Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Incentives for Advanced Work Let Pupils and Teachers Cash In

A great front-page story in the NYT about the National Math and Science Initiative, after which the REACH program I co-founded in NYC is modeled.  But Randi wouldn't allow us to give teachers cash bonuses tied to their students' success on AP exams, which is a requirement of NMSI, and it's really hurt the program in NYC:

Joe Nystrom, who teaches math at a low-income high school here, used to think that only a tiny group of students — the "smart kids" — were capable of advanced coursework.

But two years ago, spurred by a national program that offered cash incentives and other support for students and teachers, Mr. Nystrom's school, South High Community School, adopted a come one, come all policy for Advanced Placement courses. Today Mr. Nystrom teaches A.P. statistics to eight times as many students as he used to, and this year 70 percent of them scored high enough to qualify for college credit, compared with 50 percent before. One in four earned the top score possible, far outpacing their counterparts worldwide.

South High students said Mr. Nystrom and his colleagues had transformed the culture of a tough urban school, making it cool for boys with low-slung jeans who idolize rappers like Lil Wayne to take the hardest classes.

They were helped by the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit network that provided laboratory equipment and special training for teachers and organized afternoon tutoring and Saturday sessions. It also paid $100 each to students who scored a 3 or above on the A.P. exam — and to their teachers, who can also earn additional rewards. Because 43 of his students passed the exam this year, far above his target, Mr. Nystrom will add a $7,300 check to his $72,000 salary.

Organizers of the initiative, who met with lawmakers and staff members at a Congressional briefing last month, said that over three years, the program led to nearly 38,000 A.P. exams being taken in math, science and English, many of them by black and Hispanic students. This year, 308 schools in six states are participating.

The initiative's success is refueling a debate over whether cash bonuses can coax improved performance from teachers and students — a New York City incentive program was disbanded — and whether paying students for schoolwork diminishes their ability to feel intrinsic pleasure in achievement for its own sake.

…Mr. Nystrom attributed his students' success to the Saturday classes, the extra training he got and the collective effort by his colleagues to persuade students that hard work can bring success.

"I'd like to think the incentive payments had little impact," he added. "But maybe way in the back of my mind, I know that if I just push a little harder and work every minute of every class, more students might pass the exam, and I might increase my monetary incentive."  


Incentives for Advanced Work Let Pupils and Teachers Cash In

Published: October 2, 2011

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