What's the Worth of a Kindergarten Teacher?

Posted by Amanda M. Fairbanks



$320,000, according to this morning's New York Times. The rationale being that kids who learn more when they're young not only go on to make more money, but they're are also less likely to become single parents and more likely to save for retirement.

And while economists tended to think that early intervention programs rarely have long term gains, after tracking 12,000 Tennessee schoolchildren from kindergarten to adulthood, a team of six Harvard researchers have landed upon some "fairly explosive" findings, which may prove that education really does translate into earnings.

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 data goes on to highlight the importance of highly effective teachers—more important than class size or socioeconomic status—and in so doing, raises all sorts of policy implications: Do we pay our best teachers more money? Do we get rid of the worst ones? Or, maybe we simply have to place more value on kindergarten teachers in the first place.

Do you remember yours? Mine had a pathological fear of teaching our class cursive handwriting, which was an early obsession. I couldn't wait for first grade.

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