Sunday, March 9, 2008

Performance Incentives . . . for kids

A lot of attention has been focused recently on performance incentives for teachers and principals. Receiving perhaps more attention, particularly in the NY Times, have been performance incentives . . . for students. Roland Fryer, a young economist at Harvard seems to have caught Joel Klein's ear and is now directing or planning a number of projects in which kids are rewarded in various ways for higher test scores.

One of my colleagues recently wrote that paying kids for test results may be "the reductio ad absurdum of performance pay," though he declined to make the argument himself (reductio ad absurdum basically meaning that it's the logical extension of an argument that is so absurd that it proves the argument is false).

He may have a point. On face, paying kids to do better in school seems quite absurd. What does it teach a kid when the only value of learning is a few bucks in their pocket or more minutes on their cellphone? Whatever happened to learning for the sake of learning? On the other hand, there are other possible benefits. What if the reward makes doing well in school the "cool" thing to do? (this isn't my idea, I read it somewhere and can't remember where -- it might have been in this blog) What if the bonuses work, not because kids work harder for the money but because it removes the stigma of doing well in school? Would the positives then outweight the negatives?

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