Sesame Street helped students prepare for kindergarten and first grade starting back in 1969.
Did Sesame Street have an effect on your life?
If you grew up with Sesame Street, the answer is probably ‘yes’. The amount of effect differs from child to child, and probably differs depending on how much Sesame Street was watched, but it had an effect.
Now a research team from the University of Maryland and Wellesley College have determined just how much of an effect Sesame Street had on the children who were able to watch the show in its early years, and how much of an effect not watching the show had on those who did not have it available to them.
The Public Broadcasting System first presented Sesame Street in 1969 as a tool to aid preschool children in preparation for school, whether that be kindergarten or first grade. The show was widely successful.
But it was not universally seen. In 1969, PBS shows were broadcast on ultra-high frequency (UHF) channels. In most places, UHF reception was inferior to very high frequency (VHF) channels, and many television sets early on did not have the capability to receive a UHF signal. Researchers studied the watchability of Sesame Street per area to determine students most likely to have watched the show in its early years.
Still, by January of 1970 (when the show was broadcast both in the early morning and in the early afternoon), over five million households watched the show on a daily basis. Earlier studies indicated that between 28 and 36 percent of all children between the ages of 2 and 5 watched the show in 1970. Those percentages grew to 33 and 42 percent by 1971.
When Sesame Street first hit the air, it was designed to prepare children for first grade. Pre-school attendance was very low nationwide (9 percent for three-year-olds, 19 percent for four-year-olds), and kindergarten was not required in many school districts, with only 57 percent of 5-year-old attending school.
Using statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the 1980 High School and Beyond survey, researchers found that students living in areas with the best possible reception (and thus the best possible exposure to Sesame Street) were more likely to attend the grade appropriate for their age. This was especially true for boys, black children and those living in economically disadvantaged areas. The improvement of students remaining in age-appropriate grades in areas with pronounced high school dropout rates was the highest.
The data showed that students living in areas with strong broadcast reception were 2 percent more likely to go to school in the age appropriate grades and those that moved from a weak reception area to a strong reception area reduced the chance of falling behind in school by 14 percent.
The researchers also noted the ratio between effectiveness as a teaching tool and the cost to produce the show. They estimated the cost of producing Sesame Street in the early years to be $5 per child watching, in 2015 dollars, which was well below the average cost per student working with Head Start, a national education program that began around the same time as Sesame Street.
“Our analysis finds positive impacts on the educational performance of children who experienced their preschool years when Sesame Street was on television in areas with greater broadcast coverage,’’ the researchers wrote.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.