The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers (from the NY Times)

I’ve been excited about this article from the New York Times for weeks. Basically, a group of researchers at Harvard  “found” some credible evidence for more-than modest implications of a high-quality kindergarten teacher over the life of a child. By implications, of course, this is to say that the team of economists measured the impact of good teaching in the first year of elementary school on income later in life, and put a cash value on it of about $320,000.

From a research perspective the study is notable because it contradicts prior studies that found little to no correlation between the quality of early childhood education and outcomes later in schooling as measured by test scores. As Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist who worked on the study said to the Times, “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”

The article has me thinking a lot about my own experience in kindergarten.

My kindergarten teacher was remarkable. For one thing, she was quirky. She talked to her shadow. When a classmate came in from recess complaining that his favorite shirt was soiled in mud from rough play, she gathered the class in a circle and told us she didn’t think it was a very good idea to wear your favorite shirt to school, or at least on the playground. She taught me long division (no kidding). She said, “I love you” all the time. When I asked her what “Montessori” meant (I went to a Montessori school) she brought in her text books on the subject and let me borrow them. At one point she scheduled a meeting with me to tell me she didn’t think I was working very hard. She hugged.

I’m not going to turn this into a lesson. Other than perhaps this: Of course Kindergarten teachers matter. Mine mattered to me and yours most likely mattered to you (for better or for worse). We don’t need a Harvard study to tell us that.