Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kindergarten payoff

Reader Lindsay Merritt shared a link to a fascinating New York Times article about the long-term value of good kindergarten teachers.

It's especially intriguing as districts across the country, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, try to figure out whether early education makes a lasting difference. Locally, gains from Bright Beginnings prekindergarten fade as officials track test scores over the years, a pattern that's nearly universal, according to the article.

But a Harvard economist and his team of researchers decided to track adult outcomes, using a group of Tennessee students first studied as kindergarteners in the 1980s. Those children had been randomly assigned to kindergarten teachers. Some classes showed much bigger gains than others, a result attributed to high-quality teachers.

Predictably, those differences faded on test scores in later grades. But the research presented this week found that kids in the most successful kindergarten classes, now adults in their 20s, were more likely to have gone to college, less likely to be single parents and earning more than peers who had less effective kindergarten teachers.

"The economists don't pretend to know the exact causes," writes Times reporter David Leonhardt. "But it's not hard to come up with plausible guesses. Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime — patience, discipline, manners, perseverance. The tests that 5-year-olds take may pick up these skills, even if later multiple-choice tests do not."

Wow. I feel like I should write a thank-you note to Merry Deely, who did a great job of teaching my son in kindergarten 16 years ago.


wiley coyote said...

From the Charlotte Observer in June 2010:

Today, the program (bright Beginnings)costs $23 million a year. It helped launch a similar $196 million statewide program. And while teachers say it clearly better prepares children for kindergarten, CMS can't say whether it has had any academic impact on later school years.

CMS has no clue as to what Bright Beginnings has done over the past 10 years.

It's time to ditch this project, save the money and move on.

It's another "educator-feel-good-waste-of-money-project".

Pamela Grundy said...


It's interesting to see how these stories change as they're reported. The original Tennessee study looked at small classes. If you look at the researchers' slides from the current study, they say that having a teacher one standard deviation better produced an improvement that was essentially identical to the improvement seen in children placed in small rather than large classes. When the NYT ed reporter wrote this story, he mentioned the small class size effect, but stressed teacher quality. Now, in this column, small classes have vanished entirely. You get the greatest improvement if you *combine* good teachers with small classes. Given the amount of catching up so many of our kids have to do, and the other advantages small classes bring to schools, both strategies need to be in place. But I'm willing to bet that when CMS starts citing this study, they will conveniently fail to mention class size.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Pamela!


Ann Doss Helms said...

Pam, agreed that I left out all the nuances. It's a synopsis of a synopsis of a study -- but still thought it was worth sharing the link without trying to replicate the NYT reporter's work.

Pamela Grundy said...


Definitely worth putting up -- that's why this blog is so cool. But what I find interesting is the particular nuances that both you and the NYT's Leonhardt decided to eliminate. At a time when the big-boy reformers have decided to emphasize the significance of teacher quality while downplaying (or sometimes even denying) the significance of small classes, two genuinely independent-minded reporters take a study that shows the significance of both, and end up talking first mainly and then only about teacher quality. I'm not much for big words, but hegemony is one of the few I've never been able to shake.

Ann Doss Helms said...

I think it's an example of why it's so much better to have people going to original sources. If I'd read the study, I might or might not have chosen the same emphasis this reporter did. But reading his article, I naturally capsulized his report, which means further filtering.

If I could clone myself, I could keep a whole army of me busy reading research and reports. But in the real world ...

Pamela Grundy said...

. . . we need an Equity Committee too!

Anonymous said...

Vocabulary word of the day.

"hegemony"; (noun) leadership or dominance, esp. by one country or social group over others.

Why I didn't attend an Ivy League school. My husband knew the definition (Wake grad. Political Science/French). Grrr....

You go girl.

Anonymous said...

Re: the Equity Committee. Oh, Pam. You were doing so well.

Good having you back anyway.

"Everything I Need to Know I Learned in (a small class sized) Kindergarten"?

Good day. (hmm, hegemony)..

Anonymous said...

Now just place that kindergarten student in a foreign language immersion program with that experienced teacher and watch them soar. CMS needs to spread the concept to other elementary schools and watch the success.

wiley coyote said...

...define equity committee and what their role is.

Is it to ensure racial integration/busing or ensure equitable distribution of monies per pupil and school or both?

Both have failed miserably over the past 40 years.

Anonymous said...

From the many research studies and then reporters' versions I have read, you can interpret almost anything you want from any study. I think the problem is all these academia approaches are screwing up public education.

The state program was simply a knee jerk reaction to Judge Manning to appease a large constituency that makes everyone feel better to deliver more government services to more people.

The trouble with smaller classes is that you need more teachers. The California study done after 10 years of the mandated smaller classes proved no improvement in these children than before. Before they had a chance to have better teachers. Later they had much lessor of a chance.

The quote in the article "Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime — patience, discipline, manners, perseverance.." points as to why these children do not succeed in school. Several of these studies are cited in the book about Dr. Canada. Children born into poverty lack these these skills because their parents are as bad at parenting as they are making a livelihood.

wiley coyote said...

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Very good post....

Anonymous said...


What about Transitional Kindergarten (TK) programs?

Many families with children who have late spring, summer and early fall birthdays chose this option. Both of my children - who have August and September birthdays - attended private TK programs. Our rational was that an extra year might give them a slight academic edge. Do children with late birthdays who attend TK programs perform better than children who go straight into kindergarten? Charlotte is loaded with TK programs available at many preschools and private schools.

Anonymous said...

Re: TK programs.

The kindergarten cut off date at some of Charlotte's most elite private schools is later than the NC state kindergarten cut off date. I'm surprised there is little research on the academic effects of starting kindergarten later and older with a TK year thrown in. The TK program my children attended was a fully licensed and state accredited kindergarten meaning my children could have gone directly into 1st grade in any NC public school. Nobody did this, and again, used this year in hopes of gaining some level of academic advantage down the road. The private school my children attend have many students who turn 18-years-old 3/4 of the way into their Junior year - not their Senior year.

Do states with later kindergarten cut off dates have students who perform better? Back in my day, the kindergarten cut off date was midway through November. NC recently moved it's kindergarten cut off date from Sept. to Oct. Has this made a difference as far as drop out rates and academic performance? Exactly what is the function of Bright Beginnings? What credentials are required for a teacher to teach children in the Bright Beginnings program? Are higher income families who have children with later birthdays more likely to use TK programs because they can afford paying for an extra year of academic preparation?

Ann Doss Helms said...

Interesting questions about TK. I and others have written about the dilemma parents face in deciding whether to keep late-birthday kids back a year, but I don't know that I've ever encountered anything specifically looking at whether they benefit from private TK.

Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" has some fascinating observations on the birthday-cutoff effect in youth sports and school.

A random personal note: My son has a Sept. 25 birthday, and we let him be one of the youngest in his class (now he'd have to wait). It was never a social or academic disadvantage -- but he's frustrated now that most of his friends have turned 21 and he hasn't!

Anonymous said...

Re: TK programs. (then I'm done. I promise.)

Would it make more sense for CMS to offer optional TK classes lead by certified teachers instead of funding Bright Beginnings which hasn't lived up to it's promises of improving academic achievement long term?

I guess you could simply have more children repeat kindergarten but doesn't this imply a child has failed? How does a person recover from this? Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Country Day, Providence Day, Charlotte Christian and Charlotte Catholic schools all have TK programs in addition to many private preschools. Nobody fails, children just start kindergarten later more prepared.


Anonymous said...

Bright Beginnings at 23 million dollars a year, reaching how many students?

Wouldn't it be wiser to cut that program, hire more kindergarten teachers and teacher assistants provide small class sizes and reach more students?

Does the state of NC provide vouchers to poor parents so that their kids can attend daycare/preschool?

Anonymous said...

Onto other topics... Speaking of the birthday cut-off effect on sports.

I played varsity soccer and track in high school. Female college athletic scholarships were still extremely rare in the early 80's even after Title IV was passed. The first board of education meeting I ever protested at was at age 14 after some IDIOTS in Connecticut decided to give my school's newly formed girls soccer team the boys old soccer uniforms. While the boys unpacked fresh new uniforms, our team unpacked their smelly old uniforms. This did not go over well.

A few interesting Title IV sports lawsuits at some colleges recently. One college in PA is in full throttle "Shattering the Glass" war mode with 3 lawsuits going at once. The college I attended (undergrad) dismantled the men's gymnastics team not that long ago to comply with Title IV. Pamela?

Pamela Grundy said...

Good Grief.

Regarding the Equity Committee, that was simply a reference to the fact that we need a lot of eyes on the school system, to help make sure that all our kids have the fundamentals that allow them to succeed (which in my opinion includes small classes). As an independent citizen committee, the Equity Committee did that. I find it interesting that a number of more conservative board members refused to appoint members to the committee, then denounced its political slant and abolished it. I remember one person suggesting that the board's liberal members should "balance" the committee by making more conservative appointments. For some reason, the idea of having the more conservative board members appoint the conservative folks didn't seem to make sense to her. Hmmmmmm

Regarding the California small class experience, it was a disaster because the state reduced class size dramatically across the state all at once, and ended up having to hire anyone and everyone to teach. So lots of kids did get stuck with terrible teachers. Fortunately, CMS is not in that situation, and can have small classes without that kind of result.

Title IX is something else altogether. If colleges would add more women's teams, they wouldn't have to dismantle men's teams. I was glad to see the ruling that cheerleading can't count as a Title IX sport. Perhaps the cheerleaders can move to the reconstituted Equity Committee, since cheerleaders seem to be what many school board members want.

Anonymous said...

Bright Beginnings is a education initiative similar to Head Start. It is designed to reach children who are at-risk for academic difficulties. More at Four, the state funded Pre K program sets out to serve children who have never been outside of the home and who may also be "at-risk," for future academic difficulities. These programs are designed to prepare children for Kindergarten given their lack of possible experiences in their home and community. Research does show that these influences fade by 3rd grade. However, I like to look at it this way...Where would these children be had they not had the experience...even more behind. I look at it as they have caught up. It is not designed to give them an advantage over other children, but a positive start to their educational experiences. And, it does! For more information, research The Perry Preschool Project.