Impact of Early Learning

The New York Times had an article this weekend on the impact of Kindergarten teachers on student success later in life. It’s worth reading for lots of reasons, but perhaps the title is good enough: “The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten teachers.”

 The conclusions of the article are pretty useful:

  • Successful early learning matters: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.”
  • Class size — which was the impetus of Project Star — evidently played some role. Classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25.
  • Quality teaching matters:Some are highly effective. Some are not. And the differences can affect students for years to come.”

The study goes on to do a present-value analysis of the added income from students witha  good kindergarten teacher and puts the value at $320,000. This is a reach, and there is some normal variance between teachers to be expected, but focusing much of our efforts at improving the craft of teaching, with high-quality evaluations that provide a strong feedback loop about what’s working and what’s not is absolutely critical.

It’s also interesting to note that the article is is in the business section of the paper, and that the author of the study is a respected economist, rather than an education researcher. Making our education system work better is an important part of our economic development strategy, not just a nice thing to have.

About the Author

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.