Succeed in Kindergarten, and You're Set for Life

UPDATE: links to studies on pre-school in developing countries (end of post)

This blog has discussed how ancient history of countries and peoples affects development today. Now a new paper shows that your own ancient history also matters: your scores on Kindergarten tests are a good predictor of your earnings as an adult, along with other good adult outcomes.

Raj Chetty presented this paper at NYU on Tuesday: How Does Your Kindergarten Classroom Affect Your Earnings? Evidence from Project Star, written with John N. Friedman, Nathaniel Hilger, Emmanuel Saez, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Danny Yagan.

Under the project studied, there were random assignments of teachers and students to classes. The striking thing in the findings is the identification of  "Good" and "Bad" kindergarten classes, as shown by more variation in the Kindergarten test scores than would occur with random variation. The "Goodness" of  the classes then have significant effects on their members for all those later life outcomes.

This finding was intrinsically fascinating in itself.  It reinforces a lot of other research about the importance of early childhood for later outcomes, which deserves a lot more attention in development.

The paper has gotten a lot of media attention for something a little different: as showing that "A Good Kindergarten Teacher is worth $320,000."

Actually, Professor Chetty was very careful in the seminar to say that there was no decisive evidence that it was the teacher who was the cause of the "Good" classes (and he never actually presented the $320,000 figure that the media has publicized).

It is certainly plausible that the teacher contributed to good kindergarten outcomes (and Professor Chetty  had some indirect but far from decisive evidence that contributed to the plausibility a little). But as with other groups of individuals: firms, cities, sports teams, book groups, societies ... and now Kindergarten classes ... some of the success and failure is just a mystery. Attributing it all to the "leader" (like the teacher) could be suspiciously close to one of those Fundamental Attribution Errors -- we want to identify group success with one Brilliant Good Person -- but sometimes it just ain't so. So the policy implications of this finding are ................................................. still a bit unclear.

UPDATE: An alert reader sent links to two more papers about early childhood and later outcomes. The sender happened to be the author, but that's OK, please feel free to send links to your own work when it relates to a post! The effect of pre-primary education on primary school performance

(ungated here)

Giving children a better start: Preschool attendance and school-age profiles