Want To Make $1,000 More A Year? Try Kindergarten

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A great kindergarten experience isn't just enriching to kids mentally — it's enriching to their wallets, too. That's according to a new Harvard study that found attending a top-notch kindergarten increases a person's earnings decades later by an average of $1,000 a year.

Experts used to think the effect of early childhood education wore off as students got older, but these researchers, led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, discovered that the "kindergarten effect" resurfaces in adulthood.

"Your kindergarten teacher sort of gets you off on the right track," Chetty tells NPR's Guy Raz. "Teachers use basic skills that you might use later in life, like how to study hard, how to focus, patience, manners, things like that, in addition to better academic skills. And all these things have a long-term payoff."

Chetty used data from the Tennessee STAR, or Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio, project. It tracked 12,000 students with similar backgrounds in Tennessee who were assigned to random kindergarten classes in the 1980s. The project tracked these children into adulthood.

"What we find is that the type of kindergarten class that we're assigned to has very large effects on long-term outcomes and being in a better class," Chetty says. "For instance a smaller class or having a more experienced teacher makes you do better in the long run."

The study found that moving an average student from an average-quality class to an excellent-quality class not only can increase earnings but also can affect the likelihood of being a single parent, going to college and saving for retirement.

But Chetty says it's not just about kindergarten.

"The study's really about early childhood education," he said. "It's not that kindergarten is some kind of fatalistic thing that determines everything. But on the other hand, it makes sense to invest resources in trying to get your child into the best classroom, because it seems to matter on average."



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