Paper: Sesame Street Improves School Readiness


According to a recent study from two economics professors, kids who spent an hour each day watching the television program Sesame Street were found to perform better in elementary school.

The paper, written by Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, and Phillip Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College, discusses how the television show improved readiness for the school environment with the effects lasting through high school, writes Jeffrey Sparshott for The Wall Street Journal.

The biggest effects were found among boys, African American children, and those from low-income families, who all received the largest academic boost.

“Our analysis suggests that ‘Sesame Street’ may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, at a cost of just a few dollars per child per year,” says Levine.

Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969.  Since then, the show has gone on to become one of the longest-running television programs in America.  Estimates suggest that by 1971, around 40% of preschool-aged children were watching the program.

When the show began, it was broadcast on both VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) channels.  Those who watched the program through the UHF channel received poorer reception.  In order to determine the effects of this, the study compared the school performance of children who watched the program through the stronger signal, comparing to those who watched through the weaker channel.

Findings suggest that children who were able to watch the program through the stronger signal performed better at school and were more likely to perform at grade level than those who received a weaker signal.

“Living in a location with strong reception instead of weak reception reduced the likelihood of being left behind by 16 percent for boys and 13.7 percent for black, non-Hispanic children,” wrote the authors.

Even when all other factors that could account for educational success were accounted for, the study still concludes that those children who watched Sesame Street each day increased their academic outcomes, beginning with the show’s first airing in the 1960’s.

The authors went on to suggest that educational online programs and massive open online courses, MOOCs, could be used to educate children from an early age at a minimal cost, writes Jim Tankersley for The Washington Post.

“In essence, Sesame Street was the first MOOC,” the authors said. “Although MOOCs differ in what they entail, Sesame Street satisfies the basic feature of electronic transmission of online educational material. Both Sesame Street and MOOCs provide educational interventions at a fraction of the cost of more traditional classroom settings.”

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