A good bet

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal.)
Some time will pass before North Carolinians know whether Rep. Dale Folwell’s push for a later kindergarten-enrollment date leads to significant improvements. But his proposal makes so much sense that it is a good bet it will.
Folwell’s simple, eight-word bill reset the cut-off date for entering kindergarten back from Oct 16. Starting in fall 2009, children whose fifth birthday comes after August 31 will enroll in school a year later.
Folwell has spent the better part of his three years in the General Assembly pushing this. (That it took legislators that long to recognize the likely merit of this small change is symptomatic of problems in the political process. But that will have to be the subject of a future editorial.) The change is based on the simple fact that young children need time to physically, emotional and intellectually develop before they take on the challenges of school.
By pushing the start date for school back by only six weeks, the new law is likely to dramatically alter the academic environment for the youngest of children who had been starting school. Those children are the 4-year-olds who begin kindergarten in August but don’t turn 5 for several more weeks. Throughout grade school, many of these children were at a significant disadvantage to others who, because of their birthdates, were either already 6 or about to turn 6 when they entered school. That age and development disparity followed them for years.
A year makes a big difference with young minds. And with young bodies, too. The youngest children are usually much smaller than those older. The difference is especially striking with boys.
Folwell’s hope, all along, was that the six-week shift will help some children immensely and the overall public-school system somewhat. If this group does significantly better in school, the children will bring up overall student performance by a measurable amount. And the change could lead to fewer discipline problems, less costly remedial work and generally more pleasant school experiences for a number of children.
There are many advantages to enrolling children in school at a later age than current law stipulates. Many parents already choose to hold their children out of school for a year if they would be among the youngest in their class. With its Oct. 16 date, North Carolina had one of the nation’s latest cutoffs.
Although the change will not go into effect for two years — so schools can adjust for a drop in one class’s enrollment and a surge the next year — parents who find merit in enrolling their children a year later still have that option.
This amounts to a worthwhile and sensible change in education policy. Best guess here is that it will help many children have a better school experience.