Study: 'Sesame Street' Boosts School Readiness

Bases conclusions about availability of show on VHF vs. UHF distribution

Sesame Street was more effective when brought to kids by the letter V rather than U—as in VHF rather than UHF.

That is according to a new study from Wellesley College and the University of Maryland.

The study found that watching Sesame Street improved pre-schoolers' readiness for school and "adds evidence to the argument that television can have a positive impact on society."

The study points out that while there were already studies that showed preschoolers exposed to the show scored better on tests. The current study provides evidence that those kids did better when they got to school.

Wellesley College economist Phillip Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney based their conclusions on studying differences in TV transmission technology. Specifically, they looked at kids who had watched the show when it debuted in 1969 in markets where it was broadcast on a VHF station, and ones where it was on UHF, signals that were weaker and harder to receive—often having to be dialed in, like a radio station, with an external tuner.

"It is well known that reception of UHF stations at the time was considerably inferior to that of VHF stations," the researchers said. "This was partly attributable to technological limitations of UHF transmission and partly because UHF receivers in television sets were inferior  or even non-existent. In fact, as of January 1969, only 55% of households owned a television that could receive UHF channels (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1970). This means that whether the station broadcast in VHF or UHF played a large role in determining its coverage rate in the area..."

The study found that boys and African American children showed the greatest school-readiness benefits from watching the show. “Living in a location with strong reception instead of weak reception reduced the likelihood of being left behind by 16 percent for boys and 13.7 percent for black, non-Hispanic children,” the study concluded.

The University of Maryland has a more than academic connection to the iconic show. Jim Henson, whose Muppet characters were central figures in the show, graduated from the school.