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Education The Almighty Buck United States News

Should Kids Be Bribed To Do Well In School? 706

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."
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Should Kids Be Bribed To Do Well In School?

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  • Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:52PM (#31801440)
    It's how we motivate adults at work so why not kids in school?

    If it turns out to be a better use of resources and we turn out students who do better in school then it can't be all bad.
  • No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:53PM (#31801442)

    What does that teach them? Don't do anything regardless of what it is unless you're "bribed".
    That said I know I will get flamed for saying that, but I think it instills an attitude of don't anything unless you get paid, loses touch with what education is and should be.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kr3m3Puff ( 413047 ) <<me> <at> <kitsonkelly.com>> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:59PM (#31801500) Homepage Journal

      It teaches them the way the real world works. Do adults do their jobs because "they are supposed to" or "out of the kindness of their own hearts." The real world pays you for the work you perform, why preclude children from that, just because we can.

      If it works and it is more cost effective then other types of reform, then more power to them.

      • Re:No (Score:5, Informative)

        by schon ( 31600 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:23PM (#31801712)

        Do adults do their jobs because "they are supposed to" or "out of the kindness of their own hearts."

        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.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:01PM (#31801516)
      Not bribed, PAID. Being paid is the only reason most adults do anything hard. It doesn't fucking matter if it "loses touch with what education should be" - all that matters is RESULTS. If it improves the children's grades more than other incentives of the same costs, it should be done.
      • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

        by anagama ( 611277 ) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:29PM (#31801780) Homepage

        all that matters is RESULTS

        Totally agree. Perhaps part of the reason people are so ticked off about this, is because they've come to believe the lies that effort is uber-important. In real life, effort is important only insofar as it enables one to achieve results. Effort, on its own and by itself, is worthless -- it's like having fuel but no engine in which to burn it and convert the fuel to work.

        To put this in a bad car analogy -- given two mechanics, one who tries earnestly to do a good job but is actually terrible and who could barely change a tire correctly, and another who sleepwalks through his day but solves problems effortlessy and quickly, most people would chose the second guy(*) because when all is said and done, it is the end result that actually matters.

        (*) Assuming the second guy has just enough motivation to drag his butt out of bed and show up at work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by f3r ( 1653221 )
          The fallacy lies in the fact that results are present at all levels of abstraction. Doing an effort is already a result, at least for sentient beings, who modify their own personality and virtues just by the mere "trying". The result of failure or success is another step in the results chain, which again modifies the personality of the person. This is why someone before said that this method could be dangerous: you have to evaluate the obvious effects but most importantly the effects on the personality afte
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrMista_B ( 891430 )

      Do you get bribed to go to work?

      For most kids, education is pain, and toil, frustration, anger, boredom, and tears.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:05PM (#31801540) Homepage Journal

      What does that teach them?

      The value of their work.

      That said I know I will get flamed for saying that

      Stop 'baiting.

      but I think it instills an attitude of don't anything unless you get paid, loses touch with what education is

      What education is? Factory-job preparedness training? Repeated lessons in submitting to authority? Day-prisons for teenagers?

      I'm more worried that they'll get paid for grades and that learning things is not the best way to get good grades (obeying teacher is).

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      What does that teach them? Don't do anything regardless of what it is unless you're "bribed".

      Sure. That's a pretty good life lesson. Employers, associates, friends, etc will sometimes use you up and spit you out, playing on your guilt or other weaknesses in order to get more out of you. Understanding that you do things for a personal reason (be it a "bribe" or something else) helps protect you from this sort of exploitation.

      That said I know I will get flamed for saying that, but I think it instills an attitude of don't anything unless you get paid, loses touch with what education is and should be.

      Nonsense. It's a practical skill that could help you do better in your life.

    • Well, realize there has to be some motivation to go to school, nobody asked the kids before they were born: do you want to exist? Do you want to go to school? Do you want to have to work?

      No, nobody asked anything, they forced the kids into this world, forced them to school, forced them to work, forced them to buy garbage they don't need, forced them into all kinds of things, sometimes forcing them into wars and to die also for causes that are beyond their own reasons.

      Should people be always rewarded? If t

  • Who do you need to "bribe"? I never needed it, and it was offered, and I welcomed the cash ($2 per "A") but it never affected my performance in school. Obviously this can never work outside of a parents issued situation. But with attentive parents, this will, and has worked.
  • Can any economists comment? This actually makes a kind of sense. If you ask a kid to do some work (actually actively studying to rapidly learn IS work) you gotta pay em. Society would benefit quite a bit more than paying the kids would cost if the kids were to learn what they need to learn on a faster timescale. I'm positive that if the funding were there, kids of average intelligence could easily enter college at age 16 if they were to actually work hard at learning. I certainly was ready then.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:54PM (#31801454)

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

  • by kurokame ( 1764228 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:57PM (#31801484)
    I can see two main arguments for this and one against.

    (+) "If it works, then why not?"
    (+) "It's capitalism, comrade!"
    (-) "But it's against our ideals, people should learn for the sake of learning!"

    Frankly, I'm up for anything which improves the effectiveness of our education system at this point as long as it doesn't constitute an outright human rights violation. The system is broken. If you can prove that X provides significant gains, then we should at least look into it.
  • /Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Wild Norseman ( 1404891 ) <tw,norseman&gmail,com> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:57PM (#31801488)
    In Soviet Russia, bribes school YOU!

    *ducks and runs from thread*
  • "Bribe"... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:04PM (#31801538) Homepage
    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
  • What in the hell is wrong with this world when people get death threats over an issue like this?

    death threats REALLY?!

    *shakes his head*

    • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:12PM (#31801618)
      Maybe the threats were from the teachers who felt it was THEM who should've been bribed to teach better
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khchung ( 462899 )

      What in the hell is wrong with this world when people get death threats over an issue like this?

      What's wrong is that some people are too entrenched in thinking they are right.

      When you are absolutely, 100%, certain that you are right, and you think someone is doing harm to children. Well, since you are absolutely right, then of course that guy is really doing harm to children.

      Well then, if someone is going to harm children, and will not stop when you tell them do, sending out death threats is not such a big deal, since you are "saving the children" right?

      In my opinion, the greatest evil can only be do

  • 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

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by masmullin ( 1479239 )

      I'll only read that book if you pay me.

    • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:06PM (#31802786) Homepage Journal

      Do you know what these intrinsic motivators are?

      I'll tell you:

      1. Thirst.
      2. Hunger.
      3. Fear (of death, of pain...)
      4. Sex drive.
      and much much further than this is
      X. Curiosity.

      In most people natural curiosity does not lie within the defined boundaries of what is required from them at schools.

      Most schools and most classes do not promote curiosity and most people cannot be curious about most things that are required from them at school.

      How do you suggest making everyone have the same intrinsic motivators to do some insane work defined by some insane curriculum, most of which is really only directed at creating an obedient working unit and like it?

  • 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.

  • It's up to the parent to decide whether or not these bribes actually add to the overall success of their child in the long run. It will take some convincing for me to think this is likely. If success means being a privileged snot or a poor loser, so be it. If success means happiness, self-worth, longevity or value to society.. Well, that's not as simple as choosing between a stick and a carrot.

  • 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.)

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:21PM (#31801698) Homepage

    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.

  • What is a bribe? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TrumpetPower! ( 190615 ) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:25PM (#31801750) Homepage

    The word, “bribe,” has two very different common meanings.

    The first is a payment to somebody to do something illicit. It might or might not be something the person objects to doing, but it is something against the rules. A border agent might or might not think smoking pot is a good idea, but if you pay him to look the other way while you drive your “plant tissue samples” across the border, that’s a bribe.

    The second, and the usage implied here, is a payment to somebody to do something they don’t want to do but which isn’t illicit. It’s especially applied to things that most people think the person should want to do without compensation but, for whatever reason, the person isn’t interested. If you offer to pay your spouse to fold the laundry, that’s often considered a bribe.

    But, clearly, almost all paid work falls into the second category. While the work I do isn’t objectionable and pays well, there’s simply no way I’d do it unless you paid me (and paid me well). There are other things I’d rather do for money, but they don’t pay as well. And there are still other things I do and would do that either don’t pay or that I have to pay to do.

    So, unless you think your boss is bribing you to go to work, or unless you’d happily give up your paycheck but still continue at your job, it is most hypocritical to call what’s described in this article a bribe. You might wish that students would put in maximum effort even if they don’t get a cash reward, but your boss wishes the exact same thing of you.

    Whether or not paying students is an effective end economical method of turning them into honorable and effective citizens is a valid topic of discussion, but such payments are most emphatically not bribes.



    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:30PM (#31803046) Homepage Journal

      Yes, thanks for that post. The use of the word "bribe" seems calculated to imply that paying kids for their performance in school is somehow sleazy or immoral, which is absurd given that almost everyone pushing this viewpoint expects payment for their performance at work. The idea that good grades should be their own reward sounds fine and noble, but it has no connection to reality, and most kids figure this out pretty fast.

  • by inviolet ( 797804 ) <slashdot.ideasmatter@org> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:29PM (#31801790) Journal

    Studies show that adding pay to a task decreases the internal perceived motivation for that same task. Actors conclud, subconsciously, that money is why they did it. Hence they are less likely in the future to do it unless they are paid again. Perilous to do this with the pursuit of knowledge.

    Of course in a typical public school, there are already serious problems with busywork versus genuine pursuit of understanding. In that context, payment might be the right thing to do, because as others have noted, payment is indeed what humans expect in exchange for busy work.

  • 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 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> 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 [youtube.com], "It's bad news if students are motivated to get A's".

  • Who Knew? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ffreeloader ( 1105115 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:15PM (#31802884) Journal

    Who knew that sufficiently motivated kids could get good grades? What a stunner. It's absolutely mind boggling.

    All this study does is point out the obvious. What it doesn't do is show how to teach students how to find reasons within themselves for getting good grades. As lack of self-motivation is the real problem standing between most kids and realizing their personal potential(both grade-wise and in life) that's where the studies should focus.

    I remember Algebra class in high school. It wasn't all that hard, but I hated it as no one ever told me what it was good for, and I couldn't visualize any use for it. I ended up dropping it because I would have gotten a D in it, while I pulled straight A's in Geometry with hardly any effort on my part. The difference? My interest level. My internal motivation. I loved pulling out my Geometry book and going to Geometry class. I hated pulling out my Algebra book and going to Algebra class, even though I liked the teacher.

    A decade later I entered a college technical course which required algebra skills for the electrical theory it taught. I aced both math and electrical courses as I finally finally saw what algebra was used for, and became motivated as I found electrical theory fascinating.

    In my late 40s I went back to school again and aced math classes related to electronics that the college said I had no business even taking with my math background. Those classes combined algebra and trig, which I'd never studied at any level in school, but yet I breezed through them with minimal effort. My total exposure to trig before those classes? A small, and I mean small, trig textbook written in the late 1800s. It was approximately 4"x6" and about.5" thick, including the hard cover that I had spent maybe 4 or 5 hours total reading, but it made sense to me

    We need to study how to motivate, how to get kids to understand how the skills taught in school will affect their life after school. Once they understand those things they will apply themselves as it's in their own best interest and they will recognize it. They aren't stupid, they're just taught more about political correctness, and that the world owes them, in school these days than they are about real life, how they can succeed, and what that success will mean to them in quality of life after school.

    This study shows short-term motivation works. But what we really need is to understand how to encourage long-term motivation in our kids. Teaching them that they are entitled to the government taking care of them from the cradle to the grave isn't motivational in the least. It's demotivational, if that's actually a word. It teaches them that they can get by with the least effort possible, and that's a recipe for disaster-in-the-making for our country's long-term future. Why? If our kids aren't self-motivated to succeed, our country will fail right along with them.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus