Pay Kindergarten Teachers Like Baseball Players?

The New York Times reports on some research – HT to Greg Mankiw – on the value of kindergarten improvement, and teachers, on earnings later in life. However, I don’t think the study indicates the amazing evidence than the Times, or Mankiw, reads into it:

Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

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.

That means if a student goes from being the worst in America (0%) to the best (100%) all in one-year of kindergarten – an astonishing improvement – they would earn $10,000 more per year, a nice, but hardly astonishing difference. In fact, it explains very little of the difference between earnings among adults.

For a more realistic, but significant, improvement – going from 60% to 65% – the salary difference 22 years later might be the difference between $50,000 and $50,500. I wouldn’t mind an extra $500, but it hardly is earth-shattering.

However, I’m all for rewarding good teachers though. As some folks say, “we should pay teachers like baseball players; see how much Alex Rodriguez makes for hitting home runs.” I agree. The best teacher in America should make $25 million, like A-Rod; and a handful of teachers should make millions. The average teacher should make what a minor-league player earns. And bad teachers should be cut during spring training.