From this morning’s New York Times: A Plan to Pay for Top Scores on Some Tests Gains Ground:
Roland G. Fryer, a 30-year-old Harvard economist known for his study of racial inequality in schools, is back in New York to again promote a big idea: Pay students cash for high scores on standardized tests and their performance might improve. And he has captured the attention of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Across the country, educators have been experimenting with cash incentives. A program in Chelsea, Mass., gave children $25 for perfect attendance. Some Dallas schools pay children $2 for each book they read.
…Until now, Professor Fryer’s idea of cash for performance has had no serious takers. Three years ago, he tried to implement a pilot program in New York City charter schools that would have given students cash in exchange for good test scores.
“They kicked us out,” Professor Fryer said of the schools that first considered the program. And some Department of Education officials were not enthusiastic, either, he said. “They laughed in my face.”
But Mr. Bloomberg has recently shown interest in using payments, raised from the private sector, as a way to change behavior and reduce poverty.
In September, he proposed giving cash to poor adults to encourage them to do everything from keeping their children in school to seeking preventive medical care. And so, he said yesterday at a news conference, he was receptive to Professor Fryer’s idea. “If we aren’t looking at everything,” he said, “shame on us.”
…Professor Fryer said that under his program, fourth graders and seventh graders who take the new round of mandatory standardized tests that the city is introducing in the fall would be rewarded with at least $5. They would get more money for high scores, with a cap of $25 for fourth graders and $50 for seventh graders. In addition, each participating school would receive $5,000.
…Professor Fryer and other educational scholars have argued that some children, especially those from impoverished backgrounds, lack the foresight and role models to be self-motivated.
“The fundamental problem with education and motivating kids to learn what they need to learn is that the payoffs are so distant,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning research organization. “So it’s very hard to motivate students to do well. Good students get that motivation from somewhere — from peers, their parents, how they’re raised — but the kids who are unmotivated have a very hard time understanding that what they do today pays off decades from now.”….