Paying to learn

Most people want students in school to learn more and get better grades, and many programs and ideas have tried to accomplish this. One that has generated some controversy is paying students who do better on tests. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains the consequences.

“Well …, the Chicago public schools have implemented a pilot study on this, and we now have some results from analyzing that pilot study. In Chicago they gave both financial awards — i.e., money — to students who performed better. They also gave non-financial awards, things like trophies.

“There (are) several interesting results that we see from analyzing the performance of that program. First of all older students only responded, the Chicago study found, to financial rewards. They were not impressed by the trophies. However, if you provided them money and they did better in response to that money, that was a consequence.

“Younger students though did respond actually more to the non-financial awards. The younger students actually liked the trophies better than the cash.

“Another finding is that the rewards had a bigger positive effect on math scores than on reading scores. Males also responded more to financial rewards than did females.

“And finally there was no evidence that providing the awards and then taking them away decreased effort on later tests.

“So, very, very interesting results. Obviously not the final word here, but this does give us some ideas on what the impact might be of paying to learn.”

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