Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten

Morley Safer reports on the rising trend of "redshirting," delaying kindergarten until children are 6 years old. Will this make these students more successful in school and life?

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(CBS News) Kindergarten "redshirting" is on the rise. That's the practice of parents holding their children back from kindergarten so they can start school at age 6 - older, bigger, and more mature than their 5-year-old peers. Some research shows that redshirting will give these youngsters an edge in school, and maybe even in life. But is it fair? After all, as Morley Safer reports, boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls. Whites more than minorities. And the rich redshirt their kids more than the poor.

The following script is from "Redshirting" which aired on March 4, 2012. Morley Safer is the correspondent. Deirdre Naphin, producer.

Kindergarten was once milk, cookies and finger paints. In a countrywide epidemic of hyper-parenting, it's becoming blood, sweat and tears. So maybe you played Mozart for your baby while he was still in the womb and gave him Chinese lessons at age 2, tried everything to give your kid an edge and then when he's 5, well you don't exactly cheat, but you game the system.

It's called "redshirting": holding your 5-year-old back from kindergarten 'til he's 6 so he'll be among the oldest and smartest kids in class. Parents of a 5-year-old with a late birthday despair that little Johnny will forever be a failure if he has to compete with kids six or eight months older so they put the fix in; hold him back a year so he has the edge in class and ultimately an edge in life.

In the high stakes world of early education, Barrett Hoffecker was unlucky enough to have a summer birthday. If he'd started kindergarten just after turning five in August of 2009, Barrett would have been among the youngest in his class so his mother Megan played the numbers game and put him in a Canton, Georgia, preschool. He went to kindergarten at age 6.

Megan Hoffecker: We wanted to give him that extra year of growth for both size for later on, as well as maturity for him.

Morley Safer: But do you think that gives him an advantage not just in school, but in life?

Hoffecker: I think it does. I would prefer him to be an older in the class and become a leader in his environment, rather than a younger and be more of a follower.

Barrett is now 7, a first grader, oldest in his class and among the brightest.

Hoffecker: He was already reading when he started kindergarten and was pretty ahead of a lot of the people in the-- in his class when he started.

And she has few qualms about giving Barrett a leg up on the competition.

Hoffecker: I don't think it's really cheating the system. I'd do whatever I think within my realm as a parent to make sure that my child is as prepared as they can be for the life challenges.

Safer: And have every advantage?

Hoffecker: Yes.

She's hardly alone. It used to be that everyone started kindergarten at age 5. Today nearly a quarter of some kindergarten classrooms are populated by 6-year-olds. Kindergarten redshirting has more than tripled since the 1970s. Boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls, whites more than minorities and rich more than poor.