Saturday 31 July 2010

The Marginal Economics of a Kindergarten Education

A recent study to extend the research begun with "Project Star" in Tennessee has suggested that the present value of a good kindergarten experience is $320,000 a year. That is the present value of the "additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers" if they have an exceptional growth in the kindergarten year.

I came across this from an article in the NY Times on a tip from my colleague, Dru Martin.

As reported in the article, "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". But the research team went on to look at the later life of these same students.

"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. "

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." One of the things that makes the Project Star subjects unique is that they were randomly placed in the classes with the potential to average out the impacts of cultural and social differences. The great Harvard Statistician, Frederick Mosteller, described the study as, "one of the most important educational investigations ever carried out and illustrates the kind and magnitude of research needed in the field of education to strengthen schools."

The original Star Project study had been designed to test the impact of class size on student achievement. The follow-up results of the Star Project in 1996, when the subjects were in high school, indicated that the smaller class sizes "appears to have cut the black-white gap in the probability of taking a college-entrance exam by more than half," according to Princeton University economist Dr. Alan B. Krueger, who researched test data linked to the Project STAR database. Additional benefits were cited related to graduation rates.

One wonders if we were to throw some of the Military budget into education research (and education) if we might not find out that great teachers at every level impact students in a similar way... and maybe we would go back and start de-centralizing some of these big rural county schools and replace the little rural community schools that used to be the hear of small towns and villages across America.

I remember once when John Dossey put a picture of his fifth grade (I think) class and teacher on the overhead, and then described the success of the class-members. John, If you see this, send me a copy of the picture and the description, and I will update this.

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