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.
Thousands of city students can't get out of middle school grades, leaving them overage, demoralized, and at great risk of dropping out — and the DOE isn't doing much of anything for them, according to a report released this week by Advocates for Children of New York on behalf of the citywide Out of School Youth Coalition. (Disclosure: Before starting GothamSchools, I worked at Insideschools.org, which is a project of Advocates for Children.) "Stuck in the Middle: The Problem of Overage Middle School Students in New York City" chronicles the DOE's decades-long track record of inadequately meeting the needs of overage students; describes the various reasons that students become overage, including academic failure, interruptions in schooling, and illegal discharge; and highlights schools where innovative initiatives appear to be helping overage middle schoolers make it to high school.
With all the focus on accountability at the DOE - progress reports, data collection, learning environment surveys, quality reviews, and more - I find myself frustrated at the gaps in timely, useful data made available to the public by the DOE. Accountability has to go in both directions - teachers, parents, and all citizens should have access to data quickly, presented in ways that allow independent analysis. With mayoral control up for renewal in the spring, with new initiatives such as the "Million" motivation plan, with increasing emphasis on standardized tests and regular interim assessments, with data collected from the Learning Environment Surveys being used to judge schools, we have more reasons than ever to want to see for ourselves whether DOE policies and practices have been fair and effective. Yet data is not easy to find.