Bribing Students to Learn

Do you remember arguing with your parents about having to do your homework when your favorite TV show was on? Did they respond with “You can watch TV after its done”? Or maybe they said the famous one-liner: “School is your job, I go to work everyday, so, you have to go to school,” when you were trying to stay home “sick.”
But what if school really was a child’s job? Meaning at the end of each week they received a paycheck?
A study of children in Chicago, Dallas, Washington and New York presented this proposition.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer Junior recently led a research study team to determine if positive reinforcement, specifically monetary rewards, would motivate students to perform better academically. Fryer raised $6.3 million dollars from private donations and grants for the study, paying out monetary rewards to 18,000 students from 143 schools. Half of the schools were in the controlled group and were just encouraged to try harder without any sort of reward for improved performance.
His study received criticism and public scrutiny as parents, law makers, and educational reform groups protested that children should want to learn, as opposed to being bribed to study, attend and behave in class. Fryer responded by stating that he “never said it was going to solve all educational problems,” and that he “just thought it deserved to be tested.”
The study found, as reported exclusively to TIME Magazine, that positive reinforcement was only beneficial in certain scenarios in improving scholastic performance in schools.
The study did not affect test scores of fourth graders in New York City, who could earn up to $25 per test, nor did it affect seventh graders who could earn a maximum of $50 per test.
In Chicago, the tests were neutrally effective. Teachers saw a dramatic increase in class attendance and better classroom behavior but the standardized test scores did not increase despite ninth graders receiving $50 for each A grade, $35 for each B grade and $20 for each C grade earned, with a maximum collection of $2,000 per year.
However, in Washington the positive reinforcement was received well with students, and they were paid almost $100 bi-weekly for above average performance, resulting in higher test scores, better classroom behavior and higher attendance rates.
Finally, in Dallas, the schools had a simple procedure where second graders were paid $2.00 for every book that they read and passed a computerized quiz testing their knowledge of the book they just completed. The results from this study showed that the students who were paid per test greatly improved on their standardized reading comprehension test scores and were more likely to read for pleasure in the future than those in the controlled schools. The only exception was the study had no effect on Spanish children, as their test scores did not increase.
Fryer’s study is not the first of its kind. Currently across the country, 82 schools participate in the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a charter school system that rewards its students with monetary and additional prizes and opportunities based on improved and above average scholastic and behavioral performance.
Don’t get too excited kids, unfortunately for most states, the recent school budget cuts can hardly afford to pay the teachers to go to class, let alone the students.