The Red-Herring Solution for Redshirting Kindergartners

A follow-up to yesterday's post on redshirting.

Looking at Bedard and Dhuey's study, both Malcolm Gladwell and Elizabeth Weil highlighted a particular quirk in the scholars' findings. On average, in Denmark and Finland, kids born earlier in the year performed no differently from those born later. And in both nations, kids don't start primary school until the age of 7.

Both reports sort of left you with the impression that the best way to level the playing field in America was to follow Denmark and Finland's model─keep kids out of any schooling until they are 7 or older. As if kids in Northern Europe spend their early years just dancing through some sort of Rousseauian frozen tundra─and that American kids' development is cruelly slowed because of all this kindergarten.

The reality is that the Finnish and Danish kids don't wait to begin school. They actually begin their education much earlier.

The year before they start primary school, 98 percent of Danish kids are enrolled in "preschool" (what we might call kindergarten). And 93 percent of younger kids are in early-education programs, starting at age 3.

In Finland, almost all children go to day care or preschool or both.

Compared with the U.S., both countries are homogeneous in terms of socioeconomics and culture. And every study I've seen concludes that the best way to even out individual differences between kids is to have universal early education.

So the kids in those countries start from birth on a more level playing field, and then their earliest educational experiences even the kids out further still.

That's entirely consistent with the NBER and Elder studies we mentioned: what's important are the experiences children have before they begin school.

So universally delaying school entry isn't the answer─it's universally starting earlier that makes the most sense.