Home > David Leonhardt, Education, Greg Mankiw, Jonah Lehrer > We Should Replace Every Grade With Kindergarten

We Should Replace Every Grade With Kindergarten

David Leonhardt of The New York Times continues to put out great stuff one after the other. This latest piece excited as well as confused me.

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.


Mr. Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime. 

This is really exciting news if it is true, but the “not yet peer-reviewed” findings, as Greg Mankiw also wondered about, seem to contradict the evidence that suggests even parents’ actions don’t have much of an effect on children’s adult outcomes. 

Meanwhile Jonah Lehrer argues that preschool and early education programs don’t so much make you more intelligent but do affect our “non-cognative” abilities. 

How does preschool work its magic? Interestingly, the Perry Preschool didn’t lead to a lasting boost in IQ scores. While kids exposed to preschool got an initial bump in general intelligence, this dissipated by second grade. Instead, preschool seemed to improve performance on a variety of “non-cognitive” abilities, such as self-control, persistence and grit. While society has long obsessed over raw smarts – just look at our fixation on IQ scores – Heckman and Cunha argue that these non-cognitive traits are often more important. They note, for instance, that dependability is the trait most valued by employers, while “perseverance, dependability and consistency are the most important predictors of grades in school.” Of course, these valuable skills have little or anything to do with general intelligence. And that’s probably a good thing, since our non-cognitive traits are much more malleable, at least when interventions occur at an early age, than IQ. Preschool might not make us smarter – our intelligence is strongly shaped by our genes – but it can make us a better person, and that’s even more important. (my emphasis)

That helps explain things a little, but I’m still unclear why our parents wouldn’t be able to effect those same abilities. Until that is settled, I still think the public policy implication is obvious: spend more on early education. 

The economists calculate that, for every dollar invested in preschool for at-risk children, society at large reaps somewhere between eight and nine dollars in return. 

More from Leonhardt here.

(image: Robin Hood School, Stoneham, MA.)

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