Kindergarten Matters

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 29, 2010    •    731 Views

Several months ago, we asked if law school was a good investment. Now we can ask the same question about kindergarten.

Saying that adult outcomes count while test scores do not, Harvard economist Raj Chetty and 5 colleagues researched the impact of kindergarten teachers on their students’ college attendance, tendency to become single parents and to save, and on income. With a 1980s Tennessee study providing a wealth of data about 11,571 young students, recent tax related information told the research group about many of the same individuals now.

As their slide show indicates, classmate results clustered. Students whose test scores jumped from average to the 60th percentile during kindergarten could expect to earn $1,000 more a year than a child who started and concluded kindergarten with average scores. Children whose scores jumped during kindergarten also wound up having a greater chance of attending college, of not being a single parent, and of saving for retirement. Summarizing the kindergarten impact on earnings, one teacher created, per class, $320,000 of extra income during a lifetime.

The Economic Lesson

An economist would say that good kindergarten teachers have added substantially to society’s human capital. In this context, capital refers to one of three factors of production: land, labor, and capital. Rather like a recipe, we can say that all goods and services are made from different combinations of land, labor, and capital.

Capital can be divided into two categories: Physical capital and human capital. Physical capital includes machinery, tools, buildings and inventory–the technology made by people that we use to become more productive. Human capital relates to the job training and education that make people more productive. To produce physical and human capital, society has to be patient. As each is developing, the resources needed to create them have little impact. Afterwards, though, they become growth engines.

Talented kindergarten teachers appear to be skillful human capital developers. Remembering that our resources are limited, we need to decide where to do less so that we can do more at the kindergarten level.

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