Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Do Students Want Someone To Show Them The Money?

Derek Thompson correctly analyzes the problem with testing regimes:
These tests are super-high-stakes for instructors and principals, where they can determine who keeps a job and where state resources are spent. But they are relatively low-stakes for individual students in the short-term, especially if those students aren't looking to go to college and don't care very much about a weak grade.
If one doesn't care about weak grades that go on a transcript, it's difficult to believe that they will care about a state mandated test that isn't transcripted.

Thompson points to a "new study by Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics fame), John A. List, Susanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff [that] finds that Chicago students in low-performing schools did better on tests when they were promised money or trophies for their good grades."

The study shows that "[s]tudents were reportedly willing to exert significantly more energy at $80-an-hour, but not at $40-an-hour."  Locally, state mandated testing is spread out over 3 or 4 days and takes up a minimum of 10 hours, so 200 juniors could clear $800 each for a total of $160,000.  Students might love it; it might actually work, but I doubt taxpayers will buy it.

The study also showed "that the rewards were most powerful when they were framed as losses rather than gains  (i.e.: 'Here is $20. If you fail, I'm taking it away.')"

In addition, "'non-financial incentives,' like trophies, worked best with young people."  That fact offer little comfort, but it does lessen pressure on the bottom line.  Trophies don't cost $800 each.

Finally, "rewards provided with a delay -- 'we'll get you that check in a month!' -- did very little to improve performance."  In short, hand students the cash in an envelope as they walk out the door.

Bribing students to do well seems counterproductive for a couple of reasons.  First, $80 per hour will soon be $120 per hour.  Second, schools should not be about testing and grades; they should be creating lifelong learners and active participants in democracy.  I suppose the authors of this study will try to determine if voting would increase if everyone who voted got $80 for going to the polls.


caheidelberger said...

Paying a teacher $80 an hour for 180 8-hour school days makes $115,200 a year. Feel free to add another $40K for debate season.

LK said...

Given that happiness tops out at about $75,000, I'm inclined to say give students the money. It's a better alternative than HB 1234.