worker, a family doctor, and from an occupational therapist advocating that he be allowed in kindergarten.
But she said she is getting nowhere.
When asked about her situation, school district officials sent a statement saying the district is “committed to working with students who enroll in CPS schools at any grade to ensure they have the support they need to be successful."
But the statement also notes that kindergarten is not a required grade. It also links to the policy that prohibits 6-year-olds from enrolling in kindergarten.
Pinchevsky said she is now focusing on getting her son extra supports through special education services.
“I want other parents to know that this ... happens to people,” she said, calling her story a “cautionary tale. “This has been very, very stressful for my family.”