Educational Television for Preschoolers Shown to Benefit Young Blacks

sesameSTA new study authored by scholars at Wellesley College and the University of Maryland found that children who watched Sesame Street when it was first broadcast nearly a half century ago, did better in school as they got older. The data shows that exposure to Sesame Street was particularly beneficial to African Americans and children living in economically disadvantaged areas.

The data shows that Black children who lived in areas where Sesame Street was broadcast on stronger VHF channels where reception was more reliable and viewership was higher reduced their likelihood of being below grade level on academic assessment tests by 13.7 percent several years later when they were in elementary school.

Phillip B. Levine, an economist at Wellesley College and co-author of the study, said that “it is remarkable that a single intervention consisting of watching a television show for an hour a day in preschool can have such a substantial effect helping kids advance through school. Our analysis suggests that Sesame Street may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, at a cost of a just few dollars per child per year, with benefits that can last several years.”

Co-author Melissa Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland, added that “it is quite encouraging to find that something so readily accessible and inexpensive as Sesame Street has the potential to have such a positive impact on children’s school performance, in particular for children from economically disadvantaged communities. These findings raise the exciting possibility that TV and electronic media more generally can be leveraged to address income and racial gaps in children’s school readiness.”

The article, “Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons From Sesame Street,” was published on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research. It may be accessed here.

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