Turns out, a ton! A good Kindergarten teacher is worth, annually, around $320,000. And not in that “if you can read this, thank a teacher way,” but in real and actual U.S. dollars.
Economists have long thought that early childhood education and the first years of elementary school are important, but only in getting kids through those earlier years. The effect of good preschools and excellence in those first years was shown to fade by the time kids reached junior high and high school. By then, you couldn’t tell the ones who did well in Kindergarten from the ones who didn’t.
Problem was, that conclusion was only ever based on standardized test scores. A new study — based on different outcomes — shows that a good Kindergarten teacher can have a significant effect on what her former students will be earning by the time they are 27.
Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, and a group of others decided to look beyond standardized test scores in high school and, instead, looked at the earnings of students who were Kindergarteners in the 80s.
The researchers tracked down participants of another notorious education study in Tennessee in the 1980s. In that study, researchers found that some teachers were simply better than others, as demonstrated by test scores of the students (who had been assigned to teachers at random to ensure a good socio-economic mix). However, the Tennessee study also found that those effects faded once in junior high and high school.
However! This new study picked up where the old study left off. Graduates of the Tennessee study earned different incomes. The New York Times reports:
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.
All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.
A full class of students taught by an excellent teacher can expect to earn more than $320,000 over a lifetime.
Give those teachers a raise!