Mrs. Werner’s Legacy

Leonhardt-popup 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 The Chetty study, not yet peer-reviewed, is worthy of the front page of the NYT, because I don't think anybody has had this kind of data before.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.

4 thoughts on “Mrs. Werner’s Legacy

  1. So I also heard yesterday, on Planet Money, that if you graduated, high school or college, in a recession, you were likely to make less money. That makes two strikes against me. No kindergarten, graduated in 1990. The worst off–English majors. 3 strikes! Can I quit now?


  2. Notice that class size was a very minor factor in affecting long-term achievement. The original STAR study also found that reducing class size produced only negligible benefits, and that was when reduction was made to 15-17 students per class, IIRC. Yet the myth that smaller (more expensive) is better persists.


  3. I’m really intrigued by the study. The slides linked have a lot more info, too. But I really want to see the paper, preferably peer reviewed. In the short term, can anyone explain slide 10 tp me? It looks like a regression analysis in some form of standard format, but it’s not a format I’m familiar with.
    The main question I have after reading the article and looking at the slides is how the authors differentiated between peer group and teacher quality effects. I deduce that the big bang conclusion from the nytimes article was that variation in avg kg class scores, independent of the class size treatment was correlated with adult earnings. The kg class scores, corrected in some way I don’t quite understand, are used as a proxy for teacher quality and peer group effects. Couldn’t their results be interpreted to mean that there was a long term benefit of being in a good class, without. the class being causally depended on the teacher quality?


  4. When I was in kindergarten, I thought my teacher was 104 years old. Then, I happened to see her 30 years later and realized she still hasn’t reach 104 yet, but is now very close.


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