Kids who watch ‘Sesame Street’ do better in school

Posted at 2:44 PM, Jun 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-08 14:44:22-04

NEW YORK — Even Oscar the Grouch won’t be annoyed by this.

Kids who watch “Sesame Street” do better in elementary school, according to a new study by two economics professors.

Spending an hour a day with Big Bird, Elmo and Count von Count is especially beneficial for boys, African-American youth and children from low-income families, the study found. They get the biggest academic boost.

“Our analysis suggestions 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 Phillip Levine, an economist at Wellesley College who co-authored the research paper with University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney.

“Sesame Street” began on November 10, 1969, making it one of America’s longest-running TV shows. It was a big hit when it started. Estimates suggest that nearly 40% of pre-school aged kids watching the show by 1971.

Beloved characters like Cookie Monster and Elmo have become American icons, and many adults can still recite famous lines from the show such as “brought to you by the letter….”

When Sesame Street first went on air, TV technology was undergoing some big changes. The program was broadcast via both VHF (very high frequency) channels and weaker UHF (ultra-high frequency) channels.

Families living in areas that received only UHF channels had poor reception and thus were less likely to see the show. The study compares school performance of kids from families that lived in areas with a stronger “Sesame Street” signal versus those living in places with a weaker signal.

They found that children in areas with better reception were more likely to perform at grade level in elementary school.

Even taking into account a number of other factors that influence educational success, the study still found that one hour of “Sesame Street” a day made a difference to young kids in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It suggests that educational programs online could have similarly beneficial impacts today at a very small cost.

Parents might not want to be so quick to tell their kids to stop watching TV, at least if “Sesame Street” is on.