Pay students for performance

Alex Tabarrok spotlights an “obvious” education reform: Paying students to learn.

(Economist Roland) Fryer was here on Monday and he told me of a large-scale experiment he is running in 24 of the poorest performing New York schools.  Every three weeks students are tested and if they improve they are paid on the order of $20.  Control groups are also tested.  Early results are very encouraging.  No other reform has anywhere near the bang for the buck as paying the students.

Via Impleader.

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  1. Who’da thunk that incentives work with children! Next someone will notice the similarities between mandatory attendance at state school and prison sentences.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    How about if they do bad they mug them and take their lunch money?

  3. A novel approach…However, hasn’t anyone challenged the program as a direct violation of the Equal Protection Act. It would seem that if this type program is to be applied, it could only be done across the board. In an experimental microcosm, and without the application of school vouchers, the incentive program is applied to a controlled area (24 schools)…while those students (say in Watts, CA) don’t have this benefit. I am assuming, of course, that these are Public schools.

    Essentially, the program does, indeed, treat the student as an employee. The school pays compensation for greater participation by the student. However, in a public school setting, the employer is the Federal Govt…if that is where the incentive money originates. Therefore, unless the Federal Govt pays all students nationwide under the same program, it is in violation of the law. If the incentive comes from a private source…that’s great, but suppose the study is a success and adopted by the Fed. Then all students are entitled to these benefits…Rich, poor, good students, bad students, VoTech, College prep….

    It would seem that this could only be done on a privatized basis…

  4. Richard Nieporent says:

    Why don’t we just cut out the middle man and pay the teacher to give all of the students As?

    This reminds me of an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. Calvin tells his father, why don’t you pay me to get good grades. How about $20 for and A, $10 for a B, $5 for a C and $1 for a D. His father reacts in horror. I’m not going to pay you for getting good grades. Calvin later speaks to Hobbes and says, too bad he didn’t go for it. I could have made an easy four dollars.

    It is hard to believe that somebody could have come up with an idea as stupid as this.

  5. Walter E. Wallis wrote: “How about if they do bad they mug them and take their lunch money?”

    That’d be better than the current system, where that happens if they do well.

  6. “Why don’t we just cut out the middle man and pay the teacher to give all of the students As?”

    In what way are teachers being paid to give A’s? The “middle man” here would seem to be students giving their money to teachers–by what mechanism would this occur?

    “It is hard to believe that somebody could have come up with an idea as stupid as this.”

    I’m glad to see that we no longer even need to make arguments to dismiss lecturers and professors at very respected institutions. This will make writing term papers much easier!

  7. Richard Nieporent says:

    Oh, it’s from Harvard University. I am so impressed. No dumb ideas have every come from Harvard!

    Steven, you missed the point of my Calvin and Hobbes reference. If we are paying students to get better grades, that is not the same as instilling in them the desire to learn. One can get better grades without actually learning anything.

  8. ariztophanes says:

    Dr. Bob Marquardt (of Job Corps fame), in a personal conversation, told me about a program he ran in LA with their worst kids. He said that the kids wore uniforms, worked hard, and got paid for doing well. Those kids outperformed the averages in the district.

    It was the unions that put a stop to his program. (I’ve never tried to verify the program or its success, but his word is good enough for me. Anyone is welcome to prove to me otherwise.)

    The point being that he attributed his success to doing what worked, and dropping what didn’t. For THOSE kids, money worked. When working with difficult kids you MIGHT have to be creative. I surely wouldn’t suggest it for all kids; but I wouldn’t want to remove it from a bag of tricks for those who work with such kids.

  9. Believe me, I have plenty of disagreements with people from Harvard. My point was that you didn’t even bother to make an argument–you just called it “stupid.” I think that’s pretty weak.

    Frankly, the Calvin and Hobbes reference is totally irrelevant, if the post at Marginal Revolution is accurate–it states explicitly that students have to improve in order to be paid under this scheme, so you would BY CONSTURCTION have to perform better (Granted, I can forsee some legal problems with this, but set that aside for a moment).

    Finally, you seem to take it as given that an increase in achievement isn’t valid if students aren’t motivated to learn. But why? If a student goes from illiterate to literate, should we say that this is meaningless unless he is motivated by a “desire to learn”?

    Plenty of valid arguments can, of course, be made against such a program, but the idea that people respond positively to incentives (that is, receiving a tangible benefit in response to a positive behavior is likely to increase the incidence of that behavior) is not “stupid.”

  10. John from OK says:

    Too bad Tom Dashelle got voted out. He would have expanded the program and turned all K-12 students into federal employees.

  11. I was curious about Dr.Marquardt’s expirament. Did he try it with just the uniforms? I have heard that that alone has helped many schools. I do not teach and have no kids. I am just curious. I also think that if everyone started paying students we would really have to work on the local,state,and federal goverment for those budgets.

  12. This is exactly what I do for my kids at home. I don’t give them a weekly allowance for their chores. Chores are required family work. However, I pay them each six weeks for their grades and conduct.

    Lots of families use this method. I’ve heard stories of fellow college students whose parents only pay their tuition if they bother to pass this semesters classes.

    But the key here is the word families. There are too many easier (and cheaper) ways to encourage kids. A favorite example is my fifth grade teacher. She passed out “bucks” and then at the end of the semester held an auction on a box full of books. Awesome!!


  1. chris correa says:

    Walden Three

    Someone claims rewards for good school performance has “hardly been tried”.
    Hardly been tried? Since the 1970’s, hundreds of social psych. experiments have tested the effects of tangible rewards on children’s motivation and performance. The result…

  2. Getting paid to go to school…

    A couple weeks ago I latched onto an interesting discussion over at Joanne Jacobs’ site. The topic “du jour was”, of course, education related as that is the forte of the site owner.

    Today I stumbled across an article in the Det…