2008 August 18 Monday
Kindergarten Delay Provides Only Small Benefit By 8th Grade

Delaying entry of kids into kindergarten is a waste of time that just delays the entry of kids into adult roles.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — New research challenges a growing trend toward holding kids out of kindergarten until they’re older, arguing that academic advantages are short-lived and come at the expense of delaying entry into the workforce and other costs.

The findings show older kindergartners fare better academically largely because they learn more before starting school, not because age improves aptitude, said Darren Lubotsky, a University of Illinois economics professor who co-wrote the study.

Older students post higher test scores than younger peers during the first few months of kindergarten, but their edge soon fades and nearly vanishes by eighth grade, according to the study, which will appear in the Journal of Human Resources.

The findings counter decades of research linking age to academic achievement that has led states to push back kindergarten entrance age deadlines and convinced more parents to start children later than the once-traditional age of 5.

In 2002, nearly 21 percent of 5-year-olds were not yet enrolled in kindergarten, up from less than 10 percent in 1980, according to the study, co-written by former U. of I. economist Todd Elder, now a professor at Michigan State University.

Though older students have an early edge based on an extra year of skill development, the study maintains that older and younger students learn at the same pace once they enter school, based on a review of federal education data.

The study found, for example, that older kindergartners scored 24 percentage points higher than younger peers on standardized reading tests, but the gap narrowed to less than 4 percentage points by eighth grade.

While they have a small advantage over other 8th graders they are probably lagging other kids their same age who are already in 9th grade. Those other kids will hit the job market sooner and probably will make more money total in their working lives.

Slowing up learning of kids is a really stupid trend. As I've argued previously in my post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs, we need to move kids through school more rapidly. Starting a year later works against this goal. One way to speed up the educational process is to separate instruction from testing and allow people to take standardized tests to earn credit in various subjects. Charles Murray takes a similar position in his new book Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where he argues for more certification tests for a variety of occupations. He points to the CPA test for accountants as an example of this approach.

It is my understanding that the state of Virginia allows people to take the state bar exam for lawyers without first attending law school. This is another example of that same style of establishing competency to work in an occupation.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 August 18 10:50 PM  Education

Stephen said at August 19, 2008 3:15 AM:

As a boy the practice was to get us into school early. Indeed, my mother lied about my age to make sure my birthday fell on the correct side of the birth date cut-off point.

I never once recall thinking that I wasn't keeping up with the older people in the class - in fact, I seem to remember that the older children tended to be lower performers than the younger ones.

z said at August 19, 2008 6:21 PM:

I had an accounting professor once who told me that one of her students did bookeeping at his job. He never showed up for class but aced all the exams because he knew the material back and forth.

He's a perfect example of someone who was simply wasting time going to college classes for accounting because he'd learned it from the ground up at his job. Being able to take a test that would have accredited him would have gotten him in the job market sooner, with less expense for him. We all win and the economy would win in my opinion.

I imagine the schools would resist mightily though. Ive always though that standardized accreditation tests administered by employers would really be dissapointing for some "elite" schools in particular. I mean if a guy that goes to Kentucky State scores as high on the bar as someone like John Kennedy Junior, who failed it three times, how bad does that make the Ivy league schools look? Pretty shitty in my opinion.

If I were an employer, I'd have to be a little Steve Saileresque and give IQ tests first and a base material test second to see what Im getting. You might get lucky and find some real late-bloomers from small directional colleges and get the same talent for much less.

SF said at August 21, 2008 1:10 PM:

It isn't about 8th grade test scores. It's about kids being socially mature enough to make friends, and physically mature enough to be competitive in sports. Otherwise, they are much more likely to decide that the path their parents and teachers are laying out for them is BS, and drop out. My oldest, birthday late August, said she hated the jocks and was tired of being a nerd, so she became a stoner. My youngest, birthday late October, had two years of kindergarten, and a much smoother adolescence.

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