Thursday, July 29, 2010

NY Times: The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers

An excerpt from a recent NY Times story:

How much do your kindergarten teacher and classmates affect the rest of your life?

Economists have generally thought that the answer was not much. Great teachers and early childhood programs can have a big short-term effect. But the impact tends to fade. By junior high and high school, children who had excellent early schooling do little better on tests than similar children who did not — which raises the demoralizing question of how much of a difference schools and teachers can make.

There has always been one major caveat, however, to the research on the fade-out effect. It was based mainly on test scores, not on a broader set of measures, like a child’s health or eventual earnings. As Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, says: “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”

Early this year, Mr. Chetty and five other researchers set out to fill this void. They examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chetty presented the findings — not yet peer-reviewed — at an academic conference in Cambridge, Mass. They’re fairly explosive.

Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

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.
Read the full story


  1. I found this article interesting, although I hated the conclusion (with its breezy assumption that Michelle Rhee's teacher firings were based on some objective understanding and data of what good teaching is). Overall, I believe the researchers have a point: students who develop strong sense of self, cooperative skills, interest in school and resiliency may not excel on testing measures but do have skills that allow for successful living.

    I'm sorry that the article did not ask why we use testing measures that may not be associated with life success, particularly now that those measures are being used to evaluate teachers.

    I also would love to know how Tennessee originally had Kindergartens in the 15-17 student range, which is also noted to have an impact that lasts on student performance.

  2. I don't know how you can analyze adult outcomes based upon kindergarten without factoring in preschool experiences. Those that get the most out of K are the ones that are most ready for it, including old enough for it.

    Studies can prove just about anything you want them to prove. By the same logic employed in the above study we could hire the cheapest newest teachers for secondary and see little difference in outcome. (That would be necessary to pay for those $320K kindergarten teachers.)

    I believe that most parents would prefer to have their children educated in a diverse multiicultural environment as long as that environment is a highly conducive to learning. It is the breakdown in classroom behavior that drives parents out, not race and SES. This problem is the one that needs to be solved to fix our ed woes. But hardly anyone talks about it. I am familiar with the secondary school problems because I used to teach in high school. Solve this problem and fix the tax finance system and therein is 90% of the solution.

  3. I think your "behavior breakdown" is race and class prejudice on the sly. I have a low-SES class that is entirely children of color (mostly African American and Latino). I don't have the kind of behavior problems in my classroom that people generally assume. Parents aren't being "driven out"; they are choosing to never drive by in the first place because of their false or exaggerated perception of behavior issues. I would strongly suggest that that perception rides upon certain assumptions about class and race.

  4. E.Rat, wish I could could give you one those inane facebook "like" thingies right now. I read your blog and your comments all over the place, and I appreciate both your obvious (even from a distance) teaching arts being put to use in a high-need school, and also your attitude. Our schools need your persistent, no bullshit honesty. So, thanks. Especially for sticking up from the trenches for our kids who are lower income, and for the teachers who want to teach them. Also, your blog is great.

  5. makes me sad class sizes are increasing.

  6. Rat,

    You would strongly suggest that the voluminous research done on the link between SES and behavioral adaptation to public education is all colored by racism? What is your special skill - teaching small children how to use the race card?

    Your "suggestion" suggests that any discussion of behavior is a racist by definition. Not all behavioral issues are SES linked. There are problems across the academic spectrum with higher incidences of problem behavior linked to lower performance. Are going to dispute that?

    To say parents are not being driven out is ludicrous. I can name multiple families that were assigned to a lowest 5% middle school this year. Everyone bailed out of public. If you ask them why they will all say the same - the will not subject their children to a under-performing environment. You want to call it racist thinking based upon ignorance, but they simply choose a quality education for their children. And they vote with their feet if they don't get it because they have the option.

    You're ideological. That can manifest as a learning disability when it comes to understanding human behavior.

  7. "Assumptions about class and race", the words you slyly use to infer racism by those that don't participate in public education, is a false contention and intellectually dishonest. You are using the race card against anyone wanting a low incidence behavioral problem school for their child.

    Indeed some may have false and exaggerated perceptions about race and class. Some may in fact be racists. But to imply that going to private school is the result of such perceptions is just another way of saying that you are a racist for branding large groups of disparate individuals as ignorant and prejudiced.

    My own children are part of a small minority at a so-called segregated school.

  8. You would strongly suggest that the voluminous research done on the link between SES and behavioral adaptation to public education is all colored by racism?

    Not exactly. I would argue that our understanding of what behavior should be and how we respond to behavior is influenced by race. There is an overwhelming amount of support in the research for my position, by the way.

    What is your special skill - teaching small children how to use the race card?

    That this is what comes to mind when someone brings up the reality of persistent racism says a lot about underlying ideology.