As we prepare to head into another school year, a new study suggests that your child's kindergarten teacher may have a lot to do with his or her future earnings potential. The New York Times reported the results of a study this week that found young students who had good teachers in kindergarten fared better in life on a whole range of measures, including earning higher incomes.
The study was conducted by Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, and five other researchers. They reviewed the lives of nearly 12,000 30-year-olds who had participated in an education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s.
The Tennessee experiment found that while a good teacher did help children learn much more, the effects, based on test scores, disappear by seventh grade. However, Mr. Chetty and his colleagues discovered that there were long-term results, including higher earnings power as adults.
At age 27, the experiment subjects were earning an extra $100 for every percentile they had moved up in their test scores over the course of kindergarten. A student who advanced from average to the 60th percentile could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average.
The original experiment, which randomly assigned students to their classes, found that it was teachers who made the difference.
"The economists don't pretend to know the exact causes. But it's not hard to come up with plausible guesses," suggests New York Times reporter David Leonhardt. "Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime - patience, discipline, manners, perseverance."
The Harvard study estimates the annual value of an outstanding kindgergarten at $320,000, which is the present value of the additional income a class of kids can expect to earn in their careers.
The study gives a whole new perspective to the importance of early education and is sure to spur yet more competition among parents trying to give their children a step up in life. Maybe we should be giving kindergarten teachers more than just a mug at the end of the school year.