Thursday, July 05, 2007

Money for Nothing

Schwartz raises a valid point that it's possible that by paying students for academic performance, their performance could actually decline -- the phenomenon he talks about is very real, though he selectively uses only a few studies; there are many studies that show precisely the opposite.  The key is the details of the program, so it's critical to think carefully about them, watch for signs of the problem Schwartz talks about, and be prepared to modify the program quickly.  But it's absolutely not a reason not to try an experiment, as Schwartz acknowledges (sort of):
Obviously, the intrinsic rewards of learning aren't working in New York's schools, at least not for a lot of children. It may be that the current state of achievement is low enough that desperate measures are called for, and it's worth trying anything. And we don't know whether in this case, motives will complement or compete.
And Schwartz obviously hasn't looked at any of the research on teacher quality and how it's distributed to ask such a naive question:
Perhaps worse, the plan will distract us from investigating a more pertinent set of questions: why don't children get intrinsic satisfaction from learning in school, and how can this failing of education be fixed? Virtually all kindergartners are eager to learn. But by fourth grade, many students need to be bribed. What makes our schools so dystopian that they produce this powerful transformation, almost overnight?
The primary answer is pretty simple: kids who've been fortunate enough to attend good schools and be taught by good teachers (mostly upper income, white children) from kindergarten through 3rd grade -- ones who not only impart learning, but also instill a love of learning -- end up in 4th grade as eager, motivated learners.  But for the nearly entirely low-income children of color who have been victimized by a failing, dysfunctional, unaccountable public school system, characterized by dreadful schools and low-quality teachers for four years (K-3), it is not the least bit surprising that those 4th graders, the majority of whom are barely literate, don't have a love of school and learning.
Money for Nothing
Published: July 2, 2007
 NEW YORK CITY has decided to offer cash rewards to some students based on their attendance records and exam performance. Diligent, high-achieving seventh graders will be able to earn up to $500 in a year. The plan is the brainchild of Roland G. Fryer, an economist who has been appointed as "chief equality officer" of the city's Department of Education.


 Subscribe in a reader