Kindergarten Matters

Division Directors' Blog
Posted on December 15, 2014
by Julie Schlossinger, Lower School Director

In 2007, The New York Times published an article titled, “The Case for the $300,000 Kindergarten Teacher.” Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, and his colleague, Harvard professor of public policy John Friedman studied the lives of 12,000 children who had participated in an education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s called Project Star. Children were randomly assigned to teachers of varying and documented skill level in classes that were either small (about 15 students) or large (around 24 students) and subsequently tracked. At age 30, Chetty’s analysis of the data showed that those who were taught by the strong, skilled kindergarten teachers earned upwards of $320,000 more over the course of their careers to date compared to their counterparts. And this was only by age 30.

Higher earnings are just one aspect of the differences identified by the experiment. Success in college, marriage, and the ability to fund retirement also correlated to the group that benefitted from the more robust Kindergarten experience. But there’s still more. Chetty observed that when the STAR students reached the eighth grade, their teachers evaluated them on attributes such as manners, the ability to focus, and self-discipline. Students who had the best kindergarten teachers excelled at these measures. “This is a little speculative, but I think it’s consistent with the evidence: A good Kindergarten teacher raises your Kindergarten test scores by teaching you skills like how to be a disciplined student,” Chetty says. “Those skills don’t necessarily show up in later academic tests, but they end up having a big pay-off in the long run.” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2011)

As a K-12 school, at Vail Mountain School we have the ability to watch students grow over a 13 year period. Historically, we’ve seen that the older students get, the harder it is for them to catch up in middle or high school. Several studies validate the importance of quality early grade preparation for students to have a reasonable chance of meeting college readiness benchmarks by the end of high school. According to the 2013 ACT Policy Report, students who were far off track in eighth grade had only a 10% chance in reading, 6% chance in science, and 3% chance in mathematics of reaching the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by twelfth grade. Results were similar for students catching up between fourth and eighth grade.

Together, these statistics present a compelling picture of the importance of a strong lower school foundation. Getting students off to a good start in the early elementary grades is extremely important and a high-quality Kindergarten experience is where it all starts. In short, Kindergarten matters.