Adolescent School Environment Predicts Cognitive Functioning 50 Years Later

Sara Moorman , Boston College
Emily Greenfield, Rutgers University
Sarah Garcia, University of Minnesota

Educational attainment is a robust predictor of cognitive function in later life. However, quality of education is almost entirely unexplored. We examined teacher quality at the school level among 4,205 participants in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), who attended 280 Wisconsin high schools between 1954 and 1957. Measures included average teacher salary as well as the proportion of teachers who had 5+ years of teaching experience; time worked in the school; and postsecondary education. WLS participants completed tests of memory and language/executive function at ages 65 (2004) and 72 (2011). Teacher quality predicted performance at baseline, but not decline over the 7-year period. For memory, this effect was entirely due to selection of children from higher SES families into higher quality schools. For language/executive function, teacher quality had effects beyond those of SES: High quality teachers compensated for deficits among students of low cognitive ability or academic achievement.

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 Presented in Session 14. Cognitive Aging