The value of kindergarten (and kindergarten teachers)

Several economists recently presented a paper analyzing the effect of  kindergarten performance on adult outcomes. The New York Times summarizes the findings:

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.

The study still has to go through the peer-review process and the researchers aren’t sure what the link is between kindergarten performance and the adult outcomes.

Based on these findings, the economists suggest excellent kindergarten teachers are worth $320,000 a year.

This analysis is based on data from a Tennessee study, Project Star, from the 1980s. By randomly assigning kids to kindergarten classes, they set up an experiment where differences between classes could later be examined.