Mrs. Werner. I can remember the name of my kindergartner teacher, but only the names of a handful of professors from college. I remember my orange juice can of thick crayons with the paper peeled off and singing songs as she played on the piano. She was a super nice lady.
What value can be place on the Mrs. Werners of the world? Do the Mrs. Werners make a difference and how do we quantify their value? A group of economists led by Raj Chetty recently examined the impact of a quality kindergarten education on future life outcomes, not high school test scores. The Chetty study, not yet peer-reviewed, is worthy of the front page of the NYT, because I don't think anybody has had this kind of data before.
What they found was fascinating. A good kindergartner teacher means better test scores for her kindergarten students. Those benefits fade around junior high. (Other studies, including all the Head Start studies, have found that, as well.) However, the benefits of a good kindergarten education kicks in later in life in terms of higher earnings and life stability.
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.
They also found that rich kids benefit as much as poor kids from a good teacher.
This is tricky research to do. The Times doesn't give me quite enough information about how they controlled for a variety of factors. Still, these findings and the scope of their study are interesting. Gotta get my hands on that paper.
David Leonhardt, who wrote the article for the New York Times, ends the article with a long opinion section, which probably didn't belong in the article. He points out this research by educational economists is going to show people that good schools and good teacher do matter. He also adds that new merit pay policies and Michelle Rhee recent firing of bad teachers helps, too.