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'Sesame Street' Improves School Readiness, Researchers Say

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It turns out classroom training in this country has been given a boost by "Sesame Street." A new study shows that the PBS program leads to long-lasting academic gains similar to those of preschool. NPR's Will Huntsberry reports.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: Remember that time Big Bird saw the alphabet and thought it was a word?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

CAROLL SPINNEY: (As Big Bird) Woah. (Singing) Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz (ph).

HUNTSBERRY: Melissa Kearney remembers it, too.

MELISSA KEARNEY: We would just run around the house singing that song, you know, the abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz (ph).

HUNTSBERRY: But Kearney has an even deeper connection to Big Bird. She and a co-author have been studying the effects of "Sesame Street," and they find it makes kids way less likely to get behind in school. The long-term academic benefits are about the same as those of Head Start and were especially pronounced in disadvantaged kids.

KEARNEY: We can accomplish some real progress with smart well-designed educational content for kids.

HUNTSBERRY: She says "Sesame Street" can't replace preschool, which has massive socialization benefits and actually shows kids what school will be like, but "Sesame Street" and other media are powerful, Kearney says, and with preschool, can help close the achievement gap. Will Huntsberry, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.