Very good kindergarten teachers raise students’ future earnings by $320,000 a year, estimate a team of Harvard economists. They looked at 12,000 Tennessee adults, now about 30 years old, who participated in Project Star in elementary school.
While Project Star was designed to show the impact of small classes (13 to 17 students) in the early grades, the data also showed some teachers were much more effective than others.
Some teachers’ students earned higher test scores for awhile, but the effect faded out in junior high school. But Raj Chetty and colleagues discovered other effects that didn’t fade. Dave Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:
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.
. . . 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.
The Harvard researchers “estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year,” based on “the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers,” Leonhardt writes. He guesses that children learned soft skills — “patience, discipline, manners, perseverance” — that improved their life prospects but not their test scores.
Like Core Knowledge Blog, I wonder why these skills — especially discipline and perseverance — wouldn’t raise reading and math scores over the long haul.
One of my daughter’s very best teachers was her kindergarten teacher, Janet Rose. It was a very good year.
Update: Robert VerBruggen is skeptical about the study.