Forget College, It's Kindergarten that Matters

Last Updated Jul 28, 2010 4:54 PM EDT

My husband sent me a frantic email this morning. He wrote that our daughter CANNOT attend our local public school next year. I expected to hear a tale about how he walked by the building and saw some horrible scene between parents and teachers. That's wasn't it. He read an article in The New York Times that says the quality of your child's kindergarten teacher and the number of other students in the class has a direct impact on how successful your little one will be as an adult.

My husband's email didn't entirely surprise me. We currently live in New York City and are already talking about the merits of moving to the suburbs for better schools. (Our current zoned option gets a whopping 3 out of 10 on Greatschools.org.) The only thing that has delayed us from hanging our For Sale sign and buying in New Jersey or Westchester is that we haven't figured out how families manage to see their kids and commute into the city. (As it is, my husband often doesn't get home before our infant goes to sleep.)

Up until we read this article, we were beginning to think that we should stay in the city for a few more years and postpone that hour-long commute until our kids are older. We naively thought we could just give the New York City school system a try and if our daughter's kindergarten experience wasn't great, there wouldn't be any real harm done. After all, how much can a five-year-old really learn? Turns out, a lot.

According to the study, which was presented by a Harvard economist, children who are taught by highly effective kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and save for retirement. These kids are also less likely to become single parents. Oh yeah, these little ones tend to earn more too.

There's always the chance our daughter could get a great teacher in New York City, right? That's not enough to guarantee success. As I mentioned above, the study also says class size matters. Students were more successful as adults if they were in a room with just 13 to 17 students versus 22 to 25 children. Sadly, the Big Apple's schools are notoriously overcrowded.

The article also turns the conventional wisdom about private schools on its head. I've always been told that for parents who value an independent education, it's more important to spend on a college prep program than during the elementary years. The study, however, shows that it's the early classroom experience that matters most.

So where does this leave me? It sounds like it's time for me to call a handy man to make some necessary repairs in my apartment and get a hold of a great real estate agent.

Anyone looking for an art deco, two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan? I'll give you a fair price.

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Kindergarten is Fun image by WoodleyWondersWorks, courtesy of CC 2.0.
More on MoneyWatch:
Public Vs. Private School: My Million Dollar Question
Public or Private? Weighing the Costs of Your School Options
Ask the Experts: Family Finance
  • Stacey Bradford

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