Sesame Street was, by the Numbers, a Great Investment

Education is important for reducing long-term poverty.

Sesame Street has done a great job improving test scores and education outcomes in children, which a study by the National Bureau of Economics Research was able to tell by mapping out where the show rolled out over time, and looking at statistics before and after in each school district.

While it alone can’t miraculously solve poverty, the show did have a small effect on future wages as well, and was incredibly cheap to roll out compared to other programs aimed at poverty reduction.

Image By Staff Sgt. Dijon Rolle (United States Army)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


It cost pennies on the dollar relative to other early childhood interventions. Well-designed research studies conducted at that time, reviewed in detail below, indicate that the show had a substantial and immediate impact on test scores,
[…] Our analysis takes advantage of the county-level variation in viewer’s ability to watch Sesame Street generated by these technological constraints that existed when the show was introduced in 1969
[…] The small estimated impact on wages in adulthood, though, is consistent with forecasts based on the estimated improvements in test scores and grade-for-age status brought about by the show’s introduction.
http://www.nber.org/papers/w21229.pdf (paywall) (Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons from Sesame Street, Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine, National Bureau of Economics Research)

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