Education Quality Matters: Study Finds Link to Late-Life Cognition

Human Brain Cognition

A study involving over 2,200 adults who attended U.S. high schools in the early 1960s found that attending higher-quality schools led to better cognitive function 60 years later. The research suggests that investing in school quality, particularly for schools serving Black children, could improve cognitive health among older adults in the United States.

An examination of over 2,200 adults who went to high schools in the United States during the early 1960s revealed that those who received education at higher quality schools displayed improved cognitive abilities 60 years later.

Previous research has established a correlation between the duration of schooling and cognitive ability in later life, however, the effect of educational quality has been largely under-explored.

“Our study establishes a link between high-quality education and better late-life cognition and suggests that increased investment in schools, especially those that serve Black children, could be a powerful strategy to improve cognitive health among older adults in the United States,” says Jennifer Manly, Ph.D., professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior author of the study.

Study details

The study, led by Manly and Dominika Šeblová, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia, used data from Project Talent, a 1960 survey of high school students across the United States, and follow-up data collected in the Project Talent Aging Study.

The researchers examined relationships between six indicators of school quality and several measures of cognitive performance in participants nearly 60 years after they left high school.

Since high-quality schools may be especially beneficial for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the researchers also examined whether associations differed by geography, sex/gender, and race and ethnicity (the survey only included sufficient data from Black and white respondents).

Teacher training linked to late-life cognition in students

The researchers found that attending a school with a higher number of teachers with graduate training was the most consistent predictor of better later-life cognition, especially language fluency (for example, coming up with words within a category). Attending a school with a high number of graduate-level teachers was approximately equivalent to the difference in cognition between a 70-year-old and someone who is one to three years older. Other indicators of school quality were associated with some, but not all, measures of cognitive performance.

Manly and Šeblová say many reasons may explain why attending schools with well-trained teachers may affect later-life cognition. “Instruction provided by more experienced and knowledgeable teachers might be more intellectually stimulating and provide additional neural or cognitive benefits,” Šeblová says, “and attending higher-quality schools may also influence life trajectory, leading to university education and greater earnings, which are in turn linked to better cognition in later life.”

Greater impact on Black students

Though the associations between school quality and late-life cognition were similar between white and Black students, Black participants were more likely to have attended schools of lower quality.

“Racial equity in school quality has never been achieved in the United States and school racial segregation has grown more extreme in recent decades, so this issue is still a substantial problem,” says Manly.

For example, a 2016 survey found that U.S. schools attended by non-white students had twice as many inexperienced teachers as schools attended by predominantly white students.

“Racial inequalities in school quality may contribute to persistent disparities in late-life cognitive outcomes for decades to come,” Manly adds.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic, the PRIMUS Research Programme at Charles University, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

6 Comments on "Education Quality Matters: Study Finds Link to Late-Life Cognition"

  1. Any scientific study that makes race and gender “inequalities” a primary factor is no longer scientific and has no merit.

    Science does not play “the blame game”.

    • Yosef-Aharon S. S. C. D. Scott | May 6, 2023 at 7:50 pm | Reply

      I would somewhat agree. Blameshifting has become a way to polarize and separate those who have not enough wisdom to break free of the “system.” However, due to the polemical bent of many secular scientific theories, and the knowledge which one can acquire about disparities which have reared their heads in the past, it can be said that there is an actionable difference in the epigenetic composition—those being, cognitive propensities— of African-Americans versus their Caucasian counterparts. This requires an assiduous predilection for Historical knowledge amalgamated with scientific wherewithal, the Wisdom to modulate betwixt the two, and the understanding to convey all of that with English language ability. I have not yet reached that pinnacle yet, but hope to do so before reaching 50. It is my hope to understand how every natural thing operates, so as to rule my “kingdom” with responsibility, equity and justice.

  2. Zubenelgenubi | May 5, 2023 at 10:07 pm | Reply

    Throwing money at schools, even the higher class schools, will not help much if students aren’t motivated to achievement!!

  3. John D. Gardner | May 6, 2023 at 7:18 pm | Reply

    Better teachers so simply your saying if people in the community are educated, driven and have empathy towards the only race and that is the human race and all living things. This will better shape the future of our own intelligence. We needed science to say hey schools are the building blocks to your child’s life. This world has lost it we dont need science to say learning only happens in schools with good teachers. I have learned more about life talking to a toddler than any adult. We dont need science to tell us that being empathic, kind and open leads to growth in the brain and in humanity how does this go without saying? Why dont you give the money that was funding this science and do what your study shown. Go out teach be a influence feed the starving children in our country, be to everyone you meet give help when needed like The Tao flows to the left and right creating good merits but accepting none. Scientifically science research has went down the drain since the 60’s we need some new creative minds and approaches. No limit set to thought should be our questioning to things no analytical data that’s shows being good can help influence someone else to do good this is common sense no science. Tho close in letters and number of letters but not the same. You can have a C+ since you were close. Good job.

  4. Rydberg Romayn Olivares Rojas | May 8, 2023 at 9:18 am | Reply

    La mala praxis pedagógica y la crisis de valores en una sociedad afectada también por crisis económica
    Afecta en la calidad de el proceso educativo

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.