Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers"

Fascinating article, describing a study that measured the worth of teachers not by tracking test scores as students got older, but by looking at "adult outcomes." The study was done by economists (as opposed to education theorists, or something of that nature). It looked at "the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s." The claim -- not yet peer-reviewed -- is that having good teachers early in life significantly correlates with better success later in life.

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.

The economists don’t pretend to know the exact causes. But it’s not hard to come up with plausible guesses. Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime — patience, discipline, manners, perseverance. The tests that 5-year-olds take may pick up these skills, even if later multiple-choice tests do not.

I've been telling anyone who would listen since at least my first econ course that the single most effective way to improve our education is to make the job of teaching more lucrative, so that you will have more, better people competing for those jobs. So, obviously, this article falls squarely under the heading of Things I Would Most Like To Believe, and I should probably force myself to be more skeptical about it, starting now, at least until the results described have been more thoroughly scrutinized. Still, it is awfully intriguing.

Yeah, it's a bumper sticker, and you know what I think usually think about those, but I always did like this one:

Bumper sticker: it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber

P.S. Here are the slides (PDF) the researchers used when presenting at a recent academic conference.

(pic. source)

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