Boarding School Blog /

If Only We Could Value Education So Highly to catch-up on readings and comments that I gathered on our late July trip, I’ve finally gotten to David Leonhardt’s “The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers” that ran in the 27 July New York Times.

“…Mr. (Raj) Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime…”

I have to admit, it’s my favorite kind of article- relying on data to challenge, or debunk, conventional wisdom.

Chetty and five other researchers appear to have established a corellation between the quality of kindergarten teacher and postive outcomes in adulthood.

The effects of a quality early childhood education are well established, but conventional wisdom assumed that as one moved deeper into adulthood the effects of- in this case kindergarten- decreased.  In other words as one aged, the quality of one’s kindergarten experiences mean less and less- the fade out effect.

How can my kindergarten experience possibly play a role in my adult life?

The data have reared up and bit us.

“…Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.

All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too…” (NYT)

The conclusions aren’t sent in stone; Chetty’s work awaits peer review.  But this is no small study.

“..They examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives…”(NYT)

Interviewed for the NYT article, Dartmouth economist, Douglas Straiger observed:

“The worry has been that education didn’t translate into earnings…But this is telling us that it does and that the fade-out effect is misleading in some sense.” (NYT)

Good teachers may be worth more than their weight in gold.

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan licensed under Creative Commons

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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