A Good Kindergarten Teacher is Worth More than Dollars and Cents

I grew up in a small community in upstate New York. I call it a two stop light town. But it is a community as much as anything. For instance, when I was three, four, and five my day care was provided by a patient woman named Mimi. She cared for a group of four main children: three boys (including me) and one girl. We were all the same age and attended the same Catholic Church.

This group of four produced a doctor, a lawyer, an architect, and me. Did I know at the time that we were each bound for relative success? To a certain degree I did. We all could sense we were starting out on the right foot. Our parents put us in good situations and people like Mimi nurtured us through relationships, discipline, and education. Maybe I’m romanticizing what happened, but we had a teacher, Mimi, challenging us and then each one of us challenged each other. Once we were in first grade we each had the confidence to persevere through hard learning scenarios. I didn’t get a 1600 on my SATs or straight A’s, but I did get an appreciation for my ability. It’s more than tests and it’s foundational to achievements in adult life.

David Leonhardt in the NY Times is featuring a story about the power of kindergarten teachers. It’s called The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers and it highlights some research aggregated from experiments initiated almost 30 years ago. Basically the kindergarten classes in a Tennessee town were randomly assembled to take out socio-economic factors. The kids were taught and assessed for their performance. Some classes scored better than other classes comparatively. But these differences were unobservable in middle school and as the students progressed. But now that the students are 30 years old the study is looking back to see what happened. It turns out that the students in certain well performing classes on the whole are more successful adults.

Why are they more successful? The teacher! The teacher fostered a challenging environment, which I’d argue cultivated relationships, confidence, and perseverence. All of these are essential in adult life… at least more than memorizing the quadratic equation.

Here’s a blurb:

Mr. Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.


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