How High Are the Stakes in Kindergarten?

It seems as if everyday, newspapers, magazines, television report cutting edge research which is destined to make modern parents worry, second-guess themselves, hyper-ventilate. Take a recent New York Time article, The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers, which relates economic research showing that the caliber of a child’s kindergarten teacher can have effects lasting well into adulthood: the “better” the teacher (measured by class test averages), the better the outcome: higher adult earning, higher rates of college completion, lower rates of single parenthood, across all socioeconomic groups

Typical fuel for hyper-parenting, fodder for parents driven to ensure their offspring’s future success, results that may even make reasonable parents a bit anxious. How do you know if your child has a “good” teacher? What can you actually do to ensure your child gets one?  And, what if your child has already completed kindergarten, under the tutelage of a horrendous wretch of a teacher?

We’re no experts in bringing up “successful” children. (We’re just trying to successfully bring some up.)  But we do like to offer thoughts on keeping the business of mothering in perspective, so here are three thoughts about the Kindergarten teacher study.  

First, common sense dictates that a single teacher does not make, or break, a child's school experience.  While the role of the teachers makes the headlines, the Times coverage mentions that smaller class size and peer group also contribute to kindergarten and later success. 

Second, who are “the best” teachers? Some parents might attempt to curry favor with school administrators in hope of requesting a specific teacher, but how have they identified which teacher to request? Conspiratorial whispering of fellow mothers? A wise modern mother will shut her ears to schoolyard chatter, and rely on her own judgement. If you think your child has a good relationship with her teacher, she probably does. If you actually have a child starting Kindergarten, here's some more thorough and expert advice

Finally, large studies of means and averages are meant to inform public policy (e.g., increasing wages for Kindergarten teachers) not individual parenting strategies.  So by all means go advocate for smaller class sizes, and higher teacher pay, but don't sit around worrying about your child's kindergarten teacher, past, present or future. The last thing we want to instill in a child is the idea that her lifetime success depends on a specific teacher.  


Beau Dure said...

I'm always skeptical of studies like this because they so often show *correlation* rather than *causation*, just like the recent NYT op-ed suggesting elite schools are biased against kids who were in 4-H or Future Farmers of America.

Surely the other factors behind high performance in kindergarten -- and I can't believe I just wrote such a phrase -- would also lend themselves to high performance down the road.

Basically, if you live in an affluent urban/suburban area or a college town, chances are good that your kids will grow up valuing education. And, coincidentally, your area may attract a few "good" kindergarten teachers. At the very least, those kindergarten teachers are likely to have the resources they need to be "good."

Elizabeth Hammond Pyle said...

True, but I'm not sure you could ever get volunteers for the double-blind clinical trial type studies that would provide less murky information. (though still correlation, not causation?)

And yes, we've all been reduced to talking about "kindergarten performance" -- the horror!

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