Does Moneyball Apply to Kindergarten?

David Leonhardt has set the kindergarten teachers’ portion of the internet afire with his provocative New York Times piece, “The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers.”  He cites some recent research that finds unusual importance of the kindergarten year to adult outcomes, and in particular the importance of good teachers.

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.

Mr. Chetty and his colleagues estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime..

That $320,000 figure is what has set the internets ablaze with kindergarten teacher good cheer, along with the usual trenchant observations about the pay disparity between teachers and, say, professional athletes. One would expect a economics blog post to go through the caveats of demand and supply setting wages, problems identifying good teachers and firing bad teachers, and these sorts of issues.

I was thinking along different lines. In the past two weeks, our Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group has been thinking about the Moneyball Hypothesis and how it might apply to higher education.  For example, what sort of metrics might we incorporate to identify promising collegiate talent? Here’s a thought — rather than relying on SAT and ACT scores for admissions, why not require kindergarten transcripts?  This could easily be accomplished by simply asking for all school transcripts instead of relying on the high school transcript.  If Chetty and company are right, this could be just the route to go to identify some of those diamonds in the rough.

Also see The Economist‘s brief writeup.

UPDATE: It looks like graduate schools have beaten me to it.