Better grades, more gabbing

Some 1,500 Oklahoma City middle-school students have received free cell phones in hopes of motivating them to work harder in school.  

For nine months, the students will receive free phones and can earn minutes in exchange for academic success. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has conducted similar experiments in a handful of other urban school systems, using money instead of phones as the incentive.

If students do improve, will the gains last when the incentives go away?

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  1. What is with Americans and their obsession with extrinsic rewards? It’s like people just completely give up on trying to make learning something the students will actually enjoy. Giving minutes in exchange for “success” will only make the students think about talking on the phone even more.

  2. I’m really dubious about paying kids to study, whether in cash or in the form of cell phones or whatever. There’s a really interesting study that showed *intrinsic* motivation…in this case, striving to do well on a test even when there was absolutely no payoff for doing so…was a powerful predictor of income 20 years later. Encouraging the attitude that you don’t need to do anything unless you’re directly and immediately compensated for it is probably not a good idea.

    OTOH, the way it *might* make sense is if the rewards were so large and visible that they altered the entire status hierarchy of the school such that people would be envious of academically-successful students. Probably would be way too expensive, though, and also be attacked by those claiming unfairness to the non-successful.

  3. This has become a tired, tired idea. If we’re supposed to be living in the era of schools that think like businesses, let’s learn the lessons of business. When the perceived value of your premium exceeds the perceived value of your product, you have a serious problem with your product. This was a lesson Sports Illustrated learned years ago when it gave away a free sneakerphone with a magazine subscription. Subscriptions went up, readership was unengaged, advertisers refused to pay for a magazine that the readers didn’t really want and which had to be bribed with electronic come-ons.

    Kids will only perform if they’re bribed? You have a product they don’t want, or cannot connect to any benefit in their lives. Fix the product. If you can’t, please concede defeat, go home and let someone else try. You’re out of ideas.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “You have a product they don’t want, or connect connect to any benefit in their lives.”

    CAN I GET AN AMEN ?!?!?!?!?

  5. As Shrek would say, “Hold the phone!” What???

    Man, they sure didn’t give us nifty gizmos when I was in school in Okie- land. They were mean and just told us to study and if we didn’t our parents would scare the jabbers out of us. I feel ripped off!