Forgot your password?
Education The Almighty Buck United States News

Should Kids Be Bribed To Do Well In School? 706

Posted by timothy
from the hey-kid-look-at-this-shiny-future dept.
theodp writes "Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment in hundreds of classrooms in Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and New York to help answer a controversial question: Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? He used mostly private money to pay 18,000 kids a total of $6.3 million and brought in a team of researchers to help him analyze the effects. He got death threats, but he carried on. His findings? If incentives are designed wisely, it appears, payments can indeed boost kids' performance as much as or more than many other reforms you've heard about before — and for a fraction of the cost."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Should Kids Be Bribed To Do Well In School?

Comments Filter:
  • a better question (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Michael Kristopeit (1751814) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:51PM (#31801434)
    should these questions be left to be answered and executed in private by the parents of kids?


  • Re:a better question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeInnes (1025257) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:53PM (#31801446)
    An even better question: who the hell sent this guy death threats?!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:54PM (#31801454)

    pay them not to get pregnant! pit greed vs. breed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:00PM (#31801508)

    The question shows a bias. Of course, we need to pursue the most effective and efficient methods to reach a goal, even if they're counter-intuitive.

    For instance, San Francisco has found that anyone who believes in cost cutting should support paying homeless people to live in an apartment. Opponents may unjustifiably paint giving apartments to people who don't "earn" them as immoral--or even justifiably worry about providing an incentive to stay on public assistance. However, evidence has shown that when the homeless are given their own apartments rather than forcing them to live in homeless shelters, they don't run up six-digit emergency room bills.

    Similarly, we should encourage and pursue whatever encourages young people to do well in school, whether social norms, peer pressure, or cash. Otherwise, our friends in Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and the rest of the Developed or Developing world will soon pass us by.

  • Behaviorism run amok (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dbc (135354) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:07PM (#31801568)

    Blatantly behaviorist. Extrinsic motivators are easily extinguished. We need to find and nurture intrinsic motivators. Unfortunately, this is hard, and the educational establishment is looking for easy solutions. Go read "Punished by Rewards" by Alphie Kohn

  • Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ErichTheRed (39327) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:10PM (#31801588)

    If done right, this might not be a bad idea. The traditional education system in the US has changed a lot in the past 50+ years:

    • There are way more distractions than before, and those distractions have the capability to pretty much take over people's lives (WoW, social networking, tons more entertainment options.)
    • In many cases, there's a lack of or much less parental involvement. Sounds old-fashioned, but a lot of what pushed me to do well came from my parents. If your parents are divorced, you only have one, or they're too busy working, you get less attention.
    • Negative feedback isn't there anymore. Teachers can't discipline for fear of parents lashing back, social promotion means students can't fail, etc.
    • The old model of Good Education = Stable, Good Job doesn't always hold anymore.

    Adding another carrot to the arsenal can't be too bad, given all the problems students face now.

  • by rossdee (243626) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:13PM (#31801630)

    Its called 'pay for performance'

    (I think that bribe is not the correct term here.)

  • Re:a better question (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Michael Kristopeit (1751814) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:19PM (#31801682)
    maybe it's failing because of ignorant programs like this one that place the value of a dollar above all else.
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:21PM (#31801698)

    The thing I love about this is someone actually did science in education. That's extremely cool. Normally education comes down to one person arguing with another with little to no evidence, and the whole things just winds up being an argument that's really about values, political opinions, or personal opinions, but purports to be about outcomes. "Thing Y won't work because thing Y is "bad" or "Thing X won't work because it conflicts with my religion and/or political viewpoint" or "Thing Z will work because I think it will". From a scientific viewpoint these could all be viewed as untested theories. That's not necessarily bad.. but continuing to argue about them and not doing the experiment is... well stupid.

    Richard Feynman talked about this 25 some years ago in one of his books. IIRC his main point was how teaching is ruled by "method of the day" as if it's just fashion, but very rarely does anything bother to find out what actually works.

    So, now we have a good reason to suspect that some form of rewards for learning actually do seem to work. That doesn't mean the values argument is invalid, but it certainly does show the values argument for what it is and not a hidden attempt to discredit the validity of the outcome.

  • Re:a better question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by raving griff (1157645) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:29PM (#31801784)
    I think you've missed the point of the parent--this system of payments makes school analogous to a job in the sense that rather requiring students be intrinsically motivated or concerned about their future positions in the workforce, the primary incentive to input effort into education is money.
  • Re:a better question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:34PM (#31801840)


    They're useless eaters anyway.

    After all if we didn't waste so much time and energy worshipping celebrities and overpaid athletes, both of which are wealth sinks anyway, we might get ahead in the world. Then how the hell is the government going to justify all these gigantic social spending programs?! Clearly we couldn't let that happen, we can't afford it!

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stonewallred (1465497) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:39PM (#31801888)
    I was a fuck up growing up. G&T,AG,HAG etc, but hated them all. I would rather skip class and smoke, shoot dope and drink. I ended up being sent to the fuck up school, called Optional Education. You came to school any time between 7am to 8pm. You had a full set of classes, but you could go to any of your classes at any time. You punched a time card in and the teachers signed off on them as you came to class and when you left. You could, and this was back in the early 80s, eat, drink, listen to music with headphones and smoke in class. You worked at your own pace, and it was set up so that you could test out of any set of assignments. I went from the 9th grade to graduating in a year and a half. Which allowed me to graduate with the rest of the people I started school with, even though I had failed the 9th grade twice because of skipping and suspensions. But over the years they changed the system and made it more like a school with guards, with assigned classes, scheduled classes etc etc. The school's graduation and student promotion rate plummeted. And disciplinary problems went through the roof. There is a lesson there, but I don't think I need to lay it out for you.
  • by wbackner (1417725) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:39PM (#31801890)
    I don't have references but studies we read in my child interventions class demonstrated that extrinsic motivators don't always extinguish internal motivation. The cases where this did happen is when people were rewarded for mindless busywork (pushing buttons), and those studies didn't match up to what people do in the real world at all. Other studies have found that if external rewards are used for interesting and challenging work (that is not impossible to complete) then internal motivation is actually increased. Being paid to read books, for example, could qualify as an interesting task. Perhaps the child would also find that as their reading skills improve they enjoy reading and their internal motivation to do it would be increased.
  • Re:Why Not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#31801988)

    how about this: if every student gets an A, then everyone gets an equal share of the money... if anyone doesn't get an A, then no one gets any money and it is refunded to tax payers.

    That will simply end badly. A 'young anarchist' or a 'rich kid' who wants to screw the other kids can cost the others who 'worked hard' to earn their share; Ralphie Wiggam can be in your class and you're screwed; some bullies will threaten marginal kids who will then fail due to fear and stress; etc. Give them all a "bonus" if everyone gets at least a "C"? Sure. A better bonus for better average grades? OK. All or nothing? That always ends with 'nothing'.

    if we know that all "C" students are really just "A" students who haven't been sufficiently greased to do the required work, then what's the motivation of society to make that happen? are the children any more useful to society because they completed more busy work in elementary school to get a few extra gold stars to increase their letter grade?

    I understand that you aren't thrilled with the idea of paying/motivating kids to get good grades. And I respect your position as a parent and a tax payer. But if you think it's just the "A" or "gold stars" that a child gets from doing the "busy work" then you're missing the point. The better they do on tests, and the better their homework is, the more they have learned.

    I don't really like the idea that we need to pay kids to get their workload done, but why not try it? I do see that it could turn out a crop of the most selfish, money focused, narcissistic adults we've ever seen ... and if it does they can all go work on Wall Street.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#31801990) Journal
    No, it's more subtle than that, if you give them money to get good grades, it doesn't improve their standardized test scores at all. As someone else said, bribing them to get good grades is just bribing them to kiss up to the teacher.

    BUT when they paid the kids to do things that you need to do to learn, like read, or attend class, the standardized test scores improved, even after the bribes stopped. This is great stuff to know. To continue all we need to do is figure out what it takes for kids to learn, and give them money to do that. Of course, there should be studies to see how well it works out in the long term, too.

    Which is the greatest thing about this, it marks a change in education, for the better. How often have you heard people spouting off about, "the best way to teach kids is this!" for some ideology or another? How often have you heard of them actually running real experiments to test their theories? Not often enough, that's for sure. Hopefully we get more of this.
  • by Jerry (6400) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#31801996)

    While teaching 9th grade science in the 1970's I decided to see what would happen if I started paying $5 for the highest grade on weekly tests.
    Kids who were normally making C's and D's suddenly began getting A's and taking the $5. The kids which normally got A's didn't do as well.
    I was accused of being a Communist. My response was that they were working for money, why can't their kids.

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:54PM (#31802042) Homepage
    To the extent they serve as a game-like score, grades themselves constitute bribes. Grades do carry a small amount of information as to proficiency, and to that extent they are OK.

    In Montessori there are no grades, but rather detailed itemizations of proficiency in each exercise combined with qualitative evaluations by the guide.

    Although not trained in Montessori, the author and speaker Alfie Kohn is famous in the Montessori community for his book "Punished by Rewards" and others. See his YouTube [], "It's bad news if students are motivated to get A's".

  • by r7 (409657) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:55PM (#31802048)

    paying kids for books read increased standardized test scores

    It also instills the value that you shouldn't read unless you're being paid to. This is a well known downside, covered in most behavioral / developmental psychology degree programs.

    A similar drawback exists for standardized tests themselves as well as technical certificate testing. The testing rarely translates into significant real-world problem solving abilities. As with pay-for-study the instruction becomes valued for it's immediate result and tends to have a negative effect on learning. See also research on deferred gratification and planning horizons.

    In short, like deficit spending, it trades a small short-term payoff for a relatively large long-term handicap.

  • Re:a better question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iamhassi (659463) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:00PM (#31802112) Journal
    "You have proposal A, with a cost of X and an effectiveness of Y You have proposal B, with a cost of 2X and an effectiveness of .7Y"

    I threw away my mod points to reply to this, but I thought it was important.

    One of the schools I went to as a child had a "Gold Card" program that was basically a incentive program to get good grades. Instead of handing out cash (which is the wrong approach, i'll explain in a bit) for good grades you would earn free items at local businesses. I remember a local video store allowed a few free video game rentals, a fast-food place gave free french fries and the local movie theater gave a free movie ticket. When you're a kid and can only think of video games, food and movies these were great incentives, and the businesses made up the money by getting free advertising and the parents usually ended up buying more than what was given away free i.e. I never went there and only ate fries.

    The reason handing out $$$ for good grades isn't the answer is because it's not realistic. First, what happens to these kids when they go to college? The colleges aren't going to hand them hundreds of dollars to show up or get good grades. Second, what happens when they reach the real world? Sure, you're paid your salary to do C work, but if you're asked to do a bit better your boss doesn't give you an instant raise. If you're a cashier at Walmart and your boss asks you to clean up aisle 10 because a kid puked, you do it, but these kids are going to think they should get extra $$$ because the boss asked them to do a little extra.

    I think the kids who have parents that paid them for good grades growing up did well later in life because the parents had the money to make sure they did well. They could afford the good colleges and the extra tutors or other resources, the computer to type papers on and access the internet or a car to get to the library in. I don't think paying low income children to do well in school is going to turn them into college graduates.
  • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:08PM (#31802192)

    I'm not sure if many people read TFA but an interesting result:

    Schools in Dallas got the simplest scheme and the one targeting the youngest children: every time second-graders read a book and successfully completed a computerized quiz about it, they earned $2. Straightforward -- and cheap. The average earning would turn out to be about $14 (for seven books read) per year.

    And in Dallas, the experiment produced the most dramatic gains of all. Paying second-graders to read books significantly boosted their reading-comprehension scores on standardized tests at the end of the year -- and those kids seemed to continue to do better the next year, even after the rewards stopped.

    The cheapest program produced the best results.

    One clue came out of the interviews Fryer's team conducted with students in New York City. The students were universally excited about the money, and they wanted to earn more. They just didn't seem to know how. When researchers asked them how they could raise their scores, the kids mentioned test-taking strategies like reading the questions more carefully. But they didn't talk about the substantive work that leads to learning. "No one said they were going to stay after class and talk to the teacher," Fryer says. "Not one."

    We tend to assume that kids (and adults) know how to achieve success. If they don't get there, it's for lack of effort -- or talent.

  • by xmundt (415364) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:05PM (#31802774)

    Greetings and Salutations...
              You apparently have no clue how the welfare system works these days. Perhaps you should find a DHS worker and ask them about it.
              dave mundt

  • Re:No (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lloyd_Bryant (73136) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:12PM (#31802854)

    I do my job because I love it.

    I've been offered more money (sometimes *much* more) to do something else. Each time, I turned it down.

    So you're getting paid in "enjoyment and a little money" rather than "a lot of money". Big deal - you are still being motivated by your pay.

  • by Lloyd_Bryant (73136) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:20PM (#31802936)

    You might want to read the article. It states quite clearly that paying kids for books read increased standardized test scores on reading and that these were long term gains

    Which actually makes a lot of sense. Reading is a skill, which must be developed by practice. If the children read more, they develop their reading skill more, and that higher skill level will provide an advantage to them in the future (potentially, for their entire life).

    The problem isn't that children don't "love to learn". They do. It's natural for them. The problem is that children don't "love to learn" the subjects that adults think are important. If paying them as a mean to direct their learning in the direction we want it to go works, then I say go for it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:24PM (#31802966) [] - basically intrinsic motivations works a LOT better than extrinsic motivation (aka money/bribes).
  • by Glonoinha (587375) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @08:22PM (#31803432) Journal

    For the last year and a half of undergrad I had a job working at the local television station. For $5 an hour (about 1.5x minimum wage, pretty good at the time) 40 hours a week - I was doing pretty good for myself. The position essentially boiled down to watching TV 8 hours a day (it was a little more technical than that, but the technical part became second nature and I was basically watching TV 8 hours each day.)

    When I graduated and got a 'real job' and went off into the real world ... I stopped watching TV. Nobody was paying me to watch TV, so why would I watch TV for free? Seemed stupid to me for people to watch television for hours at a time, for free.

    Envision the practical applications of this theory - paying someone briefly for undesirable behavior, then stop paying them - they won't do that any more.

  • Re:a better question (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @08:33PM (#31803486)
    chicks watch porn
  • Re:a better question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dhalka226 (559740) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @05:09AM (#31806102)

    An instant, dismissive attempt to censor what is obviously a valid, honest opinion only lends credibility to that opinion

    Uhm, no, it doesn't. You can have a heartfelt opinion that raping children is a nice, cheap form of entertainment or that Hitler destroying the Jews was the greatest accomplishment of mankind. Nobody is going to take you more seriously if you're moderated down for it or outright censored.

    As far as "valid?" Valid is the opinion.

    Anyone with some understanding who might have entertained the idea of both views being merely different but equal now knows that yours is inferior.

    Interesting. Personally I think that somebody who judges people based on an opinion they're supposing based on a moderation choice rather than one that person has even expressed is a self-important moron. And judging by your other posts in this thread, that's exactly what you are. You are consistently smug, insulting, dismissive and superior, with an obvious belief that anybody who doesn't agree with you not only has a lesser opinion, but is a lesser person; a lesser intellect.

    In fact, this entire post rings hollow. Perhaps you should go back and apologize to some of the people you were rude and insulting to first and then talk about valid, honest opinions. Or does this sort of thing only work one way for you?

    I wouldn't be surprised at all.

    As I've heard it said, you might chronologically be an adult but that doesn't mean you've grown up.

    You don't even know these people. You don't even know who these people are, much less why they may have moderated it the way they did. What if it is just a valid, honest opinion that he was trying to start a flamewar? Never even crossed your mind, did it? You just decided the person who was moderated down was right and these mods most be puerile, childish, emotionally overreactive, dismissive, unthoughtful, immature so-called adults. All things you've said in the course of, what, 200 words or so? About people you know nothing whatsoever about, including their own views on the actual topic at hand which you nonetheless saw fit to assume and lambast in their absence?

    Incidentally, I have plenty of karma. Do your worst. Waste your points on me. I'd be happy with that, since you might have otherwised use them to censor someone who doesn't have plenty of karma.

    Oh, please, get over yourself. You're not that important. Drop the fucking "I ARE TEH MARTYR!!" crap. If people want to mod you into oblivion, it's because you deserve it. And hey, guess what? They have FOURTEEN MORE MOD POINTS to moderate whoever they please whichever way they please for whatever reason they please. You know this. You're a self-important ass, but not stupid; so I see no conclusion but that you're trying to puff yourself up.

    And before you go ahead and guess my own opinion incorrectly, I actually agree with you. I think his post is absolutely worthless, wishful thinking not worthy of even acknowledging -- but it's not flamebait. Surprising, huh?

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nedlohs (1335013) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @08:01AM (#31806860)

    why do you think adults require motivation?

    If I wasn't being paid to work, I certainly wouldn't be doing it. Playing with the kid is much more fun, heck watching TV is more fun. There's a bunch of my own stuff I'd like prefer to do as well.

Good salesmen and good repairmen will never go hungry. -- R.E. Schenk