New York

The costs of raising school entry age

The New York Sun reported today on The Lengthening of Childhood, a new paper from David Deming and Susan Dynarski of Harvard’s Kennedy School.  The paper examines the costs of “academic redshirting,” the practice of holding children back a year before enrolling them in kindergarten, and how it affects long-term outcomes, like national high school and college graduation rates and economic outcomes.  As the New York State Assembly is considering legislation affecting kindergarten enrollment across the state, it’s a good time to think about the possible results of changing school entry age for some or all students.

Academic redshirting is most commonly practiced by white, upper income parents who wish to give their children a competitive advantage over younger peers in academics and athletics.  At the same time, many states have raised their minimum school enrollment age by moving cut-off dates earlier in the year; according to the report, the average cut-off date has moved forward about 6 weeks over the last two decades, resulting in an older school population.

The authors challenges the conventional wisdom that the gap in high school completion between males and females has widened since the early 1990’s.  The gap in high school completion is, indeed wider at age 18 than it was 15 years ago, but when one looks at high school completion by age 19, the gap does not show an increase.  The authors attribute this to the greater numbers of boys redshirted in the early grades, who therefore graduate from high school a year later than peers who were not redshirted.  Similarly, adjusting for sex differences in kindergarten entry age explains some of the gender gap in college graduation rates at age 22.

The report examines reasons for the rising age at kindergarten entry, including increasing academic standards in kindergarten and pressure to raise achievement on standardized testing.  The authors note that the trend in rising school entry age began before the current push for high-stakes testing, though concerns about competitiveness on standardized tests have been mentioned as justification for state laws raising the entry age.

Currently, the New York State Assembly is considering two bills that would affect students’ entry into kindergarten.  The first, New York State Assembly Bill A08688, would require full-day kindergarten and thus lower the compulsory school entry age to 5, with a December 31st cut-off date.  Exceptions would be made for parents who choose to hold their child out of school for 1 additional year.  The second, New York State Assembly Bill A03425 would raise the compulsory kindergarten entry age by moving the cut-off date to September 1.  Meanwhile, New York City’s Chancellor’s Regulations require that all students enter first grade if they will turn six within the calendar year of registration, and kindergarten if they turn five within the year of registration, effectively preventing redshirting.

The danger in mandating later entry to kindergarten programs is that it raises equity concerns.  Middle and upper-income families have more day care and pre-kindergarten options available to them than lower-income families; differences in school readiness can only increase the longer we delay school entry.  Raising the age of entry also decreases the years a student must spend in school before reaching the legal age to drop out; since lower-income children are more likely to drop out, a later entry age affects them disproportionately.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede