A study being called the “most authoritative” review of the impact of the PBS series Sesame Street on children is scheduled to be released this month. In part, the report finds that the decades-old show is just as effective as preschool for educating little ones.
The study by Melissa Kearney from the University of Maryland and Wellesley College’s Phillip Levine purports to show that the PBS show has delivered lasting benefits to millions of American children, and those who watched even found the show a great primer for preschool and kindergarten.
The authors claim that the children who watched the show also stayed at the same educational level as the grade level for their age, and the experience was particularly pronounced in African American boys. At one point in the 1970s, one-third of American toddlers was watching the show, but one-third also lived in areas where the show was not aired. This disparity gave researchers ideal control groups.
After the show began its broadcast history in 1969, the study finds, children in areas where the show was broadcast experienced a 14 percent drop in falling behind in school. But the drop is not present in areas that did not get the show.
The authors had several other experts review its findings and claim that no questions about their conclusions have been raised.
But the results, experts say, do not mean that preschool can be replaced by a television show. In fact, some experts say the study only proves that a TV show can be a good supplement to brick and mortar schools.
Still, the authors of the study claim their data show that electronic education can be very effective.
“If we can do this with ‘Sesame Street’ on television, we can potentially do this with all sorts of electronic communications,” Kearney told the media. “It’s encouraging because it means we might be able to make real progress in ways that are affordable and scalable.”
Producers of the show insist that the secret of the show’s success is that the educational bits are nuggets inside a story, but the story is the key element.
“Storytelling is critical,” said Sesame Street research Vice President Jennifer Kotler Clarke. “If you organize information in storytelling, children are more likely to learn it. And adults are, too.”
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