Pay students to read?

Is paying kids to study or show up to school good or bad?

Some schools in New York City promised to paid students who earned a specified score on tests, and then waited out the year before doing an evaluation.

Did the program produce any results? None that could be found by looking at test scores. But paying students has had effects in other cities, says Marcus Winters, writing a column in the New York Daily News. The key difference, he says, is that in Dallas and Washington, DC, where similar programs have been tried, is in paying students not for working towards a long-term goal (meeting a targeted test score) but for achieving short-term goals, such as doing homework. Come to think of it, such short-term incentives fits pretty well with the thinking of most kids.

The results are impressive:  “Paying students to engage in constructive academic behavior proved remarkably effective. To put the results into context, paying students to read books had an impact on reading achievement equivalent to reducing class sizes by a third.”

I bet the money you’ve got to pay a classroom of students (about $14 per student in the case of one program in Dallas) is a lot less than the cost of hiring new teachers to meet the demands of smaller classes.

But what happens after the payments end? Does learning crash? At least not in one experiment: “Fears that performance incentives would rob students of the love of learning appear to be unfounded. Students eligible for the policies performed just as well as ineligible students on a psychological exam measuring intrinsic motivation. Further, the positive results in Dallas carried over into the next year when students did not have a performance incentive (a second-year study could not be conducted in Washington).”

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