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Is ‘Sesame Street’ really as good as preschool? Let’s ask a Nobel Prize winner.


July 2, 2015
AssessmentState & LocalState Pre-K Evaluations
Valerie Strauss
Washington Post

Can kids really learn as much from “Sesame Street” as from preschool?

Recently, a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons From Sesame Street,” prompted media stories, including one in The Washington Post, saying that “Sesame Street” can be as effective as preschool in lifting student achievement…

The authors examine differences in access to “Sesame Street” when and after it was first launched in 1969 in areas of the United States that had VHF, and other areas that had the weaker UHF, which did not reliably carry the station that broadcast the show. This comparison in broadcast strength was then matched with what the research said were student outcomes in an effort to show that kids in those areas where the show was broadcast had better academic outcomes that were statistically significant than in those areas where the broadcast signal was weak and where it was likely the kids didn’t see as much of “Sesame Street.”

The authors said they did not actually know whether kids in either group watched “Sesame Street”; just that it was more available, and that they were able to factor out other causes for the difference in  outcomes for students…

In fact, there is at best scant evidence that blended learning is a successful model. Besides that, Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, wrote in an e-mail:

To believe their results you have to believe that TV teaching through Sesame Street has a much deeper and more profound effect on the child than a teacher. What is the theory that would explain this?  They do not have a theory or explain how their results are consistent with the larger body of knowledge about learning and teaching. This is the most disturbing aspect of the paper.