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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

How Much Is a Really Good Teacher Worth?

Today’s Times offers an answer: $320,000 a year: A new and apparently quite careful study of the impact of excellent kindergarten teachers on the feature earnings potential of those very young students, shows that a very good teacher will add over $300,000 in future earnings to those tykes. Apparently previous studies of the impact of good early education have shown a big fade — by high school, and using test scores as a measure, everything evens out. On average the kid whose kindergarten teacher never got past colors and seasons does just about as well as the kid whose teacher who was having 5 year olds debate about Pluto, build cities, and count by tens to a thousand. But this new study does not focus on test scores, or even any school outcomes. Rather it caught up with people who had first been studied when they were little kids back in the 1980s — so now the researchers were linking earlier data about kindergarten with new information about adult earning and income.

This result points in many interesting directions. For one, it does emphasize how important good teaching is, at any age. For another, though, it opens up the question of how to measure outcomes. NCLB placed so much emphasis on not only test scores, but particular state tests. And at some level that matters — we do need to know if schools are preparing middle school kids to read and write well enough to flourish in high school and thus confidently move on to college, or good vocational training. If schools are failing to bring kids across that key divide, then they are failing. But I am reading this study to say — OK, if we improve the assembly line, if we are able to get enough kids through the system, now lets look at something else: what really prepares kids to do well not just in school, but in life?

And that is where both libraries and the whole issue of the professionalization of childhood comes in. Sound Mind, Sound Body — that still seems like a good definition of childhood — have fun, run around, test yourself, improve your skills, use your brain, explore the universe, look inside yourself, grow as a person. A teacher that sees all of you and nurtures all of you — challenges you and expands your horizons, a good librarian, a good coach — that is what helps a child, not just test prep, or being locked into a single sport. This study, which makes the argument for good teaching in strictly economic terms, seems really important — we can all use it in making the case for the impact we can have. (School Librarians — need to defend your jobs, use this study)