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Could 'Redshirting' Become A Thing of the Past in Illinois?

A bill under consideration in Illinois would effectively end academic redshirting in the state.

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The practice of holding a child out of kindergarten for a year to give the child an advantage over his or her peers is popular among some parents. Others argue that it simply allows a child who isn't ready either academically or socially to mature and perform better.

The proposed law in Illinois would require children in the state to attend kindergarten if they are 5 on or before May 31. Parents of children with summer birthdays would be allowed to decide whether to send them to kindergarten or wait until the following year.

The measure has already passed the state Senate and is under consideration in the state House.

"This is really aimed at closing the achievement gap for children, which eventually becomes, unfortunately, the wage gap and the quality of life gap and, way too often, the life expectancy gap," the bill's sponsor in the House, Rep. Kam Buckner of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune

Bruce Atchison is a principal at the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group of researchers who track policies related to education. He says he doesn't see any drawbacks to the bill.

"A child might enter kindergarten pretty far behind in terms of language development and social-emotional development," said Atchison. "By requiring children to start school a little bit earlier there's the potential that you are indeed helping to close the achievement gap."

If this bill becomes law, Illinois would join 11 other states that require children to attend kindergarten at 5. Atchison notes that 24 states require attendance at age 6, while 13 do so at age 7. Two states don't require attendance until 8, but Atchison says it's rare to see a parent hold their child out that long. "The majority of parents put their kids in school as soon as they can," he said. 

Katie Colt of Willmette, Ill., supports the bill's aim to reduce the achievement gap as well as the flexibility that it gives parents in her situation.

"My almost-4 year old has a summer birthday, and while he is physically tall for his age, it will be an important decision we come to as a family when it is time for him to enroll, and given he'd be the youngest in his class, I appreciate that option," said Colt.

Katherine O'Brien of Chicago also supports the bill. She says Chicago Public Schools already prohibit redshirting, and she thinks having the same policy statewide would make the educational system more equitable.

"In other parts of the state, redshirting at parent discretion allows those with the mostly socioeconomic privilege of doing so to game the system in an attempt to give their kids the "edge" that comes with being older: more mature, physically bigger and stronger, greater executive function, and readiness to learn," said O' Brien.

Image by Getty 

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