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What's a Good Teacher Worth? Try $320,000, Says New Study

The blogosphere has been buzzing today over that New York Times article on new research charting the long-term benefits of having a good teacher in the early grades.

For the study, researchers tracked 12,000 Tennessee students from the time they entered school in the 1980s until they reached their 30s. The data came from that state's landmark Project STAR experiment, in which researchers tracked the effects of reducing class sizes in elementary school.

According to the Times article, here's what new team of researchers found:

"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.

All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile -- a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher— could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow."

If you extrapolate those numbers to reflect the extra earnings for an entire class of students, the researchers calculate, a "standout" teacher would be worth $320,000.

David Leonhardt, the author of the Times article, notes that the findings counter earlier research showing that the benefits of good early-childhood programs fade out over a few years. The results differ, he says, because the earlier studies rely exclusively on test scores while the new report uses a wider range of measures to weigh adults' life outcomes. And he argues that more attention ought to be paid to the latter set of outcomes in judging the value of an educational program or strategy.

I'm reserving judgment on the study because all I could find were these Power Point slides on it. The final report is not yet published.

But I do think Leonhardt has a point. When it comes right down to it, most people care more about ensuring that their children graduate from high school, enter college, and make a decent living than they do about the test scores the kids get on standardized exams. (Granted, you need relatively high test scores to get into those colleges, too.)

For some other takes on these findings, which Leonhardt characterizes as "explosive," check out Early EdWatch, The Core Knowledge Blog, The Huffington Post, NPR, and the Money Blog at ConsumerReports.org. Did I forget anyone?

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